In September 2015, countries of the world adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all which now constitute the new sustainable development agenda. Over a period of 15 years or through 2030, targets which have been set for each of these 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) are expected to be achieved if government, industry, business and civil society will do their part.
From the perspective of the Philippines, one should find the link for each of the SDGs and the corresponding targets to the maritime industry as the socio-economic dimensions of an archipelagic country are shaped by its geographical configuration. To some extent, the maritime industry proudly publicize its role in achieving impressive contributions specially by the seafaring sector to the country’s economy. That is not disputed.
SDG1 speaks of ending poverty in all its forms everywhere. Within the limits of the Philippine archipelago it is apparent that extreme poverty exists in the coastal communities, those where Filipinos are closest to the sea. In fact it is conceded that the poorest rural workers are the fisher folk. So, if there is anywhere we can train our sight on in respect to SDG1, it should be somewhere along the coast. It should be interesting to find out how many of the workforce in coastal communities took to seafaring, the most popular maritime profession. I am not suggesting we should make it a policy to source maritime students from the marginalized coastal population as there are also, within the urban areas, traces of extreme poverty.
Much has been said about developing maritime human capital that from all indications focus on developing and marketing Filipino seafarers for international shipping. There is no problem with that. But I believe the maritime industry can do more than that.
In one of my trips to my father’s hometown in Bani, Pangasinan, I talked to a young boy who joins his father whose means of livelihood is fishing. They sell their daily catch that gives them enough money to buy rice for the day and for his transportation fare in going to school which is five kilometers from home. Rice and vegetable are the daily fare and fish if not everything is sold. He dreams of someday being able to finish school and maybe become a seafarer. But he says, it must be an impossible dream for one like him because he is not able to catch up with students who are from the poblacion (town center). They can speak English while he hardly has time to read and learn the language.
I asked him, why he wants to be a seafarer and why not go instead into teaching or a fisheries course, the latter being closer to what he is doing. I also mentioned about vocational modules to learn welding or machine works then he can probably go to a shipyard. I was taken aback by the response, “because people say you can earn a lot of money with seafaring and then I can build a house for my parents, send my brothers to school and then my father will stop fishing just so we can buy rice. Besides, seafaring is the only job I have heard which is related to the sea. I see ships pass by everyday.”
How many young boys and girls know of other maritime occupations other than seafaring? Maybe there are many more. But even if they do pursue maritime education, how many of them will be able to successfully get employed? This is not to discourage young people from going to sea. This is to say that government should re-think its maritime human capital strategies to allow the socially excluded gain wider access to opportunities and be economically employed.
There are many other maritime-related jobs but which are never promoted because seafaring has been the be all of government when it comes to maritime manpower. My understanding of maritime manpower development covers all maritime manpower, not only seafarers, yet the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) undertakes primarily STCW-related activities. It must be interesting to know what other maritime manpower receives the same attention.
Government officials should be reminded of their bounden duty to evaluatehow policies help improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos and not solely that of promoting business. However, a review of the maritime policies and legislation in this country will confirm that these generally respond to issues raised by those who have the means and the voice to articulate their demands, a reality that resonates across the archipelago.
Maybe if SDG1 is to be taken seriously, steps can be identified and pursued by government and the maritime industry to pull Filipinos out of extreme poverty. After all, there can be no meaningful economic progress despite sustained increase in gross domestic product (GDP) if a big slice of the population remains impoverished and to whom access to opportunities to improve their lot is shut.