For one who has built her career in the world of maritime, I was witness to decades of infighting among maritime agencies which do not seem to agree on the delineation of functions upon the self-proclaimed wisdom that they are the best for the job. (It is as if they really are up for the job).
After leaving the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) to join the International Maritime Organization (IMO), I had the opportunity of dealing with maritime administrations not only in East Asia but also those in West Asia and some European maritime countries. I then realized that the protracted attempt toward uniting a fragmented maritime administration is probably an “only in the Philippines” phenomenon. Well, it is not to say that other maritime countries did not have challenges, but these did not run as long as four decades as we see in the Philippines.
In most of these countries, especially in the developed maritime countries, having a national maritime policy serves as a uniting factor that all ministries and agencies will have to adhere to. This is absent in this archipelago of ours despite claims otherwise. Singapore and Malaysia, two countries which are leading in terms of maritime development in the Asean region, both have single maritime administration which takes care of the thematic functions of maritime safety, pollution prevention from ships, and the seafaring sector. The entities undertaking maritime functions are mainly under the Maritime and Port Administration of Singapore and the Marine Department of Malaysia. This is not to say though that everything maritime is under these agencies. There are maritime agencies which are not part of the maritime administration but which maintain close coordination with the maritime administration.
I am not proposing for this archipelago to adopt the Singaporean or Malaysian model. I am suggesting we should seriously re-assess how this country discharges maritime functions and draw up a long-term strategy which will be pursued by generations to come. That is one of the observed strengths of these two countries. Maritime leaders and officials change but hardly do policies change—and it is possible because there is unity of purpose. No need for the new leaders to impress they are better than their predecessor. And yes, this presupposes too that policies, rules and regulations that are formulated and implemented are well-thought of, beneficial not only to those who are in the business but have considered the impact on the public.
In this archipelago, the propensity to toss maritime functions from one agency to another is noted. Executive Order No. 125/125-A was issued by the President Corazon Aquino founded on the wisdom of accelerating the development of the maritime industry through a robust and competitive national merchant fleet capable of moving the country’s domestic and foreign trade. Thus were the maritime functions related to the putting up of a Philippine merchant fleet transferred from MARINA from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). The functions were not to be taken in by MARINA with least resistance; MARINA had to attend a series of hearings in Congress to defend its position as the maritime safety implementing agency. The hearings could sometimes become very intense and disconcerting.
Again as before the spectacle is repeated between the protagonists. Efforts to improve maritime processes in the ratification/accession and implementation of international conventions now pending in Congress see these two agencies once again articulating long-drawn justification on why their respective agencies must perform the implementation of international maritime conventions. How this matter will end is being awaited by the maritime stakeholders with the same question as before—when will this turf-bickerings finally end?