Readers may be wondering how basic this topic could be. In the first place, is there a need to be primed on such a dry subject? My simple answer is: because you are Filipino and your country of birth is surrounded by vast waters. “Maritime Philippines” is a tag every Filipino should easily identify with. Sadly, it is not the case.
Maritime issues are hardly discussed except within the limited circles of industry players, especially in the seafaring sector and related activities. Oh yes, tourists stand in awe at the country’s beautiful beaches. Yet, “Maritime Philippines” is mainly associated with seafarers and it is not uncommon to hear the ordinary Filipino say “it is about the seaman.”
We can not blame the populace who think maritime is “seafaring.” Government unwittingly impresses on the public that functions relating to seafarers are the “be all” when it comes to the maritime world. Why for instance, does maritime education appears to be limited to merchant marine courses? Has it ever occurred to the officials of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) that the Philippine archipelago needs to develop maritime expertise and the best students can be found in its indigenous population; that being a country of more than 7,000 islands, we have in our midst the best maritime laboratory?
It is equally unsettling that the issue of which agency should oversee the seafaring sector persists. As appeals to reverse legislation and settle the issue fail, a new bill is filed to repeal the same law, never mind that the new subject is extraneous to the main subject. As the turf war rages on, Maritime Philippines remains stunted; and so stays the ordinary Filipino’s appreciation about Maritime Philippines as simply “about the seaman.”
I am amazed at the amount of time, money and energy spent and lost in trying to dislodge MARINA from taking charge of the implementation of the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), which is an international instrument adopted with the primary objective of ensuring maritime safety. The enormous dollar remittances of seafarers dictated the distorted view taken by many in government and industry that STCW should be seen as an essential component of labor rather than a maritime concern. Maritime stakeholders and shipowners, i.e., those who engage seafarers and who own the million-dollar assets (ships) which they operate, do not share the same view. I just hope that the Philippines’ trying to reverse the adverse audit findings is not lost on many in the industry. This is a situation which limits understanding of the maritime industry to being “about the seaman.”
Seafaring placed the Philippines in the international maritime arena. It is a fact known to many Filipinos; the Filipino seaman is actually the only notion of maritime in the mind of the ordinary man. The need to find what else of the country’s maritime circumstances could help further its position in international shipping becomes relevant in light of the growing competition in the shipboard market. What must “Maritime Philippines” do to advance its standing in the international maritime community?
It make sense to know that the maritime workplace is not limited to the ship. It extends to facilities seaward as in offshore units or towards the shore and landward as in ports, shipyards, passenger terminals and cargo sheds, or any similar shipping structure. Therefore, the country could play host to various maritime enterprises outside of the seafarer’s workplace. Within this context, developing the human capital to cater to the demands of maritime enterprises must be pursued, and “Maritime Philippines” could draw from the population a pool of maritime workforce.
It helps to be reminded of the richness of the waters that surround the country. The natural resources which could be mined and harnessed would provide a large amount of economic and social benefits. Ships connect the islands, an important aspect of trade and commerce; it enhances mobility and thereby enables people to pursue education and become productive members of society. These are what make “Maritime Philippines.” These, together with seafaring, should and would become the foundation for an inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic progress for “Maritime Philippines!”