House tackles Blue Economy Act; PH eyed as maritime ‘powerhouse’

The House Committee on Economic Affairs on Tuesday, Feb. 7, began its initial deliberation on the proposed Blue Economy Act that seeks to establish a framework to sustainably develop, manage, and protect the Philippines’ marine and water resources.

A file photo of Scarborough Shoal taken during an aerial inspection conducted by the Philippine Navy with Manila Bulletin correspondent assigned to take photo. (Erwin Beleo/ MANILA BULLETIN)

The discussion, headed by committee chair Negros Occidental 1st District Rep. Gerardo Valmayor Jr., deliberated upon House Bill (HB) No. 69, or “An Act Establishing a Framework for Blue Economy, Promoting Stewardship and Sustainable Development of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems and Resources” also known as the “Blue Economy Act”, by Negros Occidental 3rd District Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez.

“One of the motivations for the bill is a realization that 88 percent of our national territory is actually marine and that we are in need of a whole government approach to ensure that we regulate maritime activities and mitigate or minimize the impact to the environment and maximize the social benefit for our coastal communities which comprise 60 percent of our people,” he said during the hearing.

The lawmaker stressed the importance of the sustainable development and management of the country’s maritime industries for the benefit of future generations of Filipinos.

“We are, in fact, a powerhouse of (the) maritime industry in many aspects. And I think it is high-time for the country to create an organized policy framework that can handle the diverse and wide range of economic, social, historical, and cultural activities that we depend our national waters for,” Benitez added.

Valmayor agreed with Benitez’s assessment about the potential of the country’s seas and blue economy because of the water resources.

“I think this is really a timely move for this House bill,” he said, adding that there’s also a need for coordination among different government agencies “on how to control the catch and how to control illegal fishing, poaching, importaions as well”.

In his bill’s explanatory note, Benitez highlighted the “vast potential” of the country as a blue economy because it is “the world's second largest archipelagic state.”

“Our maritime domains, including our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), have a total area of 2.2 million sq. km. and compose 88 percent of our national territory. The Filipino is essentially a creature of the sea, descended from master maritime navigators. Almost 60 percent of our people live in coastal communities; 315 of our municipalities and 25 of our cities are coastal,” the explanatory note said.

However, the lawmaker lamented that Filipinos’ relationship with the sea “is increasingly diminished by our abuse and excess”, as well as by overexploitation and pollution.

“This bill consolidates all interventions in a single framework that promotes a whole-of-nation approach to sustainably develop, manage, protect and preserve our marine and coastal resources. This bill enshrines and shines new light on the Philippines as the "pearl of the orient sea",” it added.

The measure would turn the National Coast Watch Council into a National Maritime Council, which would led to the formulation of “an integrated strategy to promote blue economy and ecosystem-based management of coastal and marine resources”.

The framework for a blue economy would, among others, review existing policies, adhere to international maritime laws, analyze current and emerging trends, prioritize sustainable ocean-based and ocean-related economic activities, promote ocean literacy, and enhance the capabilities of the military to enforce laws and protect marine wealth.

The bill asked for an initial funding of P100 million under the Office of the President’s contingency fund, but the succeeding budget would be included in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) division head Atty. Emma Valencia expressed support for the bill, but sought clarification about its coverage of water related projects such as waste water management, water supply, and water sanitation.

Benitez explained that while “technically, the blue economy’s main thrust is not, in fact, water sanitation and water wastes on land, for example, but it does not preclude the awareness that water wastes are connected from the mountains all the way to our oceans, both through surface water like river as well as ground water as part of the water cycle”.

“So, it doesn’t preclude projects like that you have mentioned because it is allowed under the law even though it is not, in fact, the main focus of the measure as drafted,” he added.