The Philippines is an archipelago with the fifth longest coastline of 36,289 kilometers in the world and an access to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of oceans that cover 2,263,816 square kilometers of sea, harboring variegated ecosystems and rich marine resources which are capable of providing human sustenance and livelihood.
The Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) reported that the value of Philippine ecosystem services that marine and coastal environment can provide is estimated at $17 billion. In the 1st quarter of this year, the International Monetary Fund reported a 6.4 percent Gross Domestic Product growth wherein major economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, industry, and services all posted positive growths.
Notwithstanding the plenitude of its economic resources and potentials, the Philippines’ maritime domain is also an arena of variety of threats and challenges fueled by human economic activities that disregard the health of the ocean and the lives and economies that depend on it. On top of that is the country’s being hemmed in in the dilemma of maintaining its diplomatic posture amidst expanding polarities of great powers in the region and its limitation in terms of military materiel. To address these challenges, the Philippines lives up to upholding rules-based international order through diplomatic approaches that focus on reaching agreements and sustaining cooperation.
Seven years after the Philippines’ triumph against China in the arbitral tribunal’s ruling over territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea, particularly in the area within the Philippines’ EEZ, the Department of Foreign Affairs continues to reiterate the landmark case which poses crucial implications for international law, maritime security, and diplomacy, especially that the case did not conclude to the apt resolution of complex issues in the region.
Following the increasing importance of ocean resources to economic growth and the Philippines’ struggle for marine environmental and fishing rights and freedom of navigation in its respective EEZ, its Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), mandated with the functions of maritime safety, security, search and rescue, and marine environmental protection, is continuously generating strategic and alternative approaches that can deal with any maritime threats that are mostly evolving to be volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. One of the emerging approaches among different states is the Blue Economy that came forth during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. It has been introduced to underscore the significance of sustainable management practices. The underlying principle of this concept posits that marine ecosystems have elevated levels of productivity when they are in a state of optimal condition.
Is Blue Economy the Philippines’ Alternative Strategic and Security Leverage?
According to the ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on the Blue Economy, Blue Economy refers to the sustainable, resilient, and inclusive use, governance, management, and conservation of oceans, seas as well as marine and coastal resources and ecosystems for economic growth across various sectors such as fishery, aquaculture, maritime transport, renewable energy, tourism, climate change, and research and development while improving human well-being and social equity.
In the context of Philippine Blue Economy, it was reported during an ASEAN multi-stakeholder dialogue that the concept first appeared in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 but without definition while there have been various legislative proposals that deal with ocean governance since 2016. Philippine Blue Economy is said to cover various sectors such as agriculture and agribusiness, services, science-technology innovation, and climate action and disaster resilience.
House Bill (HB) No. 69, or the “Blue Economy Act”, has been proposed by Hon. Dr. Jose Francisco B. Benitez and delineated the concept as a practical ocean-based economic model using green infrastructure and technologies, innovative financing mechanisms, and proactive institutional arrangements for meeting the twin goals of protecting our oceans and coasts and enhancing their potential contribution to sustainable development, including improving human well-being, and reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Another is the Senate Bill No. 1993, or the “Act Establishing a Framework for Blue Economy, Promoting Stewardship and Sustainable Development of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems and Resources”, that complements the previous House Bill and aims to promote the sustainable and safe utilization and development of marine resources within the country’s maritime zones.
Grave problems in a regional and international scale include overfishing, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing which leads to loss of USD1 billion/year. Both the Philippines and Malaysia reported jurisdictional issues such as delimitation of maritime boundaries and overlapping jurisdiction between government agencies. Adopting a Blue Economy framework is considered to be crucial in bolstering the country’s national economy and preserving its natural heritage.
What is the role of the Philippine Coast Guard in the PH Blue Economy?
The mandates of the PCG fundamentally are all for the protection of ocean-based activities and it has been actively addressing critical issues that affect the country’s marine environment. This year alone, the country experienced one of the most hazardous threats to its marine environment. A ship carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil sank off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, compromising the biodiversity of 21 nearby marine protected areas and the Filipinos working in the fishing and tourism industries.
One of PCG’s efforts to contain the oil spill was the effective utilization of a whole-of-nation approach that also engaged non-government maritime stakeholders. Another is the effective collaborative effort with foreign states when the PCG elevated the level of tiered response to the issue. The PCG has also demonstrated its capability on neutralizing a variety of maritime security threats.
Through its broad experience in marine environmental protection and the acknowledgment of the benefits of safe and secure seas, the PCG has been actively involved in promoting the Blue Economy as a tool to innovate maritime communities. In line with this approach, the Coast Guard Strategic Studies and International Affairs Center (CGSSIAC), PCG’s strategic and international affairs arm, held a Symposium Series in Current Issues and Approaches on “The Emerging Security Environment: Leadership and Governance in the Blue Economy.” The symposium’s main objective was to enhance the performance of the PCG in line with its core functions, particularly those which deal with policies, rules, and regulations for the safety and security at sea. Taking into account that the Blue Economy becomes an inherent part of the 8-point socio-economic agenda as well as the priority bill of the present administration for sustainable jobs and livelihood, its implementation in the country necessitates a synergistic whole-of-nation approach and mechanisms that empower governance regimes that deal with management and conservation of marine ecosystems.
Presently, initiatives are underway to establish Philippine Blue Economy laboratories as a potential citizen engagement strategy that significantly influences the PCG’s core mandates. This proposed initiative entails the active participation of the broader populace, including private and public higher education institutions, to engage in inclusive and participatory dialogues and formulate diverse strategies for utilizing the Blue Economy framework to enhance the well-being of Filipino citizens and ensure the long-term preservation of the Philippines’ natural resources and the country’s national security and economic development. To further the empowerment of individuals within and outside the Agency, the CGSSIAC’s Satellite Training Institute (STI) launched the Center’s first research fellowship on maritime security subjects including Blue Economy. The research fellowship is a five-month blended learning project in support of a localized conceptualization, understanding, and implementation of the Blue Economy framework through collaborative, immersive, and interdisciplinary approaches in planning and conducting marine-related research. The research fellowship provides a safe space wherein the fellows can discuss their Blue Economy projects and implement them in a secure and environmentally-responsible manner. The fellows are also entitled to consultative meetings and mentorships to ensure the realization of their proposed research projects—from development to implementation and assessment.
The Philippine Blue Economy shows great potential, which not only contributes to the sustainable use, management, and conservation of its country’s marine resources but also to security and stability in the region. By leveraging its potential, the Philippines and its stakeholders can reap the benefits that it offers. However, to achieve these benefits, the Philippines must first pass the aforementioned bills into law, thereby legitimizing the Blue Economy’s importance to the country and must acknowledge the PCG and its pivotal role as a Blue Economy enabler—the country’s primary agency that oversees and monitors Philippine Blue Economy for it has a broadened scope of mandates, capabilities, and operations on maintaining security and safety at sea.
About the authors:
- Marren Araña Adan is a Maritime Security Researcher Analyst at the Coast Guard Strategic Studies and International Affairs Center (CGSSIAC). He is currently taking PhD Anthropology
at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. He is also a Research Consultant at the UP Higher Education Research and Policy Reform Program.
- Jun Karlo Laroza is a Maritime Security Research Analyst at the CGSSIAC. He is currently taking a Master of Arts in Foreign Service. He also used to work at the National Defense College of the Philippines.