• Jovito Jose P. Katigbak

Mainstreaming a Development Perspective in a Philippine Blue Economy Strategy

Blue economy (BE) can be defined as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.” With an estimated worth of USD 24 trillion, oceans are increasingly viewed by various governments, international organizations, and the private sector as the new economic frontier, or “‘development spaces’ where spatial planning integrates conservation, sustainable use, oil and mineral wealth extraction, bioprospecting, sustainable energy production and marine transport.” Accordingly, the Philippines is in a favorable position to benefit from the recent development, given its standing as a large archipelagic country and being situated in the global center of marine diversity.

Interestingly, the government has yet to finalize a blue economy master plan to strategically capitalize on the country’s marine resources. As recognition for BE gradually gains traction among policy circles and business groups, the Philippine government must consider and adopt a paramount perspective: managing the blue economy should go beyond a growth-oriented model, and operate on an inclusive paradigm founded on the pillars of an empowered grassroots, cultural uniqueness, and agile synergies. The succeeding portions elaborate on the cited argument through three sub-sections, namely: (i) the discourses concerning blue economy; (ii) maritime governance in the Philippine context; and (iii) pathways toward the formulation of a national BE strategy.

Framing Blue Economy in a Development Light

There is no universally-agreed definition of the blue economy despite a multitude of interpretations. For instance, the United Nations framed BE into four varying principles of human-ocean dynamics, specifically, oceans as a natural capital, good business, small-scale fisheries livelihood, and as integral to Pacific Small Islands Developing States. In Europe, blue growth is characterized as the “long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole…with great potential for innovation and growth.” Closer to home, the Asia and the Pacific's Blue Growth Initiative advances sustainable fisheries and regional aquaculture to “enhance food and nutrition security through meeting increasing regional and world demand for fish, aid poverty alleviation and encourage economic development in the region.”

Notwithstanding their differences, the aforementioned narratives seem to underscore economic growth as the primary objective. Perhaps the 2012 Changwon Declaration offers a more development-oriented definition of the blue economy: “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 its potential contribution to sustainable development, including improving human well-being, and reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” Nevertheless, marine spatial planning (MSP) – the main tool for realizing BE – is commonly enforced through a top-down approach, which hampers participative platforms hence marginalizing small-scale fishers from the decision-making process and in the distribution of spaces for several purposes. Furthermore, the neoliberal logic underpinning MSPs is illustrated by spacial allocations “packaged with market-based instruments, including fostering links to global markets, and institutionalizing licenses and taxes to maximize revenue.”

Evidently, there is a pressing need to mainstream a development perspective into the blue economy, as 47 million individuals in developing nations depend on small-scale fishing and fish-trading for subsistence and livelihood.

Characterizing Maritime Governance in the Philippines

The 1994 National Marine Policy (NMP) outlines the basic parameters concerning the management of the country’s marine sector. Although touted as comprehensive and adaptive, the NMP has yet to effectively facilitate an integrated and coordinated Philippine maritime governance. This state is exacerbated by overlapping jurisdictions, lack of a marine research agenda, inaccurate valuation of marine resources, and high poverty incidence in coastal areas.

Thus, several legislative measures were put forward seeking to merge the current regulatory agencies into an overarching institution, which may be actualized in any of the following: “Department of Maritime Affairs”; “Department of Marine Affairs”; or “Department of Marine Resources.” In addition, there is a recent legislative proposal urging the Senate to review the country’s maritime and ocean affairs policies, with the ultimate objective of formulating a “holistic blue economy development plan.” Accordingly, this would require the integration of existing industry development plans (e.g., MARINA, BFAR) to truly craft a comprehensive maritime governance framework.

Toward a National Blue Economy Strategy: Options and Considerations

DENR has already conceptualized in 2004 a “Framework for Sustainable Philippine Archipelagic Development (ArcDev)” which sought to foster a more rational approach toward marine and coastal resources management. It has five main principles, namely: (i) growth with equity; (ii) sustainable resource management; (iii) national integration and political unity; (iv) securing a peaceful and stable external environment; and (v) good global citizenship and international cooperation. Notably, the ArcDev may serve as an important reference document in the creation of a national blue economy master plan.

More importantly, the Philippine government may consider the adoption of two complementary concepts: (a) just transitions framework (JST); and (b) marine clusters. The JST espouses the sustainable use of resources vis-à-vis an unwavering pledge to sufficiency, or a scenario wherein “over-consumers are satisfied with less, so that under-consumers can secure enough, without aspiring for more than their fair share.” The emphasis on social justice and inclusiveness is best achieved through a practical approach that centers on transdisciplinarity, which advances the co-creation of knowledge among all stakeholders necessary for addressing issues and challenges. In addition, policy-makers and regulatory agencies may review the establishment of community-based maritime clusters, which are characterized by networks in certain regions involving local communities, firms, public support mechanisms, research and education institutions with a unitary goal and vision. These clusters may serve as nodes within localities, working seamlessly and synchronously. Collaboration with non-governmental organizations, donors, and other development partners may likewise be strengthened.

Hence, the role of councils, regulatory agencies, and a “Department of Marine Affairs” is crucial in facilitating partnerships among stakeholders and in setting regional goals and a national agenda on the blue economy. It is also vital to underscore that synergies must be agile to account for the dynamic environment, thus entailing a proactive review mechanism present in development plans across various levels to track progress and recalibrate strategies when needed.

As the nation navigates its course amid the new frontier of the blue economy, unique waves are expected to challenge the government’s resolve. In the grand scheme of things, what matters is this: the voices and welfare of Filipino communities in coastal areas must be the primary compass and guidepost in realizing the country’s sustainable archipelagic development.

Jovito Jose P. Katigbak is a part-time lecturer at the School of Diplomacy and Governance, De La Salle - College of Saint Benilde. His research interests include political economy, ASEAN integration, sustainable development, and digital economy. Mr. Katigbak received his Master’s degree (MA) in Development Policy from De La Salle University-Manila.

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