As the second largest archipelagic country in the world, the Philippines has yet to fully utilize its maritime resources to spark a surge in its national economy and employment rate.
One of the biggest and most recent developments in the maritime industry was the launching of the roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ferry between the Philippines and Indonesia. The agreement between President Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo was announced during the previous Asean Summit in Manila. The new maritime routes will enhance trade relations between the two countries, improving the Philippine economy.
However, the maritime sector covers not only maritime trade but also maritime security, fisheries and aquaculture, maritime tourism, shipbuilding, and offshore energy extraction and exploration.
Fisheries and aquaculture
Despite being ranked the eighth leading country in the fishing and aquaculture industries in the world, fisher folk remain among the poorest basic sectors in the Philippines.
Several factors have contributed to the deterioration of fisheries and aquaculture in the country. According to the April–June 2017 Fisheries Situation Report published by the Philippine Statistics Authority, there was an 11.89-percent decline in commercial fisheries in 2017. Rapid population growth, destruction of marine biodiversity, lackluster fisheries management efforts by institutions, rains and unsustainable fishing are among the causes. The maritime industry faces a tough challenge to sustain fisheries products like tuna, prawns and shrimps for local and international trade.
Shipbuilding and ship repair
The Philippines made it to the Top 10 largest shipbuilding nations in the entire world. According to a recent working paper published by the Ateneo School of Government, entitled “Growing the Philippine Blue Economy: Policy Challenges and Opportunities,” the maritime industry employs over 46,000 workers.
The Philippines mostly dispatch second-hand vessels to save money. The industry maximized the loading capacity of these vessels to accommodate more cargo and passengers. This is where the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) comes in, that is, to ensure safety. The MARINA has implemented its domestic fleet modernization program to reduce the cost for applications and renewals and also to intensify route protection for trade and tourism. The efforts of the agency will surely provide more incentives for the maritime industry.
The Philippines has been exploring and extracting its own natural resources because of maritime disputes with its neighbors, mostly with China. One good example is the issue of claim on the Benham Rise or Philippine Rise located at the coastline of Isabela. Ateneo Policy Center’s Senior Economist and co-author of the Blue Economy paper, Ronaldo Mendoza, stated that one of the biggest economic opportunities for the Philippines is to be able to extract the vast resources from Benham Rise. Mendoza said, “
The maritime sector can contribute to more rapid and inclusive economic growth in the Philippines, given the vast resources,” Mendoza said.
He reiterated Benham Rise is “potentially rich with natural gas and other resources.”
There have been discussions about introducing bills and laws to preserve Benham Rise and its resources. Prominent proponents of these bills are Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza and Senator Sonny Angara. All in all, the maritime industry is still the first line of defense in protecting the natural resources of the country.
The Philippines is the second largest supplier of seafarers in the world, next only to China. Filipinos comprise over 25 percent of the mariners deployed worldwide. Many countries employ them because of their skills and fluency with the English language.
However, according to experts and recent reports, these seafarers lack the capabilities and training to assume officer roles in the maritime sector. With Republic Act No. 10635 implemented, MARINA was tasked to distribute and disseminate an international standard of training to allow Filipino Seafarers to become globally competitive for various job designations and rankings. Twenty-one percent of the total remittances from overseas Filipino workers in 2016 was generated by seafarers.
Opportunities to develop PH economy
The Philippines’ marine ecosystems is on the brink of destruction because of natural and man-made disasters. Going back to the Benham Rise issue, being able to explore and extract the country’s natural resources will surely help with economic growth. This means better security. However, more vessels are needed to protect these resources. The Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Navy need to work together with MARINA to preserve these resources by demanding new vessels and more manpower. Increasing maritime defense will also give local fisher folk better and safer access to more marine resources for personal and business use.
President Duterte has allotted P137.2 Billion for defense initiatives, and he is presently in good terms with China President Xi Jinping. Many politicians believe it is a long shot, but a good rapport between the Philippines and China might put an end to the maritime dispute. The strategic position of the Philippines is its primary arsenal as a major driver for the national economy. The country is also considered one of the best maritime destinations, not only in Southeast Asia but in the entire world.
Shipbuilding and port expansions are also the core elements that attract foreign investments. MARINA uses them as leverage by launching the Maritime Industry Development Program in June 2017. The program will focus on improving the socio-economic growth and establishing collaborative relationships between the government and the potential stakeholders for maritime projects and inclusive growth.
The maritime industry will remain a strong asset for the growth of the Philippines’ national economy. The MARINA notwithstanding, the government is responsible for introducing new laws to protect and preserve maritime resources and areas. The Philippines is required to establish productive agreements with neighboring countries to fully utilize its maritime resources. There are various challenges ahead, but it stands that the maritime industry in the Philippines is one of the key factors for the development and revival of the economy.