Even before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) released its decision on the South China Sea case, the treatment of Filipino fishermen and denial of access to the rich fishing grounds in the waters we claim to be within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) gave rise to grave concern from local and international communities.
So in light of the award, our immediate expectation of the PCA award is for Filipino fishermen being able to resume their livelihood in the disputed area.
Being able to fish in the disputed waters is the immediate and most visible consequence of the Philippine victory in the PCA award. However, I believe the country must project a higher purpose: a persistent goal that defines our maritime interest.
The Movement for Maritime Philippines (MMP) has been advocating for a definition of the national maritime interest for some time now. The MMP-proposed National Maritime Goal of achieving “An Inclusive and Sustainable Socio-Economic Growth through the Maritime Industry” captures the desire of every Filipino to be able to enjoy the rewards of participating in the country’s economic and social setting. The proposed goal recognizes as well the key role of the maritime industry in realizing the elusive aspiration of the marginalized members of Philippine society.
The prospect of freely engaging in fishing is one of the maritime-based economic activities which contribute to inclusiveness, just as seafaring, shipbuilding, port works and other related activities do. These and many other maritime activities generate jobs and livelihood, create wealth which ultimately provide the masses opportunity to be lifted from their poverty and marginalized lives. Shouldn’t these serve as the core of the national maritime goal?
Sadly, our maritime interest is defined as an ad hoc vision in the context of a chosen sectoral objective, confined to the Presidential term of six years to be replaced by the next administration. The maritime circumstance of the country, it seems, remains far removed from the national development plan. There is nothing in the country’s policy which expressly articulate our maritime interest – an interest which the ordinary Filipino can easily relate to. What we see are policy statements that present fragmented sectoral objectives, based on priorities that promote profitability often devoid of social responsibility.
In the euphoria that followed the PCA award, the need to communicate our maritime interest which reflect the very essence of our being an archipelagic country becomes urgent. Let us act before those who constitute the majority of the population come to believe that this matter concerns only the Filipino fishermen. This victory is about being able to uphold our quest of optimizing the benefits of being a maritime nation. Protecting our territorial waters and enjoying our sovereign rights over the country’s exclusive economic zone should lead to realizing a sustainable and inclusive growth.