July 25, Malaysia. I am writing this article while attending a Port State Control Officers training in Klang, Malaysia, where this country’s major port is located.
Immediately after the first day of the five-day training, I went to search for a copy of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte, his first.
Aware of how transportation issues have been given much attention since the President took office, I was hoping that sea transport (maritime), along with the other modes of transport, will be mentioned in its way in his SONA, even marginally. I was disappointed, frustrated even. I noted that except for sea transport, all transport modes deserved mention: air, road and rail.
I am trying to rationalize. Maybe it is because sea transport is performing well, that should give me some comfort.
Should it really matter that the maritime industry was not mentioned in the President’s SONA? After all, there are a lot more time and many more opportunities to bring this matter to government attention. Didn’t the President tangentially touch on maritime concerns when he spoke about overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), or easing “doing business in the Philippines,” or for public service officers and employees to perform their jobs with integrity?
Year after year I always look forward to listening to Presidential SONAs – and every time there was no mention of the maritime industry, except once when a quick reference to the nautical highway was made. I consider SONAs as the best indicator of the government’s priority agenda, yet, leaving out other concerns does not necessarily mean complete disregard of those other issues. Several avenues exist after all by which maritime issues can be raised to government.
And because maritime stakeholders do not easily give up, expect them to persist until government listens to what they have to say. Stakeholders have changed course: instead of fragmented sectoral issues, they are ready to present a coherent maritime industry response to the challenge facing the country in achieving socio-economic inclusiveness and sustainability.
We need to see maritime transport as but part of a much bigger affair; it is more than just moving people and cargo. It is about decreasing poverty by creating jobs and livelihood. It is encouraging investments in the maritime industry and related businesses thus generating more jobs. It is developing human capital to match manpower needs in the maritime industry and its ancillary services, therefore higher absorption in the labor market.
I join the stakeholders in their efforts to get government to appreciate the role of the maritime industry as a key player in driving the economy. This role needs to be fired up, more so for a country of more than 7,000 islands!