CLAIMS that the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) in the past did not have clear direction for the maritime industry is not completely true, otherwise, the state in which we find the industry now would have been worse. I am aware, having joined MARINA in 1979 until I resigned in 2003 to join the International Maritime Organization (IMO), of efforts by the agency to put up the Maritime Industry Development Program (MIDP), which was mandated under Presidential Decree No. 474. In form I agree MARINA failed to produce the MIDP document as stipulated by PD 474; in substance, past administrations of the agency formulated their respective policy directions and delivered concrete accomplishments based on these.
Established at a time of political uncertainties exacerbated by insufficient resources such as manpower and funding with hardly any support from the highest level of governance which exercised both executive and legislative powers, MARINA had no other recourse but to give priority attention to pressing issues at that time.
There was not much that improved in propping up the organizational capabilities of MARINA after the installation of the government of President Corazon Aquino and succeeding administrations. Therefore, rather than deal with putting up the MIDP with a 10-year timeline, MARINA had no other option but to train its attention, given the limited resources, to issues that had direct and immediate impact on the country’s national interests. These included addressing the embarrassing poor safety record of domestic shipping characterized by obsolescent merchant fleet and conflicting rules and regulations. The attack on the integrity of the Philippine flag in international shipping which adversely affected the global competitiveness of the fleet was another such concern.
In addition, measures to implement Philippine commitment to regional and international maritime agreements and affiliations had to be put in place and which necessitated re-aligning of functions among maritime agencies including those of MARINA.
Given the proclivities of politicians in this country of bringing with them their own platform of government, there is no assurance an MIDP which goes beyond six years will be carried out by the next administration. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) prepares the medium-term development plan coinciding with the six-years term of the sitting President. To look forward to having a development plan beyond six years appears to be a quixotic ambition. MARINA’s direction is likewise dictated by the priorities set by the President, NEDA and maritime stakeholders. Past Presidents and NEDA hardly touched on maritime issues and stakeholders identified proposed policy directions based on their respective sectoral objectives.
The decreasing number of Philippine-flagged ships in international voyages was high in the policy program of MARINA during President Ramos’ administration but lack of support from Congress and the other agencies of government failed to enact bills that will make the Philippine ship registry attractive. Besides, compliance with the standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers took precedence over all other maritime concerns from the 1990’s. It serves to remind everyone that MARINA’s role in the implementation of the STCW convention was relegated to that of a passive participant with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) taking the lead. This despite efforts to convince the political leaders that STCW convention should be treated primarily as a maritime safety convention rather than as a labor convention. MARINA let go of the STCW functions, until the IMO and the European Maritime Safety Administration (EMSA) noted certain unacceptable implementation flaws which, in the first place, could have been corrected if the maritime administration was allowed to take the lead, maritime safety being MARINA’s core function. These were on top of other concerns the agency had to confront including that of justifying its assumption of the safety functions under Executive order Nos. 125/125-A and the growing demand to deregulate domestic shipping
Progress in the maritime industry
Maritime stakeholders should be able to attest there was discernible progress achieved notwithstanding the short-term directions pursued by MARINA, at most following a six-year timeline. The deregulation program in domestic shipping immensely improved shipping services as monopolies were dismantled and the grandfather rule for pioneering operators was abandoned. It was also during the 1980’s and under the program of MARINA that Philippine-flagged ships increased although many of the stakeholders were primarily set on manning as their principal line of business, not freight carriage. While stakeholders may argue that the decline of the Philippine ship registry results from MARINA’s lack of a long-term direction to sustain the achievements of the past, there is no denying too, that the fragmented manner in which maritime-related issues are considered in this country hinders finding a comprehensive solution to challenges such as that encountered by the Philippine ship registry.
The installation of the nautical highways is the result of a short-term program during President Gloria Arroyo’s term and which demonstrates that support from national leadership has given impetus to the completion of the target output. The country registered improvement in its safety record in domestic shipping, partly attributable to MARINA’s policy of raising the level of safety standards to those adopted in international shipping to the extent practicable.
I am not saying there is no need prepare a 10-year MIDP being myself a proponent of having a national maritime agenda, the blueprint for a long-term maritime policy, beyond 10 years. Everyone appears eager to see the MIDP finally formulated and adopted. Whatever be the process and formula MARINA will adopt in preparing the MIDP, efforts should at least be made to draw from what has been achieved. Brushing aside the policies and achievements of the past means losing on useful inputs when crafting the MIDP!!