President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address made reference to the maritime industry as he highlighted sea connectivity through the nautical highway. The launch of 15 new roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) vessels as a program during his term and deserving mention in his SONA is a positive sign he thinks maritime. How this initiative of introducing ro/ro new buildings to sustain the nautical highway could result to tapping our local shipyards is something many maritime watchers would like to discover.
Shipyards in the Philippines are capable of building ships of 30 meters long, weighing 40 tons to over 400 meters long of over 100,000 tons in weight. Getting those ro/ro ships built in the Philippines instead of importing them will mean creating employment for the country’s labor force; preserving foreign exchange to be used in purchasing the ships; and generating government revenue in terms of taxes and administrative fees that otherwise will be paid out by Filipino shipowners to the government of the foreign shipbuilder. More importantly, building those ships in the Philippines is a chance to showcase the capacity of the country to produce small and large ships proudly made by Filipinos.
The ro/ro operations in the GenSan/Davao-Bitung, Indonesia route that was launched by President Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and which was also mentioned in the President’s SONA is proof of the importance the Philippine government attaches to the maritime industry. It is recognizing the role of maritime by strengthening the sea lanes of communications among member States of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean). After all, nine of the ten member-states are connected to the sea.
The GenSan/Davao-Bitung Ro/Ro route was not the first such attempt to connect Southern Philippines with Indonesia. In the late 1990s, the same route was opened as part of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). However, the shipping operation in the route was not sustained from lack of cargoes and passengers, and the issues concerning harmonization of both countries’ customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) regulations. The matter was further exacerbated by heightened security concerns due to piracy in the Celebes Sea. A parallel route was also opened in the Zamboanga-Sandakan, Malaysia route during the time and to date continues to run.
President Duterte’s citing the ro/ro operations in GenSan/Davao-Bitung route should present opportunities for the Philippine maritime industry. It heralds the creation of new opportunities for accelerating ports development in the area that is already part of the blueprint under the Build, Build, Build program of the country. The market for Philippine-built ships that cater to the requirements of the BIMP-EAGA routes has been created. In the same way, Filipino shipowners should be encouraged to go into short-sea operations that will connect southern Philippines with Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam as no less than the President gave his thumbs up as articulated during his SONA. Davao and GenSan ports could be developed to serve cruise ships.
When the President confronted those who caused environmental decay in this country, he mentioned that the country’s natural resources shall be extracted and processed in the Philippines. The raw materials shall not be exported to be later imported as finished products to the Philippines. The country should be able to produce its own requirements for the manufacturing and construction sectors, possibly even roll the steel needed for shipbuilding.
The President appeared bent on ending the deleterious effects of mining and he is not to be mollified by the billions of pesos in revenues to be generated from mining that according to him end up in the pockets of rich miners and businessmen. As he berated mining, he acknowledged government initiatives on something maritime, i.e. enhancing sea transport with additional ro/ro vessels and opening the Asean and BIMP-EAGAshort-sea routes.
There is much work to be done for the maritime industry to be able to participate and respond to the demands in the President’s policy direction. And the maritime stakeholders are ready to start work; they have their plans and activities laid down in their respective sectoral roadmaps.
So far, this is a SONA with maritime flavor.