Building a ‘blue economy’

THE BUREAU of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) held in January the country’s first National Galunggong Summit. This was in the wake of last year’s controversies about dwindling stocks of round scad or galunggong and the government’s subsequent moves to allow importation to stabilize prices.

The aim was to rally stakeholders around efforts to conserve the country’s fish stocks, such as the establishment of “closed seasons,” and to collect inputs from major stakeholders for a National Management Plan.

Around the time of the summit, news then broke out about the “Tawilis” of Taal Lake being on the endangered species list. According to the International Union for Conservation of nature (IUCN), harvests of the freshwater fish have been steadily declining since 1998 due to overfishing, illegal use of certain fishing gear and fish cages, and deteriorating water quality. The BFAR has since said they will investigate to find the Tawilis spawning areas in Taal Lake to hopefully enact conservation measures.

These are two recent examples of how reactionary our policies are when it comes to conserving our fish resources.  Beyond that, they are also indicative of a deeper, more profound gap — or even blind spot — in our current governance paradigms with regards to our rivers, lakes, coastlines, and seas.

Several experts have written about how it is imperative for the Philippines to start focusing on developing its own sustainable “blue economy” — referring to the sectors of the country directly defined by and dependent on coastal and marine resources.

For instance, former NEDA chief and columnist Cielito Habito wrote about the need for the country to take a more “archipelagic view of overall development planning” as compared to the traditional emphasis on land-based planning.

Habito emphasized that a fragmented geography, such as our archipelago, poses huge challenges in crucial areas like energy, infrastructure, communication networks, and even nationhood. But it also brings immense benefits, such as abundant natural resources — provided of course, they are conserved and utilized sustainably.

In fact, the immense value of the country’s coastal and marine resources was estimated in a 2017 joint article from the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo De Manila University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The authors — which includes present socioeconomic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia; Dr. Rhodora Azanza, President of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST); and Dr. Ronald Mendoza, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government—found that the total annual monetary value associated with the country’s marine ecosystems (corals reefs, mangroves, seagrass areas and continental shelf) can amount to at most P9.183 trillion (or roughly US$581 billion in 2007 prices). That amount is more than double the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019.

Our apparent disregard for our seas and coasts squanders such abundant wealth, and makes us miss out on its potential to underpin our long-term prosperity.  It also underscores why the country was found to be the world’s biggest source of plastic pollution in the world (according to a 2015 report by Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment) and how our fisherfolk remain among the poorest sectors in the country.

It’s not so much that nothing is being done to build our blue economy and protect our oceans. In fact, several policies are in place such as the 1994 National Marine Policy created under the Ramos Administration, the National Coast Watch System (NCWS) established in 2011, or the Fisheries Code amended in 2014, under RA 10654.

What’s needed is for these policies to be threaded together closely, especially since institutional fragmentation, redundancy and overlap of agency mandates have resulted in piecemeal and hence limited interventions in sustainable marine resource management and conservation.

Hence, I filed Senate Resolution 1017 calling on the Senate to conduct an inquiry and an inventory of the country’s policies and projects related to the country’s maritime and ocean affairs with the end-goal of crafting a comprehensive and holistic “blue economy” development plan.

In 2017, the World Economic Forum (WEF) dubbed the Philippines as among world’s “ocean states” considering that our total sovereign area is more than 80 percent underwater. Indeed, it’s time we start acting like one.


Sen. Sonny Angara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means. (Email:| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)/PN


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