LAWMAKERS said the Philippines should have a “blue economy” as a framework to protect Philippine maritime resources and the livelihood of fishermen.
Rep. Jose Francisco “Kiko” B. Benitez of Negros Occidental said the House Committee on Economic Affairs has already approved the proposed Blue Economy Act, or House Bill (HB) 8893, a priority bill of the Marcos administration to maximize the economic and social benefits of Philippine maritime industries.
The blue economy is a framework for sustainable development of marine and coastal resources based on principles of stewardship and social responsibility.
According to Benitez, this bill is long overdue, and the Philippines has not had a comprehensive framework for the development of our coastal and marine resources since the 1994 National Marine Policy.
“The harmonization of government policies for marine and coastal resource management had been entrusted to the Cabinet Committee on the Treaty on the Law of the Sea, created in 1981. This body became the Cabinet Committee on Maritime and Ocean Affairs that formulated the 1994 National Marine Policy,” the lawmaker said.
Benitez said this will be landmark legislation that will redefine Filipinos’ relationship with the Philippines’ marine waters and create a path to sustainable and inclusive development of marine resources.
Moreover, the lawmaker said that only in 2011 was an inter-agency mechanism created—the National Coast Watch System, composed of a Council, a Secretariat, and the operations center—but this structure has a limited mandate for coordinating maritime security policies and patrols.
“It is therefore necessary to reorganize and strengthen the National Coast Watch System and reorient government policy towards sustainable development of our marine and coastal resources and ensuring the health of our aquatic ecosystems—toward a blue economy,” Benitez said.
In his 2023 State of the Nation Address, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. noted the gains, in terms of employment and livelihood, from the proper development of our blue economy. The President called on Congress to pass this bill. Accordingly, this bill has been included in the priority legislative agenda of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.
“This is in recognition of the fact that approximately 88 percent of our territory is marine waters. Maritime industries account for 3.6 percent of our GDP, according to the PSA [Philippine Statistic Authority]. But if we do not act now, our marine wealth will be lost due to damage from overexploitation and pollution,” Benitez added.
In his message during a multi-stakeholders consultation-workshop on mainstreaming blue economy in Legazpi, Albay, AGRI Party-list Rep. Wilbert T. Lee said that harnessing the blue economy will “maximize the economic contributions of our seas while ensuring its responsible development to preserve it for future generations.”
The lawmaker said that the country, located in the Coral Triangle, is a biodiversity hotspot that “is neglected as human activities such as overexploitation, pollution, and climate change have damaged the country’s coral reefs, mangrove forests, and endangered species.”
As a result, he said there is a threat to the food security, fisheries, marine conservation, and tourism.
“By protecting our seas, we are protecting the sea-based livelihoods of our countrymen. Kung wala silang kita, how will they feed their families? How will they take care of their loved ones if they get sick?” he said.
The bill creates the National Maritime Monitoring System, which will be the primary mechanism for cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder engagement in catalyzing development towards a blue economy.
The measure also said the National Coast Watch Council, created under Executive Order No. 57, Series of 2011, is renamed and reconstituted as the National Maritime Council.
The bill said the council shall, within six months from the effectivity of this proposal, formulate a Policy Framework on Blue Economy.
The framework shall serve as the basis for marine spatial planning, the determination of investments to develop modern physical infrastructure and build an enabling environment for the blue economy to prosper, the enhancement of maritime domain awareness, and the enforcement of economic and environmental regulations within our maritime zones. The framework shall be subject to mandatory review and modification every five years.
The council shall also spearhead the conservation, protection, and rehabilitation of such rare, threatened, and endangered aquatic species as it may determine, including their habitats. It shall recommend to the President and Congress the designation of coastal and marine areas as protected areas under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or under the Fisheries Code, as amended, and in compliance with the relevant provisions of international treaties and agreements such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The measure said the council shall designate sea lanes and air routes there above, suitable for the continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircraft through or over the archipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial sea, and shall, where necessary as regards the safety of navigation, require foreign ships exercising the right of innocent passage to use such lanes and traffic separation schemes in accordance with the UNCLOS.
The bill, meanwhile, mandates the Philippines Statistics Authority to include the environmental-economic accounting of marine ecosystems as part of the Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System in the generation of the Philippine Ocean Satellite Accounts.
In the exercise of its regulatory powers over financial institutions, the measure said the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas shall mandate banks and quasi-banks to adopt the United Nations Environment Programme Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles as a foundation of corporate governance and risk management.
Also, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) shall encourage the issuance of blue bonds where proceeds will be exclusively applied to finance or refinance, in part or in full, eligible Blue Economy activities, in accordance with SEC Guidelines, the ASEAN Green Bonds Standards, and the Green Bonds Principles, as developed and may be revised from time to time by the SEC, the ASEAN Capital Markets Forum, and the International Capital Market Association, respectively.
For their part, the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines shall provide credit to strategic and sustainable ocean-based or ocean-related enterprises.
The bill provides an amount of P200 million as initial funding for the council to be charged against the unexpended contingency fund of the Office of the President. Thereafter, the amount needed for the implementation of this proposal shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act.
Meanwhile, this proposal will be transmitted to the House Committee on Appropriations and the House Committee on Ways and Means for their separate deliberations.
“We have had a total of three TWG [technical working group] hearings to listen to various concerned government agencies, research institutions, environmental advocates, and experts. This substitute bill greatly benefited from their insights and recommendations,” Benitez said.