The economic managers of President Rodrigo Duterte are optimistic about the economic and business opportunities created by the government’s launch of its BUILD, BUILD, BUILD program, which is the most ambitious infrastructure blueprint the country ever had.
Construction of roads, airports, seaports and other transport facilities is expected to stir up rural development as movement of inputs to agriculture such as fertilizers and farm implements and agricultural produce improves, consequently stimulating domestic trade. Linking urban areas such as cities and towns with the rural/agricultural sites should be seen as crucial in achieving economic inclusivity, thus reducing poverty. In this archipelago, the maritime industry figures prominently in connecting the islands.
The planned infrastructure program augurs well for the Philippine maritime industry as it prepares to take on the prospects of the Asean Single Shipping Market. Add to this the basket of investment pledges the President brings home from state visits to bilateral partners, which means increased demands for sea transport as investors move around. The creation of employment opportunities brought about by increased investments will also result in an economically empowered population whose mobility, most probably by sea, will be greatly enhanced.
Data for informed policy and decision
Encouraged by recent developments, the various maritime sectors are putting together plans and taking concrete actions for them to be able to take advantage of the opportunities which will come their way. However, as in the past, the one challenge across the maritime industry resurfaced: Lack of data and statistics and oftentimes the absence of readily available information on documented maritime policies and plans.
In a series of meetings conducted to prepare sectoral roadmaps as part of the input to the national maritime agenda, most if not all strategies and tasks drawn up require data and information for these to be completed and achieved. In finalizing the activities to be undertaken, verification is required against available information. Maritime stakeholders once more gripe about the dearth of maritime data and information, which are crucial to planning and decision-making. The limited available data are usually outdated and in unprocessed form, notwithstanding that these are internally generated, culled from information gathered during delivery of services to the agencies’ clientele. The roundabout responses given by agencies when requested for information exacerbates matters.
Government agencies do have management information systems units. In some, the information center is merged with the library as researches, studies and manuscripts related to the areas of concern of the agency are kept within its premises. Where a research and development unit exists, close linkage with the information unit and the library must be ensured. The importance accorded by the agency to its management information unit may depend on its usefulness and relevance, although the scope of its work should have been clearly defined. The least that one expects of a management information systems unit is the collection, collation, and processing of data and statistics into useful information suitable for interpretation by management, stakeholders and whoever has need of it.
Regrettably, if one is to draw conclusions based on anecdotal accounts of stakeholders or those in government, collection and collation of maritime data and information is done on an on-need basis, i.e. as is requested or as the need arises. In some cases, the requesting party ends up doing the data collection by reverting to the primary source or scouring for secondary sources. In an archipelago that relies heavily on its maritime circumstance and takes pride inbeing the premier supplier of seafarers to the world’s merchant fleet, it is unbelievable that maritime information remains rudimentary.
It is time for government to take a serious look at enhancing its capability of providing updated, accurate and timely maritime data and information—necessary in formulating wise policies and decisions.