Remembering VADM Mariano J. Dumancas, Jr.

Public Consultation on IRR of RA 9993DOTC Secretary Jose P. de Jesus approved on 8 April 2011, the implementing rules and regulations IRR of R.A. 9993 or the Philippine Coast Guard Law of 2009. Photo Credit: United Filipino Seafarers Federation

The idea of giving credit where credit is due on the separation of the Coast Guard from the Navy came about when I got the suggestion last year that we should award VAdm. Mariano J. Dumancas Jr. (FOIC, PN1990-93) with a citation for exactly agreeing to help achieve that result in 1992.

I missed to include that idea in our 2015 Coast Guard Day program, and regretted this so, especially when I learned about the demise of the former FOIC, PN on 2 April, 2016.

Coast Guard separation?

Yes, indeed. Who would have thought that this man had something to do with that? Ask Commo. Chuck Agustin, the PCG Commandant (1990-1993) who orchestrated it all.

In late July, 1992, barely a month after President Fidel V. Ramos assumed his Presidency, in a private audience at Malacañang, Agustin told President Ramos, “Mr. President, I believe that the Coast Guard should separate from the Navy.”

“What made you think that?” asked the President.

“After all these years, the PCG has not really progressed. It has no future under the Navy,” replied the PCG Commandant.

The President thought a bit, and asked, “What makes you think you can do it when a PD signed by President Marcos failed to cause the separation to be made?” Ramos was referring to Presidential Decree 601 dated 9 December, 1975 that revised RA 5173 and placed the PCG directly under the Secretary of National Defense. Agustin replied, “RAdm. Ogbinar had the wrong strategy, Mr. President.”

“So what strategy could work? What is your plan?”

Agustin: “Simple Sir; convince the Navy first.”

The President had no hesitation, as he immediately understood not only the failure of PD 601 but also the idea of alienating affected crucial players by not involving them in decision making, from his long years dealing with organizations and bureaucrats. After all, he had been known as “Mr. CSW” in the entire government in reference to many returned letters and studies asking the cabinet members and bureaucrats to do “Completed Staff Work.” He replied, “That would work. If you can do it, I will not oppose your plan.”

Thus, the next step would be to convince the Navy. Agustin’s idea was simple: present a proposal they had previously been working on in light of the controversial relationship between the PCG and MARINA, spawned by a letter initiated by the MARINA Administrator, Capt. Victorino A. Basco in 1984 to ask the President to transfer all the maritime administration functions of the PCG to MARINA, which the Secretary of Transportation and Communications, Sec. Jose P. Dans, fully supported, only to back down upon receiving a strong letter from the PCG Commandant, Commo Brillante C. Ochoco (CPCG 1981-86).

“Let us review, update and finalize that study, and use it for this effort,” Commo. Agustin asked of his PCG staff. He designated the PCG Chief of Staff, Capt. Juan A. De Leon Jr. PN (GSC) to be on top of that group. Commo Agustin and I recall some of those who had significant contributions in that study paper even before that task at hand. They are: LCdr. Normando D. Naval (CGTC), LCdr. Amable C. Tolentino, Cdr. Victor S. Villacorta, LT. Damian L. Carlos, LCdr. Roberto V. Garcia, Cdr. Sesinando G. Perez, and Cdr. Lucio T. Ibanez.

I was Chief, Production Branch of O/CG2 at that time and was tasked with reviewing the paper, but of course much of it had been edited by no less than Commo. Agustin himself. Our office was also tasked to prepare the visual aids. At that time, there was no Power Point yet and the common visual aids were transparencies and carousel slides. Commo. Agustin, however, wanted a more “high-tech” presentation, and so we made a Storyboard which was the forerunner of today’s Power Point. It included some animations, which at that time could not be contained in the floppy discs, so we had to carry the computer’s CPU to every presentation.

We were ready within a week or two, whereupon Agustin requested VAdm. Mariano J. Dumancas Jr. for a command conference at Navy Headquarters to address that subject alone in September 1992.

The Command Conference had all the top guns of the Navy attending: the Major and Special Unit Commanders, the Naval District Commanders and the staff.

Our presentation was detailed but clear and to the point. We emphasized that RA 5173 meant only the initial organization to be under the PN and that unless the PCG were separated, it could not develop professionally if PCG skills were only to be part of the naval career pattern. We gave many examples where personnel training resources were wasted when specialized personnel were rotated out to perform naval functions, and their skills lost by the PCG. We emphasized that the primary maritime functions of Merchant Marine Administration, Safety of Navigation, Marine Environmental Protection and Maritime Safety Administration were primarily not germane to naval defense.

Commo. Agustin harped on the easily understood comparison that would eventually help sell Congress in amending RA 5173: the Navy exists to kill and destroy the enemy; the Coast Guard exists to save lives and property at sea and protect the marine environment.

VAdm. Dumancas knew that he was contending with a naval public that was highly resistive to losing a major organization; he knew that any decision to separate the PCG from the Navy would weaken the Navy strength and somehow lose influence and power. But we noted that the questions raised by the senior commanders were neither too controversial nor highly critical of the idea; perhaps the friendships and camaraderie engendered through the years by our senior commanders had somehow weakened their resolve to oppose our idea.

But the burden rested more on Dumancas, who was a highly trained professional sea dog who understood that organizational and functional effectiveness are affected by focus. The Coast Guard being under the Navy provides some distraction to that focus. In turn, the PCG suffers as the PCG’s non-naval functions take a back seat position in the naval scheme of things. His final remark included that statement we were hoping for: “Let’s go for this. The Navy will agree.”

We also did the rounds and presented the briefing to DND and GHQ AFP. I did the presentations, but Commo. Agustin always answered convincingly all of the questions. I remember one of the strong justifications cited at that time was the Resolution of the Shipping and Ports Advisory Council (SPAC) of the need for the “proper placement of the PCG.”

VAdm. Mariano J. Dumancas, Jr. stood pat on that commitment to the end. During the ensuing GHQ Command Conference, he fully endorsed the position such that the AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Lisandro C. Abadia in his final statement, said, “If the two of you agree, who am I to oppose?”

Dumancas and Abadia were likewise present in the next step, which was quite easy as the Secretary of Defense was already apprised of the idea that the Coast Guard would eventually separate from the AFP: It was in the original PNP Law, which was taken out only because Commo. Agustin, then Chief of AFP Personnel (J-1) represented Gen. Renato S. de Villa who was CSAFP in 1986-90, convincing its principal author, Rep. Rodrigo B. Gutang, with practically the same argument.

Dumancas further delivered on his commitment: He gave the nod to allow the PCG to retain ownership of all weapons, equipment and vessels in its possession; toward this end, he issued a Transition Plan. He was also present and signatory as a witness when the Secretary of National Defense (Gen. Renato S de Villa) and the Secretary of Transportation and Communications (Sec. Jesus T. Garcia) signed the MOA on the transfer from DND to DOTC at Camp Aguinaldo, QC.

The Coast Guard was eventually transferred by virtue of Executive Order Nos. 475 and 477, a two-stage transfer authorized under EO 292, the Administrative Code of 1987, and an idea that came from President Ramos himself, using the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) precedence.

Transfer ceremonies were held at the HQ Philippine Navy in 1998 with President Ramos in attendance. Sec. Fortunato U. Abat was then the SND. Commo. Agustin, who was already retired and serving as the PPA General Manager at the time, was acknowledged by President Ramos in that ceremony, as “the man responsible for the success or failure of this idea,” at the same time speaking positively for the organizational change.

Commo. Agustin later told us that he was bothered by the statements he heard from some Navy officers during the ceremony that the decision was “a grave error.” He would also later admit that even at DND in 2005, the Asst. Sec. for Legal Affairs (ASLA) surprised him when she asked the Secretary of National Defense Angelo T. Reyes during a conference “to restudy the PCG separation.” The Secretary immediately turned to Commo. Agustin and asked, “President, NDCP?” knowing that Commo. Agustin was a former CPCG. The latter replied in no uncertain terms that the action had been done with deliberate study and had been thoroughly discussed at HPN, GHQ and there at DND, endorsed by all concerned agencies and approved by the President, and any move to reconsider would only be disruptive.

The turnover event in 1998 “clinched the deal” for the Coast Guard. We would never look back again.

We owe it to an understanding, progressive and decisive Commander-in-Chief, and the statesmanship and professionalism of the PN Flag Officer in Command, who saw it through despite historical precedents on the position of a person in such job, including those who were the heads of the PCG immediately before becoming the Navy’s Chief.

On a personal note, I wonder if I would be the 26th PCG Commandant had the transfer idea not been brought to fruition.

May VAdm. Mariano J. Dumancas, Jr. rest in eternal peace, knowing that, as the experience of the Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) standoff later showed, his decision to allow the existence of a separate “white ship” agency was well-conceived and timely in the light of current trends in maritime safety administration, and the critical developments on the West Philippine Sea!

Editor’s note: RAdm. William M. Melad PCG is the new Commandant, Philippine Coast Guard. It took many bills, including a few calling for the return of the PCG to the Navy, and years of hearings in the process. The PCG creation as a separate service was finally realized with the approval of RA 9993 (The Philippine Coast Guard Law of 2009) on 12 Feb 2010, repealing RA 5173, as amended, 11 years after President Fidel V. Ramos took the unprecedented bold move of “cutting it clean” from the Philippine Navy. The position of PCG Commandant now carries the grade of Admiral.