July 13, 2021 at 12:05 am
"The time for correction is now."
The Constitution has nothing to say about the size and configuration of the official family of the President of the Philippines. The Basic Law leaves it to the Chief Executive to propose to Congress changes in the Cabinet’s size and configuration in light of changes in the Executive Department’s circumstances and needs.
Thus, the last 50 years have seen the disappearance, creation and reconfiguration of Cabinet departments in response to the Executive Department’s desire to terminate or de-prioritize certain government operations and accord priority to new operations: The PTTA (Philippine Tourism and Travel Authority) gave way to DOT (Department of Tourism) DECS (Department of Education, Culture and Sports) shed its responsibility for culture and sports and became DepEd (Department of Education). DANR (Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources) was downsized to Department of Agriculture, its authority over the nation’s natura; resources having been made part of the mandate of the newly created DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources). Realizing the economic unsoundness of having a single department overseeing two very important industries, DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communication) was split into DOTr (Department of Transportation) and DICT (Department of Information and Communication Technology). HUDCC (Home and Urban Development Coordinating Council) became a full-fledged Cabinet department. And science and technology found a new home in DOST (Department of Science and Technology).
All these changes were intended to correct illogicalities and unsoundness in the Cabinet structure and to enable the Executive Department to more effectively respond to changing circumstances and evolving needs. Their impact on government operations has been entirely salutary. But the task of improving the Cabinet’s structure is not over; there is need for yet another department.
The department that needs to be created is a Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. There are a number of reasons why such a new Cabinet entity is needed, apart from the fact that the Philippines is one of the few maritime countries that do not have a Cabinet-level office devoted to fisheries.
The first reason is very obvious but is ignored by Philippine policymakers. The fishing industry is not agriculture and fishermen are not farmers. Their area of operation is different: farmers labor on the land and fishermen do their work at sea. Why, then, should fishermen be treated by policymakers as though they were people who did their farming at sea? And why should BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) be attached to a Cabinet department whose domain is agriculture?
The second reason is an offshoot of the first. In the DA partnership of farmers and fisherfolk, the latter are very much the junior partner. The major agricultural industries - rice, corn, coconuts, sugar and livestock - account for the bulk of the DA’s annual budget; whatever is left over goes to the fishing industry. This is the supreme irony: fishermen are treated budgetarily and in many other ways, as second-class citizens in one of the world’s largest archipelagos.
The third reason has to do with the holistic definition of a nation’s maritime affairs: The development of the Philippine maritime industry should take place in close coordination with the development of this country’s fishing industry. This is not the case at present. MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) is a part of DOTr, while BFAR is, as already stated, is an agency attached to DA. All matters related to the sea - maritime matters - ideally should be managed by a single encompassing administrative entity. A Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries puts under one roof everything related to this country’s maritime domain.
A final reason for creating a Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is the need to implement the 2017 judgement of the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration) that upheld the Philippines’ rights under UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and totally invalidated China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. Under present circumstances the lead agencies defending this country’s position are DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and DND (Department of National Defense). Were it already in place, the Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries would be leading the change against China, supported by DFA and DND.
The Philippines is an archipelagic country, it has numerous maritime interests to protect and it has a large community of fisherfolk who have long suffered marginalization. This state of affairs has long needed correction. The time for correction is now, and the best means for doing that is a Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.