“Mana mo” in Filipino means “your inheritance.” Indeed, our being a Maritime and Archipelagic Nation (MAN) is our inheritance. But few Filipinos are aware of our unique features and potential as such.
Hence, the youth-driven Diskursong Teritoryo partnered with some government and civil society groups on the issuance of Presidential Proclamation No. 316, which declares September MAN Awareness Month or MANA Mo. Awareness must be followed now by action, especially from business as being a MAN has much economic potential.
Our MAN is a group of islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, West Philippine Sea (WPS), and the Sulu-Celebes Sea in the central part of the Asia-Pacific region. We seem unsure still about the total number of our islands as the number our leaders mention ranges from 7,100 to 7, 461 islands. Although there may be uncertainty in the number, we could estimate its magnitude and adopt one number or range of numbers consistently.
We have the world’s fourth longest coastline, on which we depend for food, transport, commerce, and other activities. We are at the center of marine biodiversity in the world. We have seven times more of sea and seafloor than land and they are rich in resources, both living, such as fish and corals, and nonliving, such as minerals and oil.
We are truly blessed! With our act together, we could be at the forefront of global maritime activities.
Oceans play a major role in CC mitigation as they absorb global warming, which causes CC. But the world is still ignorant about how oceans do so because only less than 5 percent of them have been explored. Allocating funds to know more about oceans, as well as seas, is a global challenge that we, as a MAN, must give priority to in our area so we can face CC risks better and tap our ocean resources.
Understanding our marine resources: Dr. Fernando Siringan of the UP Marine Science Institute (MSI) suggests research and exploration work mainly to identify, map, and characterize our ocean and sea resources; map critical habitats that must be preserved; and identify movement of deep-water masses.
The Philippine Navy (PN), under Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, has offered to help conduct such work, with the use of BRP Gregorio Velasquez, the PN research vessel. This new partnership between the PN and marine scientists and researchers led by National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala has developed an initial work plan covering nationwide mapping of offshore reefs by Dr. Maricor Soriano’s team at the UP Institute of Physics and exploration of tidal current ocean energy by Dr. Laura David’s team at the UP MSI. Other scientists/researchers, with marine research projects, may submit proposals to join the trips that will start this month.
Marine resources for inclusive development: With good understanding of our marine resources, we can use them for national development. The main challenges are how to do so sustainably and how to benefit many, especially fisherfolk.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals include SDG No. 14 on “life below water.” We need to respect and conserve living, as well as nonliving, resources below water—or else we shall lose them.
It is our national shame that, although we are a MAN at the global center of marine biodiversity, our fisherfolk are some of the poorest of our poor. Why?
Poor law enforcement: Coastal pollution adversely affects fisherfolk, especially those who farm seaweed along the coast. It is caused by business (shrimp and fish ponds, hotels, and other facilities that discharge untreated waste water into the coast) and local communities without sewage facilities. Local government units and several national agencies are involved here. Who can lead to stop this problem?
Blue Economy challenge: APEC countries have defined Blue Economy as the “development approach anchored on sustainable development and utilization of marine resources and ecosystems.” But, when Dr. Gunter Pauli introduced the “blue economy” concept almost 20 years ago, he referred to a system-based economy that uses available resources efficiently and produces no waste. We could integrate APEC’s and Dr. Pauli’s concepts in using marine resources.
Our MAP Seaweed Industry Development Program is responding to the blue economy challenge by focusing first on the seaweed drying process. The Department of Science and Technology helped us redesign the “dryer” of fisherfolk in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro so that it can dry seaweed efficiently with available solar power.
Disputes in seas: Increasing demand for food and energy resources, sovereignty claims, and other reasons lead to disputes in seas. We face one such dispute in the WPS, a multi-dimensional case that needs a multi-sectoral team, including business and civil society, to, first, propose ending the carnage below water in the WPS, a breeding ground for fish.
Strengthening our security system and organization: We shall continue to face more risks and challenges, which now potential terrorist attacks and trafficking of drugs. Adequate budget allocation is, thus, needed for the strengthening of our security system and organization, with increased capacity building covering manpower, machine power (ships, aircrafts, and instruments), and systems.
The Security Reform Initiative, an NGO, has reinforced the call of many to rationalize the functions of all maritime players and to formulate a National Maritime Strategy. One initiative was the creation of the National Coastal Watch System, an interagency mechanism for maritime issues and security operations. Much needs to be done still. One proposal is to place ocean, marine conservation, and maritime affairs under one roof.
Maritime Security and Cooperation: The Asean region faces many maritime challenges, from natural disasters to the linking of the Asean connectivity to China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Thus, the Philippines, as Asean chair for 2017, identified maritime security and cooperation as one of the six priority areas under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.”
But how many political and business leaders are aware of this priority concern and the responsibilities arising from it? The work includes delineation of boundaries and special areas, such as, maritime boundaries, archipelagic sea lanes, and search and rescue areas and agreed cooperation with our neighbors on border security and related matters.
Public awareness and support: Understanding our being a MAN and facing the challenges and opportunities arising from it requires public awareness and support. On the WPS case, for example, public knowledge, support, and participation are crucial in bringing about people-to-people cooperation, which may lead to a win-win agreement.