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Thomas M. Orbos: The Philippines as a maritime power hub

The Philippines as a maritime power hub
Thomas M. Orbos July 13, 2020

Off the waters of Manila Bay are now parked several of the biggest cruise ships that ply the various oceans of the world. These ships, including the notorious ones barred from other ports because of Covid-19 infections among its passengers and crew, have found refuge in the Philippines for the very simple reason that most of their crewmen and officers are Filipinos. And this pandemic revelation should not go to waste. Instead, it should lead our policy-makers to position the Philippines as one of the leading hubs of the global maritime industry; not just in terms of human resources but in other aspects, comparable to neighboring Singapore and the North Atlantic European countries.

Imagine having the main or regional headquarters of the world’s largest fleets relocate here. World standard marine training and assessment facilities can set up shop or partner with our local maritime schools. Marine sector headhunter offices, marine industry BPOs, as well as ship repair facilities can definitely find a home in the many deep-water harbors in the archipelago. Meanwhile, we can apportion a significant number of our hotel and restaurant courses as well as our entertainment sector dedicated to specialize in maritime cruise hospitality and entertainment. With this, making our countless beaches as part of the regular itinerary of transpacific and regional cruises will not be far behind.

This is not a far-fetched dream as we have the ingredients for this idea to be realized. We are blessed geographically with a ready training ground, being an island country that we are and being blessed with deep harbors, beautiful beaches and situated in the one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. But equally attractive is our human resources, which will entice the global shipping industry to set up shop here. Filipinos are naturally cut out for such tasks required of merchant marines. Our indomitable spirit to provide better lives for our families that make us endure the long bouts of loneliness, danger and hard work characteristic of ocean-based labor. This, coupled with our fluency in English and high rate of literacy, gives us the edge to be the preferred staffing source of the ocean cruise industry.

How then can we realize this path? The Department of Transportation, specifically the Maritime Industry Authority, is moving in the right direction in pushing forward with its Maritime Industry Development Plan. This would ensure that the necessary infrastructural support be in place in order to meet international industry standards and attract the investments from the global maritime sector. Fiscal incentives and sector protection in shipbuilding and repair will have to be enhanced and maintained to bring in investor entrants from overseas. Our port facilities nationwide will have to be continuously upgraded to accommodate the large ocean going vessels and make us a regular stop in their seasonal itineraries. Hand in hand will be the local tourism support that will need to be strengthened through required hospitality and service training of the locality. Here the tourism department as well as Tesda can come in to provide the needed support. With our merchant marines, the timely certification compliance with the International Maritime Organization must be religiously adhered to in order to help elevate our international standing. This sector accounts for more than a fifth of all overseas remittances and its importance cannot be ignored. Also, needing to be strengthened and be resolved is the area of peace and security in our coastal waters. This does not just refer to the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea but the occasional incidents of piracy that still happen in our southern boundaries.

Indeed, we have the makings of becoming a maritime power hub. Historically, geographically and inherently as a race, we can be one. This will bring jobs and prosperity. It just needs government and public support for it to happen. Then we will see those ships off Manila Bay hopefully again in the future post pandemic world, not as a sight of distress but rather a sign of a long overdue progress of our maritime sector.

Thomas “Tim” Orbos was formerly with the DOTr and the MMDA. He is an alumnus of the McCourt School of Public Policy of Georgetown University and the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]