Focus on domestic maritime sector
President Marcos Jr. last week promised to prioritize the development of the country’s maritime industry through a 10-year plan that he says will modernize domestic shipping, support seafarers, improve the ports network, and enhance transport safety and security. Considering that the Philippines is an archipelago, it is expected that focus will be on the maritime sector to connect the people and economies of the thousands of its islands. However, the huge disparity in incomes and state of development of the different regions reflects the utter lack of priority given to the maritime industry in the past.
Part of the problem was the absence of a comprehensive development plan for the sector, with the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), the agency tasked under Presidential Decree No. 474, or the Maritime Industry Decree of 1974, to craft roadmaps for the industry, last presented one in the 1980s. It was only in 2017 that Marina again launched the 10-year Maritime Industry Development Plan (MIDP). While implementation started in 2019, it was halted by the pandemic the following year. Marina updated the blueprint last year, and this was launched during the Maritime Industry Summit last Feb. 28.
“Through this development plan, […] we will achieve our two core objectives: First, to ensure the development and expansion of the Philippine merchant fleet, and second, to ensure the advancement of a future-ready maritime human capital,” the President said in his speech during the summit. The MIDP goal is that by 2028, the Philippines will have a strong and reliable merchant fleet to meet the sea transport requirements of the archipelago. According to Marina, the maritime industry’s contribution to the economy is also projected to double to P1.44 trillion in 2028 from P720 billion at present.
In pursuing the core components of the MIDP, it is hoped that the modernization and expansion of the domestic shipping industry, along with the upgrading, promotion, and expansion of the shipbuilding and ship-repair industry, will be given more attention and resources. The promotion of a highly skilled and competitive maritime workforce as well as the expansion of the country’s overseas shipping sector are equally important, but the multiplier effect of developing the domestic maritime sector will be enormous. As the President pointed out in his speech, “[w]hile we already hold a dominant position in the world of global shipping, I certainly believe that we can do more, especially here at home.”
The Philippines is already the world’s main source of maritime manpower, representing a quarter of global seafarers who sent $6.71 billion in remittances last year. Domestically, however, the shipping sector needs a serious push to tap its huge potential and generate billions of pesos in revenues for the government and uplift the lives of Filipinos. Tourism is a clear example that will show the potential of the domestic maritime industry.
A concerted approach is for the Department of Tourism to identify key tourism destinations in the island provinces, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Philippine Ports Authority will then develop or upgrade key ports in those islands and the connecting roads to the tourist spots. The Department of Trade and Industry can provide incentives to shipbuilders and investors in accommodation facilities such as hotels and resorts. Just imagine local cruises that can start in Luzon, then make stops at such destinations as Boracay and Palawan. Or separate cruise lines visiting Cebu, Bohol, and Siargao, then back via the Pacific seaboard to Samar or Bicol for a trip to Mount Mayon. Vietnam has dozens of cruise operators in Ha Long Bay, a Unesco World Heritage Site known for its stunning limestone mountains, and these attract tens of thousands of tourists every year. Then consider that Vietnam has a coastline of just 3,444 kilometers compared with the Philippines’ 36,289 km. The potential in this segment alone is truly huge.
The same ports and road network will also close the gap among the local economies of the country’s various provinces, in the process bringing nearly the same level of development through interisland trade and commerce. This, in turn, will address poverty by generating jobs. In his speech during the contract signing last Friday of the North-South Commuter Railway System, the President promised that the government will modernize and improve the country’s transportation system, highlighting the fact that an efficient transport network “will have a multiplier effect on employment and on the economy.” The same holds true once the domestic maritime sector is modernized.
“A thriving maritime industry translates to a more conducive economic environment and a smooth influx of investments and facilitation of trade in the country,” Transportation Undersecretary for the Maritime Sector Elmer Sarmiento underscored at the same event. A 10-year roadmap toward modernizing the industry is already in place. All that needs to be done is flesh out its details, and force the concerned agencies to do their part.
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