Every year, the country celebrates National Maritime Week during the last week of September, pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 1094 issued in 1997 by then President Fidel V. Ramos. The celebration is in consonance with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) program declaring the last Thursday of September as World Maritime Day. In time, IMO Member States were given the flexibility to decide on the exact day of celebration. In the Philippines, we opted to have a week-long celebration, perhaps a recognition of the importance attributed to the maritime circumstances of the country.
Last week’s Philippine celebration adopted the IMO theme for the World Maritime Day for 2016: “Shipping, indispensable to the world.” To an archipelagic country like ours, this mantra is indeed most fitting! For us in the Philippines, shipping, or in the wider sense, maritime, is more than just a mode of transport. It is a way of living that enables mobility of goods and people, provides livelihood and generates jobs, allows the enjoyment of economic gains realized from maritime activities and in some ways, though conveniently ignored, serves as the basic means of survival for many.
Philippine history is full of accounts of the country’s maritime traditions from the galleon trade to Magellan and the wave of other invaders who landed in these islands strewn across the great oceans in the Pacific. It is shipping which connected the compact island groups into one nation. These and many more are reasons for this country to celebrate maritime! It is acknowledging the character of a country that nurtures its history from the waters that surround it.
It is perplexing that not many Filipinos appreciate the country’s maritime endowments – the numerous coastal towns and provinces with their lovely beaches, the diverse marine life in its waters, the economic and recreational activities hosted by the sea, and the uniting impact to a nation physically divided by water.
This feeling of frustration is heightened every time National Maritime Week is celebrated—and no, it’s not the adequacy of the activities that unfold during the week. I have seen the efforts of everyone involved in preparing a meaningful program. Those who are in the maritime industry make sure there is a week full of festivities, e.g. blowing ships’ horns, coastal clean-up, seafarers’ funfare, parades and symposia and the like.
The realization that after the revelry not many would have absorbed the real meaning of the celebration is one reason to be upset. It is easy to spot manifestations of these: regressing delivery of public service in maritime agencies, corruption and red tape, incompetence and insolence, lack of coherence of maritime policies and regulations, among others. Maritime Week has been celebrated many times over the years, yet there is nothing that has notably changed. On a higher plane, I wonder if those who are in authority are able to take hold of any impression during the celebration which is worth translating into maritime policies and plans? Did the theme: shipping, indispensable to the world, make its mark?
Celebrating the Maritime National Week should not be treated solely as a matter of performing a legal mandate, rather, it must be seen as a platform to promote wider understanding of the maritime nature of the Philippines. It must move those in the maritime agencies champion an advocacy that will make every Filipino aware of his maritime birthright.
A good friend, Dr. Arleen Abuid-Paderanga of the Asian Institute of Maritime Studies, cites ad infinitum of how the maritime industry in this country is marginalized even as “seventy eight percent of the country’s territory is water, yet we tend to forget this important aspect of the Philippines. How can we talk of achieving progress if we continue to ignore a significant part of the archipelago?”
I can agree no less, and like Dr. Abuid, I look forward to that day when every Filipino embraces their maritime heritage.