The 30th Session of the Assembly of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is scheduled to convene from November 27 to December 6 this year. One of the many activities that will take place during the assembly is the election of the IMO Council members. The council is elected by the assembly for a two-year term beginning after each regular session of the assembly.
The council is the Executive Organ of IMO and is responsible for supervising the work of the organization. Between sessions of the assembly, the council performs all the functions of the assembly, except the function of making recommendations to governments on maritime safety and pollution prevention which is reserved for the assembly. There are 40 member-states that sit in the council divided into three categories. Category A consists of 10 states with the largest interest in providing international shipping services; Category B with another 10 states with the largest interest in international seaborne trade; and Category C are 20 states not elected under A or B and which have special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world. The Philippines has consistently been elected as council member under Category C.
In seeking a seat in the council, the Philippines enunciates its role as a major supplier of shipboard labor to the global shipping community and being so, has the special interest in maritime transport as required for a member-state to sit in the council. The Philippines’ consistent election to the council could in fact be attributed to the recognition extended to its role as a seafaring country.
Through the years of seeking reelection, the Philippines had to aggressively campaign against other member-states with various maritime interests which are as significant as seafaring. Singapore with its status as a premier ports and shipping hub in the world, and Malaysia and Indonesia, which have their oil and gas industries largely depending on sea transport, are also persistent contenders for reelection to the IMO Council. Indonesia, like the Philippines, also provides a significant number of seafarers to the international merchant fleet.
What is significant to note in the immediate past council elections is while Malaysia and Indonesia have registered an upward ranking in the election results, the Philippines is sliding down in its ranking. In the last council election, the country ranked No. 18, just three slots away to losing its reelection bid. This came as a surprise to many maritime watchers as the country has always landed in the range of the first ten. There was even a time when the country ranked No. 1.
It is not that ranking matters but it makes sense for us to assess why there is an apparent decline in the support given by IMO member-states to the Philippines because that is just what one can draw from the number of votes cast for the country. In the past, I can remember how the Philippines vigorously campaigned during assembly meetings despite the meager resources allocated for the campaign compared to the impressive giveaways and reception hostings by the other country candidates – and the Philippines lands in the top 10 always. Therefore, it may not be the campaign materials during election that matters. It should be more than that.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have their respective maritime attaché posted in London. The Philippines also has not one but two, from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority. And we have the country’s first-rate maritime diplomat, Ambassador Gilberto Asuque as Permanent Representative to IMO. So it must not be visibility at IMO per se that impacts on getting more votes for the country, although that should help.
We should count their presence at IMO as most significant in getting the Philippines to effectively implement maritime conventions dealing with safety and marine environment protection and other thematic concerns of IMO.
In less than four months, the council election will take place. Already the campaign has started. The Philippines should begin discussions on how it intends to launch its bid for reelection. Probably, projecting the Philippines as a country highly dependent on its maritime circumstance, not only as a source of seafarers, should be explored. Highlight the country as host to biodiverse marine ecosystem, and efforts to protect and preserve the marine environment. Impress the world with the beautiful beaches and coastal resorts found in the archipelago.
Demonstrate the importance of the maritime industry to the country’s 106 million Filipinos and the dependence of the maritime workforce on the opportunities offered by Maritime Philippines just as it develops its human capital to cater to maritime industry requirement. Articulate on the country’s competitiveness to encourage investments in the maritime industry.
And by the way, how about putting up a report on the value-added for the country as it sits in the IMO Council?