The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) asserted the importance of formulating science-based policies in the development of the country’s blue economy during its Science Policy and Information Forum 2019: The Philippine Blue Economy Part 2 last February 15, 2019 at Luxent Hotel, Quezon City.

The Forum is a continuation of NAST PHL’s campaign to promote the development of the Philippine blue economy, picking up from the first part, which was organized last January 28, 2019.

With an estimated value of around $900-B, the blue economy, which includes marine-based economic activities such as fisheries, marine tourism, and shipbuilding, has the potential to catapult the country into progress.

NAST PHL President Academician Rhodora V. Azanza appealed to the participants to bring the issue to Congress. According to her, “We will be needing the full support of everybody to bring these issues to the plates of our policymakers.”

Blue Economy Policies

One of the highlights during the Forum was the talk on the status of the maritime affairs in the country, which included a discussion on the current policies of the government in terms of its coastal and marine affairs. Mr. Michael Eric Castillo, a consultant of the National Coast Watch Council Secretariat, pointed out the failure to fully implement the 24-year old National Marine Policy (NMP) as one of the major reasons for the underdevelopment of the country’s blue economy.

“Majority of poor Filipinos live in the coastal areas. If we are going to make a dent in poverty reduction, the area or locus of policy implementation should be at the coastal community,” Castillo said.

He also mentioned that the country’s blue economy is hampered by several problems such as industry segmentation, poor industry infrastructures, and lack of access to financing among others.

Among Castillo’s recommendations include the establishment of a National Marine Research Agenda (NMRA) and a National Maritime Industry Development Agenda that will serve as the blueprint for blue economy development. Castillo added the possibility of creating a Department of Marine Affairs and dividing the work between development and regulation.

Current situations

Recent developments in the country’s maritime affairs suggest the need to develop the blue economy. Ms. Reinelda P. Adriano, chief statistical specialist of the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) Fisheries Statistics Division, revealed that there is a downward trend on commercial and municipal fisheries production, with aquaculture recording a decline but recovering according to quarterly surveys.

Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) Deputy Administrator for Planning, Mr. Arsenio F. Lingad II, meanwhile highlighted the Philippine prowess in the seafaring industry with around 400,000 Filipino seafarers employed in various shipping companies overseas. Lingad also reported the increase in the number of vessels manufactured locally, although the effects of the closure of shipping giant Hanjin Shipyard Philippines has displaced thousands of workers.

Importance of territorial integrity

The Philippines’ makeup as an archipelago allows it to benefit from the oceans and seas in its surroundings under international agreements such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

The West Philippine Sea (WPS) and the Philippine Rise (also known as Benham Rise), both rich in marine and, possibly, energy resources, have areas which fall under the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This means that the Philippines has the right to use the resources found in this zone, although it does not mean that the Philippines “owns” this territory.

However, the situation in the West Philippine Sea is becoming unfavorable to the Philippines, with China’s increased patrols, research, and reclamation activities in the area. Atty. Jay L. Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, pointed out that China is already miles ahead, compared with the Philippines, in conducting research in the WPS and even in the Philippine Rise.

The journey ahead

Various concerns were also mentioned in the Forum, particularly issues on retention of scientists and experts in marine science in the country, disorganized approach in the ocean affairs, and lack of an updated and long-term marine plan. Dr. Violeta Villegas, an Outstanding Young Scientist from UP Los Baños and designated rapporteur for the Forum, summarized some of the recommendations which includes the crafting of a long-term maritime development plan and exploring the possibility of creating a Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Academician Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., chair of NAST PHL Agricultural Sciences Division, called on the participants, especially the media, to help in sending the proceedings to the policymakers and to the public.

“We in the NAST Philippines believe that the blue economy can contribute greatly in the progress of our country,” Rasco exclaimed.

According to NAST PHL Fisheries focal person Academician Mudjekeewis D. Santos, the Forum will be followed by a Science Legislative Forum which will be organized in August 2019 and will educate lawmakers about the importance of the blue economy to the country’s development.

The Forum was organized by the NAST PHL, an attached agency to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) mandated by law (E. O. 818, Series of 1982) to advise the President and the Cabinet on matters related to science and technology.