I have no doubt many Filipinos will answer without batting an eyelash, “yes! The Philippines is a maritime nation.” The succeeding questions will give most of us away: Has government or industry stakeholders and the general public able to relate to the significance of the country’s maritime circumstance and how it permeates every aspect of Philippine society?
Ours is an archipelagic country with thousands of islands straddling across the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and Celebes Sea. Unfortunately, we are trapped in the limited view of the country being the premier source of seafarers in the world as our basis. We take pride of our Filipino seafarers, and rightly so as they provide the much needed foreign exchange earnings that help the country’s balance-of-payments record and in uplifting the lives of the seafarers’ families and relatives. Together with the land-based overseas Filipino workers, they have done much to keep the country afloat.
Being a maritime nation requires more than producing seafarers. Being a maritime nation means more than having a geographical configuration embraced by waters. It is more than relying on the resources of the seas that surround the country. It means imbibing a national consciousness that the Philippines is filled with everything that is maritime. Philippine history unfolds with the wave of people who came by seacrafts known as “balanghai” sometimes claimed as having been built in Mindanao coastal settlements. The galleon trade, the Spanish “conquistadors,” Li-ma-hong from China are all part of our maritime history. Yet, we seem to be unperturbed being boxed-in as exclusively a seafaring country.
To be a maritime nation, we must exhibit that level of confidence on our ability to achieve national objectives by harvesting the rich marine resources and optimizing the benefits that the seas provide. Mobilizing the country’s maritime attributes must at all times be pursued with determination as much depend on these for the country to progress. It is telling the world, we are one nation despite the vast waters separating the islands because we are united in our desire to rally every Filipino in making the Philippines a maritime nation. It is making every Filipino aware of how the maritime industry impacts his day-to-day life. It is recognizing the role of the maritime industry as one of the country’s economic backbones by adopting a clear national maritime policy.
Filipino, think maritime ….
Let us begin this campaign by assessing the pillars which constitute the framework upon which a maritime nation stands: Institutions, legislation and regulations, and policy. Calls for integrating the maritime industry, which remains fragmented, resonate across the country. However daunting the task of bringing together the various maritime sectors, it is still worth the effort, based on the overwhelming response of those who believe ours is a maritime nation.
We must not abandon the spot we now occupy and which some countries envy, that of being the preferred source of the world’s seafarers. We must continue to safeguard and expand the market not only for the seafarers but also for Filipino maritime professionals, practitioners and technical workers. Let us rise and work towards producing maritime human capital which match national and global demands. But we must also develop other maritime sectors at a much quicker pace such as shipbuilding and repairs, shipping and ports services, logistics and the provision of ancillary maritime products and services among others.
Stakeholders must be engaged and their inputs solicited in the review of maritime institutions, legislation and regulations and policies. In this, government must lead by adopting a comprehensive national maritime policy that defines the long-term strategic direction for Maritime Philippines.