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Rudy Romero: Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Rudy Romero July 13, 2021


The department that needs to be created is a Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. There are a number of reasons why such a new Cabinet entity is needed, apart from the fact that the Philippines is one of the few maritime countries that do not have a Cabinet-level office devoted to fisheries.

The first reason is very obvious but is ignored by Philippine policymakers. The fishing industry is not agriculture and fishermen are not farmers. Their area of operation is different: farmers labor on the land and fishermen do their work at sea. Why, then, should fishermen be treated by policymakers as though they were people who did their farming at sea? And why should BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) be attached to a Cabinet department whose domain is agriculture?

The second reason is an offshoot of the first. In the DA partnership of farmers and fisherfolk, the latter are very much the junior partner. The major agricultural industries - rice, corn, coconuts, sugar and livestock - account for the bulk of the DA’s annual budget; whatever is left over goes to the fishing industry. This is the supreme irony: fishermen are treated budgetarily and in many other ways, as second-class citizens in one of the world’s largest archipelagos.

The third reason has to do with the holistic definition of a nation’s maritime affairs: The development of the Philippine maritime industry should take place in close coordination with the development of this country’s fishing industry. This is not the case at present. MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) is a part of DOTr, while BFAR is, as already stated, is an agency attached to DA. All matters related to the sea - maritime matters - ideally should be managed by a single encompassing administrative entity. A Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries puts under one roof everything related to this country’s maritime domain.

A final reason for creating a Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is the need to implement the 2017 judgement of the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration) that upheld the Philippines’ rights under UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and totally invalidated China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. Under present circumstances the lead agencies defending this country’s position are DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and DND (Department of National Defense). Were it already in place, the Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries would be leading the change against China, supported by DFA and DND.

The Philippines is an archipelagic country, it has numerous maritime interests to protect and it has a large community of fisherfolk who have long suffered marginalization. This state of affairs has long needed correction. The time for correction is now, and the best means for doing that is a Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.