When people mention the ocean, they think of fish, but for the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, a non-government organization, there is much more to that.
PRRM envisions a world of equity and sustainability, where society is free of ignorance, poverty, disease, and powerlessness.
PRRM defines the Philippines as a maritime archiphelagic bation or MANA, which the Filipinos must defend and appreciate.
The Philippines’ exclusive economic zone covers an estimated 2.2 million square kilometers of water, which makes up 82 percent of the country’s territory.
“The Philippines is more than 300,000 square kilometers of land. Our exclusive economic zone is 2.2 million square km. We are the 15th largest fishing nation in the world. The Philippines is a maritime and archipelagic nation or MANA,” says PRRM president Edicio dela Torre.
“It is our heritage, and we should value it. This is our MANA. We must defend it. We capture and produce close to 4.4 million metric tons [of fish]. Close to over 800 municipalities have coasts. Fish is still the largest source of protein,” dela Torre says.
To raise awareness on the importance of promoting the growth of the blue economy, specifically the untapped opportunities of Philippine oceans and its marine resources, PRRM sponsored The Way Forward- The Blue Economy, a weekly three-part show on CNN anchored by Atty. Karen Jimeno.
On the first episode of the show on Nov. 8, Dr. Deo Florence Onda, UP Marine Sciences Institute deputy director said the ocean economy, including tourism, fisheries and maritime industry contributed around 7 % to the gross domestic product in 2018.
“We don’t have this national policy that will put everything in one page and then dictate on how we should move forward in utilizing these resources,” Onda said.
He said there should be an initiative coming from the national government, as he urged the creation of a separate Department of Oceans and Fisheries.
“Oceans actually dictate our everyday lives. They dictate the climate, they dictate the productivity of the oceans. They dictate the amount of oxygen that we breathe,” Onda said.
He said more studies should be conducted on fish supply coming from the West Philippine Sea amid concerns that fish production in the area has declined.
“We need to understand what contributed to the decline. Is it because of illegal fishing activities, or is it because someone else is getting the fish?” Onda said.
Dr. Rhoda Azanza, president of the National Academy of Science and Technology explains that the blue economy is a new platform for development.
“It involves the sustainable utilization of marine resources for the good of the community. It is also for the preservation of the marine-based or the marine environment,” Azanza said.
She said the government tends to focus on land development, while it should also advocate the use of science, technology and innovation not only for the preservation and sustainable utilization of the marine environment but all the natural endowments of the country.
“We need a framework really in terms of how we can take care of these living and non-living resources of this vast natural endowment of the country. I am looking at the fishermen, poorest of the poor in the country, and they have not benefited from these vast resources,” Azanza said.
Former Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner Kim Henares said the revenue potential for the blue economy is huge, as it covers maritime transportation, tourism and aquatic resources, including seafood.
Henares said it is sad that we now import galunggong, which was previously indigenous to the country.
“We should harness our maritime transportation and infrastructure. Some people say that it’s more expensive to transport from Manila to Davao than Manila to the United States,” Henares said.
She said the government should put up more maritime fleets to help fishermen fish in a more efficient manner.
Henares told Jimeno that the UNCLOS is supposed to define every country’s territory, and the UN Arbitral Award on the West Philippine Sea is important “because it shows that we are a nation of a rule of law.”
“The West Philippine Sea is important not only because it’s ours, but it’s part of the whole ecology, the blue economy, the ecology of things,” Henares said.
Meanwhile, retired Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza said the arbitral award had given clarity on what is covered by the country’s sovereign rites, and there is no such a thing as a nine-dash line.
He said sovereign rights cover the area outside of the Philippine territory, specifically 200 nautical miles outwards the sea.
“We have the right to explore the fish and the right to explore underground minerals,” the retired justice said.
He said Filipinos help the fisherfolks by making it hard for poachers and making it difficult for them to go out on bail.
“If you ask me, I would wish it to be declared a heinous crime,” he said.
Other guests of the show are BFAR officer-in-charge Nestor Domenden, former Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz and former BFAR director Asis Perez.