Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation No. 316 Declaring the month of September as Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month (MANA MO). This proclamation demonstrates the importance this government gives to the country’s maritime character. The direction is clearly stipulated in the said presidential issuance, i.e. to harmonize, integrate and synchronize programs and activities that will raise national consciousness on maritime and archipelagic concerns.
For months after President Duterte assumed office as the highest official of this archipelago, the Movement for Maritime Philippines (MMP) has been advocating for mainstreaming the country’s maritime circumstance.
And it is not without basis. The Movement during the 2016 presidential election campaign period exerted much effort in getting the candidates to include in their platform of government, once elected, a national maritime agenda. The invite to grace a forum for presidentiables were extended to all candidates except to the late Senator Miriam Santiago. The only presidentiable who accepted the invitation was then Mayor Duterte. The forum was held in January 2016 at the Davao Maritime Academy where the mayor committed to include in his government platform a maritime agenda.
The MMP advocacy is founded on the desire to situate the maritime industry as a vital and indispensible tool for achieving an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic growth for the Philippines. For the most part though, the industry remains an ad hoc policy option, most often directed to respond to short-term issues and challenges. The maritime circumstance of the country, it seems, remains far removed from the national development plan. There is nothing in the country’s policy that expressly articulate our maritime interest—an interest which the ordinary Filipino can easily relate to. What we see are policy statements which present fragmented sectoral objectives, based on priorities that promote profitability often devoid of social responsibility.
The MMP after the President took office and banking on his commitment during the Davao maritime forum endeavored to put together a national maritime agenda which shall adopt an integrated maritime policy where various sectoral concerns are to be harmonized and coordinated. The call for a maritime industry that will adopt a vision to promote the maritime interests of the country and help uplift the impoverished life of the socially excluded majority in this archipelago is fraught with challenges. But MMP is not about ready to give up on its belief that the formulation of a cohesive and integrated maritime policy amid the variance in sectoral objectives and targets is a must for this archipelago to harness the benefits of its maritime endowments.
MMP went as far as preparing the stage for a national maritime summit this September but which has to give way to other maritime activities which government deems as important. We do not challenge the wisdom in government’s setting aside the holding of the maritime summit and thereafter the consideration of a national maritime agenda; the question remains though: will President Duterte be able to fulfill his commitment of elevating the maritime industry as a priority socio-economic program for this archipelago?
Proclamation No. 316 is a manifestation that President Duterte has not forgotten the promise he made in Davao in January 2016. It is a most welcome development as it ordains the implementation, by government and industry stakeholders, of “programs and activities that seek to raise awareness and consciousness on maritime and archipelagic issues and concerns.” It reflects the President’s conscious appreciation of why it is important to inform every Filipino ofhis maritime heritage and of what he and his posterity can expect from an archipelagic nation. Only through an enhanced awareness of the maritime character of his country will the Filipino find his link to the opportunities offered by the Philippine islands and which for the longest time been ignored.
With Proclamation No. 316, we expect more than just the holding of a month-long celebratory program of parades, exhibits, workshops and seminars. Filipinos must expect it to be the precursor to adopting a maritime policy that will help in generating beneficial patterns of self-sustaining growth and most importantly, of getting the maritime industry as a vehicle for promoting social inclusivity. And such will definitely go beyond September of every year.