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Manila Times EDITORIAL: PH needs maritime agenda

EDITORIAL: PH needs maritime agenda
The Editorial Board December 5, 2022

THE Philippines should craft a maritime agenda, aligned with the country's development roadmap and designed to address climate change. This agenda was recently suggested by our columnist, Brenda Pimentel, and it is nothing short of a paradigm shift that elevates maritime concerns above all other national priorities and makes them mainstream.

Pimentel said in an interview: "If we have a national maritime agenda, all the agencies will have to align with these objectives. They will not just develop their own policy independent of others." Pimentel was formerly with the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), was regional coordinator of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and was the driving force in the creation of the weekly maritime section of this newspaper. She added, "There should be a paradigm shift. Planning should not be limited only to shipyards and ports. We can only do that if we have a national maritime agenda."

Her suggestion should appeal to the incumbent government. She pointed out that the late president Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. promoted national maritime policies and issued Presidential Decree 474 Series of 1974, which created the Maritime Industry Authority. More recently, former president Rodrigo Duterte proclaimed September as the Maritime and Archipelagic Awareness Month. Still, more needs to be done.

In fairness to Marina, it did craft the Philippine Maritime Strategy, but that focuses mainly on complying with IMO instruments. The maritime agenda suggested here realigns the national focus and priorities to the country's vast ocean area. The idea here does not necessarily mean focusing less on land programs. Instead, the agenda promotes a maritime-centric mindset that has an economic and sustainable angle.

That should make sense, given the country's geography. The Philippines has total maritime territory of nearly 680,000 square kilometers or almost double its total land area. And as everyone knows, the country is a maritime nation with more than 7,600 islands.

Regrettably, many Filipinos take for granted their expansive sea area and other bodies of water. Look at how polluted Manila Bay has become, for example. It was only recently, during the term of Mr. Duterte, when there was a major government effort to rehabilitate Manila Bay, which had become more like a national toilet. The previous government even showed political will in closing off Boracay to clean up that famous island resort and keep its waters from becoming like Manila Bay in the future.

Also, rehabilitation of the Pasig River is urgently needed. The river has become a dumping ground for untreated sewerage, plastics and other pollution that drain into Manila Bay. Of course, there are other bays around the country that also need cleanup and rehabilitation.

Development goals

Crafting a maritime agenda is consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which was adapted by the United Nations as the global blueprint for peace and prosperity. As many know, there are 17 SDGs, and it should not surprise anyone that maritime concerns, SDG 14, is mentioned before issues on land, SDG 15. After all, the entire planet is mostly made up of water.

Indeed, there is no life without water. The world's oceans have been providing for the world since the beginning of time, but lately, more people now realize that its bounty is not limitless. The damage caused by human activities are not easily repaired, and in some cases, are likely irreversible.

Obviously, the SDGs are interlinked, which reinforces the point about having a clear and effective maritime agenda. For instance, a major aim of the SDGs is to eradicate extreme poverty, and it just so happens that the poorest of the poor in the world are fisherfolk. That is also the case for the Philippines. And so, maritime conservation and preservation efforts will also benefit the extremely poor Filipinos.

To be clear, focusing on maritime concerns should not mean less attention to problems on land, like deforestation, and on others like hunger and quality education. As the SDGs suggest, they are interlinked. Instead, the government should expand its scope beyond maritime safety and compliance with international conventions. The agenda imagined here would be like making maritime the foundation for all activities for realizing our national aspirations.