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What about the maritime industry, Mr. President?

What about the maritime industry, Mr. President?
The Manila Times Maritime Team July 27, 2022

PRESIDENT Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. delivered a stirring 114-minute long State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25, that many people considered will be the country's roadmap for the next six years under his administration.

The President spoke comfortably using both English and Filipino. Perhaps no one would dispute that his SONA was thorough as it contained not only the usual motherhood statements but details, and specific data, as well.

Various quarters in the maritime industry, however, were a bit disappointed, to say the least. They were expecting the President to announce, even in broad strokes, the significant role of the maritime industry under his administration.

The maritime industry did not merit a sentence or two, in the President's first-ever SONA. There was no mention of his plan of transforming the country into a logistics hub, which he spoke eloquently during several forums with industry stakeholders before the May elections.

There was no mention either of Filipino seafarers who have been sending an uninterrupted remittance of $7 billion annually to the national coffers and manning half of the vessels that span the globe. For context, 90 percent of the global trade is still moved via ships.

Like his predecessors, President Marcos singled out the importance of the agricultural sector. His choice of agriculture as the centerpiece of his administration was evident after he opted to serve as the secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

He expounded on this in his SONA as he devoted almost a third of his first speech before the joint session of the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to the agriculture sector.

"One of the main drivers of our push for growth and employment will be in the agricultural sector," he declared before an estimated crowd of 1,300 lawmakers, Cabinet officials, members of the diplomatic corps, close political allies and supporters and other guests.

He spelled out his plans on how to address concerns about improving agricultural production and, consequently, increasing food supplies and reducing their prices, through financial and technical support.

"Magbibigay tayo ng pautang, habang mas ilalapit natin sa sektor ng agrikultura ang hindi gaanong mahal na farm inputs na bibilhin na ng bulto ng gobyerno. Kabilang dito ang abono, pestisidyo, mga punla, feeds, fuel subsidy at ayuda para sa mga karapat-dapat na benipisyaryo.

"Ang mga pautang at financial assistance sa mga magbubukid at mangingisda ay magiging institusyon at patakaran ng aking administrasyon.

"Para sa pangmatagalang solusyon: itataas natin ang produksyon ng mga kalakal at produktong pang-agrikultura. At para magawa ito, pagtitibayin natin ang tinatawag na value chain na nagsisimula sa mga magsasaka hanggang sa mga namimili.

"Gagawa tayo ng national network ng farm-to-market roads upang mas mabilis na mailakbay ng mga magsasaka ang kanilang mga produkto sa mga pamilihan."

The President, however, did not include shipping which also plays an important part in transporting agricultural produce from farmer producers to consumers.

Another topic which he discussed in length is infrastructure, but he focused only on railways and road projects, vowing to continue the projects that President Duterte started.

He identified a dozen specific railway projects in Luzon and Mindanao, Panay and Cebu that he said his administration is committed to pursuing.

He will also continue major road projects such as the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit, Davao High Priority Bus System, Ilocos Norte Transportation Hub and the El Nido Transport Terminal.

In passing, he mentioned the development of seaports. "Improving our railway system, along with modernizing existing airports and seaports, will maximize our strategic location in the Pacific. And connect our many islands."

He, however, did not stress the importance of modern ports in transporting goods in the inter-island trade.

This is quite a contrast to his meetings with industry stakeholders during the campaign period where he elaborated on the need for a modern port system, including its required information technology infrastructure that could rival those ports in developed countries.

One area, however, where stakeholders can look forward to is the newly created Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), which the President dwelt generously in his SONA as the "home" of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in his government.

Adhering to the policy of labor exportation as introduced by his late father, President Marcos, in the '70s, the younger Marcos pledged to make it easier for Filipinos to be deployed overseas.

He swore to reduce red tape in the processing of their documents and to explore more countries where Filipinos could be dispatched. He assured OFWs that the DMW would be there to take care of them whenever and wherever there were incidents of exploitation and harassment of OFWs.

But maritime stakeholders believed the President's statement will benefit the land-based OFWs since Filipino sea-based workers are, generally, better off than their land-based counterparts.

Nonetheless, if this meant the President would designate more maritime attaché in selected shipowning countries that are major employers of Filipino seafarers, it could be a boon to the multibillion-dollar manning industry as well as Filipino seafarers.

Finally, the SONA included a statement on the recently enacted Public Services Act, but the President limited only the law's impact of liberalizing foreign investments on the promised improved telecommunications services in the country, glossing over the possible positive impact on shipping.

Maritime industry stakeholders do not discount the immediate importance of the agriculture sector, but they asked, what about the maritime industry, Mr. President?