For Protection or Interests? Analyzing the Securitization of the Philippines on Marine Pollution
Securitization is the process of moving an issue into the security sphere to legitimize the use of extraordinary measures to address it. One of such security issues in the Philippines is the worsening state of its marine pollution. The Philippine government recognized the need to address this issue and was able to securitize it, but the measures taken were inadequate and unsustainable.
The Philippines is an archipelagic country heavily dependent on its marine environment for livelihood. However, it is also one of the countries that greatly contributes to the worsening pollution in the oceans. The Philippines is reported to be the third largest contributor in the world of plastic wastes in the ocean. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has worsened the state of the marine environment as it has led everyone to rely on single-use plastics as a preventive measure. While the use of these plastics has helped prevent one issue from getting worse, it has placed the health of our marine environment at risk.
Since the country relies on its marine biodiversity, the plastic discarded in the ocean contaminates and disrupts the ecosystem which then affects the fish catch and the beauty of its beaches. The government recognized that this poses a threat to the country's interests and has initiated efforts to address the issue. With the existence of these policies and programs, it can easily be assumed that there is a universal agreement that this issue should be prioritized in the security sphere. However, some of the measures taken have been inadequate in addressing the problem, while others are inefficient and ineffective.
In this case, the government acts as the securitizing actor. As mentioned, there have been a number of policies (from administrations both current and prior) that are meant to address its problems. Marine protection should be given attention as mandated by the Philippine Constitution. The government should “protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” The country’s economic development partly depends on the resources that only our marine environment offers. It has been emphasized in the narratives that the issue has a security impact on the country. Thus, several actors in the government have continuously lobbied for the passing of legislation to counter the country’s growing marine pollution.
Among which are the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003) that has been the main governing law used in managing waste, and the Philippine Development Plan (PDP). RA 9003 provides a holistic approach to managing the country's solid wastes, including those that are improperly disposed of in our oceans. LGUs play a big role in the implementation of this law. However, they are insufficiently funded to finance all of the programs that are expected from them. As a consequence, a huge volume of plastic wastes is left improperly disposed of, finding its way into our oceans.
On the other hand, the current administration’s PDP is the document that lists its goals and strategies in achieving them. Included in the PDP is the goal to create policies and programs that will ensure a clean and healthy environment for Filipinos. However, government efforts seem to be inadequate and questionable. In 2018, DENR ordered the closure of Boracay for its rehabilitation due to the plastic wastes that led to the “deterioration of [its] natural and tourism value.” It forced many businesses to shut down and thousands of workers lost their jobs. Reports show that just days after the beach was reopened to the public, garbage wastes started to pile up and the use of plastics was still not banned on the island. Another report has also shown that the integrity of the underwater pipes on the island is weak as leakage of wastewater into the sea was caught on camera. As a response and means to appease the people, the government released a series of reports to show that the project is successful despite the harsh criticisms.
Following this, the DENR also ordered the rehabilitation of Manila Bay in 2020, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Crushed dolomite rock from Cebu was transferred to Manila for this purpose. A year prior, the administration emphasized that it aims to make the Manila Bay fit for swimming. They lined up several projects including clean-ups and beautification for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay. However, this beautification poses both environmental and health hazards. When inhaled, the dolomite sand could lead to respiratory problems. Additionally, it could be easily swept away by the big waves of Manila Bay. In sum, the authenticity of the project is highly questionable. The government defended its project and assured the public that this would not be harmful, even adding that the project can actually be good for the mental health of the people.
At present, the government also has to address the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. To prevent the spread of the virus in the country, they have ordered everyone to wear face masks and face shields at all times. Other preventive measures include the use of single-use plastics in various establishments to minimize contact with the virus. However, these orders have also countered the little progress made in addressing marine pollution. NSWMC admits that there is now an increased volume of garbage made up of protection equipment. They also currently find it difficult to collect wastes as most LGUs do not have the equipment and expertise to properly manage hazardous wastes. Many of these disposable masks and plastics can possibly clog our oceans because of improper disposal. This shows that the government has some policies that are contradicting the current efforts to properly dispose of our wastes and that these current efforts are inadequate and unsustainable.
The Filipinos recognize that the worsening condition of the oceans is a threat to their way of life. However, the opinion of the people on the government’s efforts in addressing the problem vary. Some are supportive of the government’s projects on addressing marine pollution, even if they are questionable and seemingly ineffective. They even defend the government from its critics. However, there are others who have been critical, especially of the recent projects of the government, such as in the Boracay rehabilitation and the Manila Bay beautification. They called out the government for spending on projects that actually harm the welfare of the people in the short term and in the long run.
Although there is recognition from the people that our oceans must be protected, this does not stop them from using plastic products that greatly contribute to the waste generation of the country. Many Filipinos are still inclined to buy products in sachets because they are more affordable compared to those sold in bulk containers. The participation and compliance of the people play a big factor in the effective implementation of the aforementioned laws and programs; even the questionable ones. However, the lack of implementation and initiative on the part of the actors (both the national government and the local government units) on simple programs such as proper waste disposal, segregation, and collection greatly affects the participation and compliance of the people who mainly rely on the directives of the government. If the government itself is noncompliant and creates programs that are not aligned with addressing marine pollution, then the people cannot be expected to comply with legislations passed.
In sum, the government is actually able to securitize the issue of marine pollution. They were able to use this to justify the implementation of any program or project directed to address the threat. However, they were not able to successfully convince the whole of their audience that their projects and programs are beneficial to the environment in general. The rationale behind their projects may have been able to convince the people that the issue must be addressed, but they failed to defend why such projects are necessary.
There is also obviously a need for a thorough review of the existing legislation on the issue of marine pollution. The lack of strict implementation and compliance could mean that there are unrealistic provisions that cannot be met. Therefore, an amendment of the legislation is necessary to adjust these provisions accordingly. Likewise, this may affect the compliance and participation of the people. Should the amendments encourage the needed actors to strictly implement the laws and create efficient and effective programs, then the compliance from the people will easily follow suit.
Alicia Nicole S. Cruz is a graduate student pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Studies at the De La Salle University. She also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. At present, she works as a Training Specialist in the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and handles the training for the Foreign Service Officers. The views expressed here are independent of the positions of the organizations she is affiliated with.