First of two parts
Despite being known as a global supplier of maritime professionals, Philippines remains far from being a maritime power.

Why does the Philippines still do not hold the reputation as one the most powerful maritime nation in the world?

This question arises during discussions of maritime stakeholders on the Philippines’ competitiveness as a maritime power recently.

 Philippines, an archipelagic country perfectly suited for maritime enterprise, is still way behind other maritime nations in the world, and even with neighboring Asian countries.
As what others say, there is no country in this world that is economically stable, if the maritime industry is weak. It remains a fact that majority of the trade is happening in the seas and that global shipping is the world’s lifeblood.
Over 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to mass move goods and raw materials around the world.

Shipping dates back centuries ago, when the world’s conquerors, Spain and England used their maritime capabilities in invading nations.

Spain’s geographic location, having 7,000 kilometers of coastline has been a maritime power and a conduit for goods travelling from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe.

Historical data showed Spain had vanquished so many territories and countries, including South America going down to Asia, particularly the Philippines through its maritime prowess and capabilities like mammoth vessels for expeditions and powerful battle ships.

England, on the other hand invaded Canada, Hong Kong, and Australia. These two superpowers, Spain and England had an encounter in 1500 to battle it out for maritime supremacy in the world. This led to an early and important confrontation in the nearly 20-year Anglo-Spanish War of 1585-1604.

The Netherlands have been the world’s superpowers in terms of maritime, since the olden times. In 16th century, the Netherlands has a flourishing shipbuilding industry and was one of the major trading ports in the Golden Age.

By the 17th Century, ships were built on a very large scale in the Netherlands for the Dutch fleet as well as international fleets. Ships from the Netherlands transported half of all Europe’s trade. Today, the Dutch maritime industry still plays an important role in the Dutch economy by providing leading solutions for customers worldwide.

Our neighboring countries, Singapore and Hong Kong were continuously arming its fleet for a sustainable growth in the maritime cluster and capturing new opportunities by strengthening connectivity and inter-linkages. They built a vibrant innovation ecosystem and has developed skilled maritime workforce.

These countries’ maritime sectors are stable and raking billions of dollars to their coffers.

So why can’t the Philippines, a country that is surrounded by the seas and has a rich history be a maritime power?

National hero, Jose Rizal during his time predicted that the country’s maritime capabilities would flourish in the next 100 years.

It’s been more than a century now and still, Philippines has not attained what Rizal had foreseen. And so, what went wrong?

The Philippine shipping industry was neglected, as records would show, there was a scarcity of ships plying internationally.

Unlike before when we had the Madrigal Lines, Compania Maritima, Ledesma Shipping Lines, and the United Philippine Lines, among others.

International trade at that time was in its glory days, especially in the 1940s up to the 60s. These ships come in and out of the Philippines to tranship goods that are vital to the economy.

The Philippine Registered Vessels (PRVs) in 1988 was more than 800, but now there are just more than a hundred ships.

President Ferdinand Marcos has once dreamt of transforming the Philippines as the best Maritime nation in Asia, and even in the world.

To achieve this, he created the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) as an attached Agency to the Office of the President (OP). He issued Presidential Decree No. 474, otherwise known as the Maritime Industry Decree of 1974, to integrate the development, promotion and regulation of the maritime industry in the country.

By virtue of Executive Order No. 546 dated July 23, 1979, MARINA was attached to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), which is now the Department of Transportation (DOTr), for policy and program coordination.

But despite its effort to promote the economic viability of the industry in terms of shipbuilding, ship breaking, dry-docking and repairs, transhipment of cargoes and expansion of PRVs, MARINA is still hounded with some controversies of incompetence and corruption.

This clearly hinders the growth of the country as the best Maritime Nation in Asia and in the world.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now House Speaker initiated the improvement of Philippine Nautical Highway, dubbed as ‘Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH)’ to test the practicality of major ports in the country.

Arroyo’s program was to link the island provinces through an efficient transport system, called Roll-on-Roll-off (RoRo). This was aimed to enhance access to tourist areas throughout the country and transport agricultural products at a lesser cost. Since then, no other program was launched to improve the shipping industry.

While it’s true that international think tanks such as the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) recognized Philippines as the best seafaring nation, our shipping capabilities were undeniably too small compared to Singapore and Hong Kong.

What’s more agonizing is the fact that China has taken the lead as the largest supplier of seafarer officers. The ship owning sector in China has expanded rapidly. Philippines faced a tough battle against China, the Asia’s Sleeping Giant.

Are we contented to be called as the best seafaring nation?

Seafaring and shipping industries must corroborate to have an effective and tough maritime industry. Safe and improved maritime industry is what this country need.

That’s why we have to come up with an enduring solution, such as a concrete modernization program that would entail growth in the maritime industry.

Otherwise, the maritime industry will be totally neglected and will lag behind our neighboring countries. Worse, Philippines will hold the moniker as the ‘Capital of Maritime Disasters in the World.’

Courtesy to Engr. Nelson P. Ramirez

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