Tomorrow, the Philippines will elect the next set of national and local leaders who will steer the country for the next six years. As before, maritime stakeholders are looking forward to the new mandate of government officials, hopeful that this time the maritime industry will get greater attention.
And there is good reason for this expectation as claims that a national maritime agenda exists fall short of demonstrating a holistic policy framework that includes the multifarious concerns of the Philippine maritime industry. Sectoral goals are no doubt set and pursued with much enthusiasm and persistence; however, the absence of an overarching direction which integrate the divergent maritime concerns continue to undermine efforts to optimize the benefits to be gained from the archipelagic circumstance of the country.
Interweaving sectoral interests constitute the maritime industry with each determined to achieve their targets, oftentimes oblivious of the other sectors’ concerns. This “to each his own” viewpoint is what engenders the fragmented maritime industry that this country has. Contributing to this disjointed view is the limited notion of the maritime industry being mainly a sea transport service provider and an infrastructure component of trade and investment. It is therefore not surprising that unlike agriculture, tourism or other industries, only the sea transport component is cited, understandably as connecting the country’s many islands, enables the vast majority of the population access to education, health services and employment opportunities. At the same time, ships carry the country’s foreign trade therefore, attention to this critical role of maritime transport is needed.
Set against the national aspiration of reducing mass poverty, employment generation and achieving sustainable economic growth, the maritime industry in an archipelagic country has so much to offer beyond providing infrastructure support. The maritime industry generates employment, not limited to seafaring, but also in port operations and management; shipbuilding and repairs; pilotage, ship superintendence and management; maritime education and training; freight forwarding and logistics and related activities. Coastal and inter-island shipping as well as fishing vessel operations provide jobs to many.
Maintaining a flag registry benefits the country in terms of creating employment opportunities, revenue generation for government, attracting foreign and local investment, expansion of shipping entrepreneurship and trade, among others. Port operations and management, freight forwarding and logistics, shipbuilding and repairs contribute to raising economic undertakings. A Philippine fleet that serves inter-island voyages and international routes ensure continued sea transport for the country’s domestic and foreign trade. Seafaring, which consistently place the Philippines in the global maritime arena, has created allied services such as manning and maritime education and training.
Safety, security and efficiency of shipping must remain in the priority program of the government as the country significantly relies on this mode of transport. Moreover, as a responsible member of the international maritime community, the Philippines is expected to uphold globally adopted regulations and standards on these thematic issues. Protection of the environment from ship-sourced pollutants is another area of concern in light of the noted damaging effects of widespread degradation of the marine ecosystem and global warming.
No doubt, the aforementioned activities fall within the sphere of the maritime industry; yet, there is no strategic framework that will integrate the various maritime sectors and from there define the role the industry must take towards achieving inclusive growth. A coherent and clear national maritime agenda will serve as the medium through which a unifying vision is agreed and pursued. With it, setting a roadmap that determines where they are headed and how to get there in a coordinated manner could be easily achieved. Success in the implementation of the strategic plans (which stakeholders claim to have formulated and developed) in achieving a globally competitive and sustainable Philippine maritime industry hinges on the ability to muster the cooperation of everyone in putting up a national maritime agenda.