THE month of May here in the Philippines is designated as the “Month of the Ocean” and is intended to “highlight the conservation, protection and sustainable management of Philippine coastal and ocean resources,” according to the government’s Official Gazette.
Ocean conservation is certainly a worthwhile advocacy, especially in this country. We are an archipelagic nation; the ocean is, after all, our home. Given the critical importance of healthy seas, however, we have to wonder whether a designated “month” is really the best or even a sufficient way to focus public attention and encourage changes that help instead of harm our oceans.
First, a bit of background: May was declared the “Month of the Ocean” by Presidential Proclamation 57, series of 1999, which recognized that “coastal and marine resources provide both economic and ecological benefits, such as food, livelihood, recreation and other services as well as biodiversity, aesthetic value and shoreline protection.”
According to the Constitution, “the State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.” Therefore, the month of May was set aside as a time to highlight the value of the ocean and the country’s responsibility to preserve it through activities led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture “in collaboration with relevant government agencies, all local governments, state colleges and universities [and] government-owned or controlled corporations whose operations are directly or indirectly relevant to the development and management of our ocean resources, NGOs, people’s organizations, and the private sector.”
The activities that take place during the “month” are what one might expect. Various government agencies and ocean advocacy groups use the occasion to conduct public education campaigns, lobby for stronger environmental laws, raise funds for conservation projects and organize events such as coastal cleanup drives.
One oddity about our “Month of the Ocean” is that it differs from the internationally observed “World Oceans Month,” which is in June. The latter observance actually began the year before the proclamation of “Month of the Ocean” in 1998. Why the government at the time (the Estrada administration) decided to be out of step with the rest of the world is a bit puzzling.
Without question, we support any effort to protect the marine environment and the sustainability of the vast resources it provides, and the Month of the Ocean is a perfect time to highlight policies and activities related to ocean preservation.
But it is not the only time to do so, and that is what bothers us about the idea of setting aside a “month” for an important cause. There are so many “months” in a year, one for every advocacy under the sun, or so it seems, to the extent that we fear the concept is becoming a bit clichéd. Designating a specific period of time in which to focus on an important issue risks having public attention disappear once the “event” ends, particularly if there is another “month” that follows it. In reality, any issue deemed critical enough to warrant its own “month” deserves continuous, everyday attention by the public, policymakers and the media whether the cause is protecting the Earth, protecting the oceans, championing women’s rights, fighting threats to public health, improving the welfare of senior citizens or any other advocacy to improve society and the world we live in.
That is not to say Month of the Ocean should be dismissed; far from it. We all need to be aware of the importance of the oceans and of the threats humanity poses to their sustainability. But instead of being just a brief period in which concerns for our oceans are in the spotlight, it should be used by policymakers and advocates as an occasion to initiate substantial changes that will help make those concerns a part of our everyday lifestyle and ways of doing business.