This mantra is how the Duterte administration introduced its infrastructure program. The government allocates an enormous budget to undertake such an ambitious target to improve and ensure mobility in the country, afford comfort and convenience to travelers, passengers and shippers —through the building of roads, railways, airports, and seaports.
The same mantra could apply to the ship/boatbuilding sector which has embarked on an aggressive program to step up its role as a vital component of the maritime industry. It is not surprising for an archipelago like the Philippines to have boatbuilding as a primary economic pursuit. Way back in the 1960s through the 1970s, boatbuilding was a backyard industry, and at the time wood sufficed to supply the requirement for building ships.
In the post-war era, the development of urban areas across the country resulted in increased demand for sea transport as opportunities beckoned the population to the benefits of city life. Entrepreneurs, students, and workers gravitated towards the trading centers, university belts, and employment hubs in urbanized regions. Thus, bigger, steel-hulled ships deployed in domestic shipping routes although a great number of wooden-hulled boats continued to serve coastal communities.
Fast forward to the close of the century: Most of the islands are still connected by sea transport and augmented by bridges built for some links. Still, the domestic merchant fleet consists primarily of second-hand ships. With the introduction of the nautical highway and with increased routes and frequency in air carriage, the linkages among the islands were greatly enhanced.
Why the Philippines remains heavily dependent on second-hand ships, most of which were discarded or found to have reached the end of their economic life in their country of origin defies reason. The Filipino has the innate ability to build ships, and is not limited to primitive and wooden-hulled ships as shipyards with foreign equity were established in Subic, Zambales, and in Cebu, utilizing local manpower who build ships for export.
There are also local shipyards such as Herma Shipyard which cater to the domestic market. As in the past, small and medium scale shipyards with capacity to build ships below 1,000 gross tons exist across the country.
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) has initiated renewed efforts to capacitate local shipyards. The government plan to retire wooden-hulled vessels provides the impetus for these Philippine shipyards to BUILD, BUILD, BUILD. However, matching the capacity of local shipyards in building ships with the ability of shipowners to replace their wooden-hulled vessels must be closely examined. Thaddeus Jovellanos of the Philippine Register of Shipping (PRS) maintains there is need to prepare the stakeholders for fulfilling the target of replacing wooden-hulled ships. For both the shipyards and the shipowners, access to financing facilities and the challenge of confronting the bureaucratic maze have to be addressed.
BUILD, BUILD, BUILD ships is a mantra most appropriate to the shipbuilding sector. It can create employment, generate foreign exchange, and promote the Philippines’ stature as a maritime country.