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Coast Guard Engagement as an Interim Alternative to Bilateral Maritime Cooperation

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR1, pp. 24-29


The U.S.-Philippine alliance has been under strain in the past several years due to domestic political challenges, notwithstanding Manila’s worsening external security environment. To cope, Washington needs an interim approach to continue its maritime security cooperation with Manila, one that would not be perceived as simply a repackaged strategy to curtail Beijing’s aggressive behavior. This paper looks into the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) recent involvement in promoting maritime security in the Philippines and the broader Southeast Asia. It poses the question: Why is coast guard cooperation between the United States and the Philippines serving as an interim approach to sustain maritime security cooperation? This paper contends three reasons why the USCG-Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) engagement is a step in the right direction that could, in the long term, advance a more rules-based and stable regional maritime environment. First, security cooperation through coast guard engagements avoids political intrigues and is welcomed by regional countries. As a regional norm, coast guard cooperation supports the non-militarization of maritime disputes and is not viewed as an escalation of tensions. Second, coast guard organizations have multifaceted functions that play numerous roles and are not solely focused on patrolling contested waters. For instance, coast guards have responsibilities that help maintain maritime order and protect global trade. Lastly, the use of the coast guard is a non-partisan issue regardless of the inclination of the government in power. The paper concludes with policy recommendations that underscore how coast guard cooperation between the Philippines and the United States is a complement (vice substitute) to current and future military engagements advancing the alliance.

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About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.- Philippines Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. With backgrounds from academia, public policy, civil society and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Philippines bilateral security relations.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the positions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

Jay Tristan Tarriela is a commissioned officer of the Philippine Coast Guard with the rank of Commander. He is the Director of PCG’s Leadership and Doctrine Development Center. He obtained his Ph.D. in Policy Analysis from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo under the GRIPS Global Governance (G-cube) Program. At GRIPS, he was a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) ASEAN Public Policy Leadership Scholar. Previously, he was assigned at the PCG national headquarters in Manila and performed numerous functions in different capacities, including maritime security capability development and organizational restructuring reforms. He also acted as the personal adviser to the PCG Commandant on human resource management, particularly on recruitment plans, career management, and personnel specialization. He attended numerous military and coast guard training, locally and abroad. He holds a graduate degree from the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy Graduate School and a Master of Policy Studies from GRIPS and the Japan Coast Guard Academy, where he was part of the inaugural class of the Maritime Safety and Security Program launched jointly by both institutions in 2016. He is also a Young Leader with Pacific Forum, Honolulu. Further, he has written opinion-editorial articles published by The Diplomat, The National Interest, Analyzing War, and other leading publications.

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (left) and Philippine Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel Gabriela Silang (right) render honors to each other following bilateral operations and exercises on Aug. 31, 2021, in the West Philippine Sea. Source: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Kevin G. Rivas