THE PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD (PCG) has sent “one billio thanks” to President Aquino for setting aside close to P3 Billion as the 2011 budget of what the PCG commandant acknowledged as “one of the world’s most over-challenged coast guards”

Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, PCG Chief, said the P1 Billion increase in the agency’s budget (from P2 Billion this year) was a “big boost” to the Coast Guard.

With increased funding, the Coast Guard, now attached to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), is “in a better position to guard the country’s many coasts.” Tamayo said

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a higher budget for the DOTC, including the Coast Guard.

A huge chunk of the Coast Guard’s 2011 budget will go to salaries, recruitment of 500 additional men and the purchase of at least two helicopters, according to Lt. Commander Arman Balilo

The Coast Guard plans to acquire a total of seven new helicopters.

The Coast Guard “has ships where helicopters can land.” said Tamayo

It also allocated P376.5 million for the installation of an undisclosed number of lighthouses in remote fishing villages nationwide

The Coast Guard also plans to put up a buoy base in Romblon and Cebu and navigational aids in the vicinity of the San Juanico Strait in Leyte.

Early this year, the agency said it needed at least P733.02 million for its personnel and fleet expansion programs.

The Philippines has over 36,000 kilometers of coastline and thousands of coastal communities.

“About 90 percent of our domestic trade is being transported by commercial vessels. The country is also visited by at least 20 typhoons each year.” Tamayo said.

But he expressed confidence that the agency “can grow significantly during the next few years.”

“I’m optimistic that the Coast Guard will continue to grow (under the Aquino administration).” he said. “Perhaps, this is the time for our new government to be more maritime-minded.”

Earlier in an interview, Tamayo urged the Aquino administration to “look more seawide.” Saying the country has the “third or fourth longest coastlne in the world.”

“We have to have a strong Coast Guard. Otherwise, we will lose a lot of our natural wealth.” He said.

In the last 10 years, the Coast Guard has acquired only seven search-and-rescue vessels, two of which came from the Australian government.

The command has “only 20 credible ships, meaning, these are  relatively modern vessels.”