Speech of Sen. Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III at the Philippine Maritime and Seafaring Industry Presidential Forum, January 28, 2010
Before I begin, let me tell you about a conversation between my partner, Mar Roxas, and Bill Gates. When Mar met with Bill Gates in California a few years ago, Bill Gates told him that in his view, there were two industries where the Philippines had the potential to be number one: information technology and seafaring. Do we need a Bill Gates to tell us how good we are in seafaring? My friends, you and I know—we are number one in seafaring.
Our challenge today is how do we keep ourselves in this position?
Today I know that I am not only speaking to those in the seafaring industry, but the domestic and international shipping sectors as well.
In the domestic sector, everybody is talking about our very old and perhaps also very tired fleet of secondhand vessels coming from Japan and other parts of the world. In many parts of the country, wooden hulled vessels are still used to ferry passengers even in this modern age of ours. You and I agree that safety is a major issue in our country today.
If our fleet is not being modernized, perhaps we can attribute this to the fact that investor confidence is quite low. This is compounded by a lack of political will on the part of government to make this happen.
When tragedies happen, such as we have seen in the last two years, causing the loss of many lives, we are told time and again that it could have been due to a host of factors: a) an act of nature; b) the incompetence of officers and crew, or c) the lack of enforcement of safety regulations by either the Coast Guard or MARINA.
However, the question in our minds remains: could any of these have been prevented? More importantly, what can we do to prevent them from happening again in the future?
Ensuring safety is our obligation to the riding public. If we cannot prevent sea tragedies from happening in our own country, our status in the seafaring industry will be at risk.
The shipping companies that employ our sailors have to deal with laws going back to the era of my grandfather, and agencies that have a tendency to work at cross-purposes with each other.
Therefore, let me tell you, in my first 100 days, I will submit to both houses of Congress as one of my priority bills, a new Maritime Code.
I assure you this will not reach Congress without thorough consultation and discussions between you and our new team.
Now, let us talk about international shipping.
The question in the minds of a lot of us who do not understand your sector is—how can an archipelagic country said to be number one in the seafaring industry not have a very strong maritime fleet? How did there come to be only 169 Philippine flag vessels in a sea of 45,000 vessels roaming all over the world? Can you imagine what benefits can accrue to our country if we had an expanded Philippine flag? To make this happen, we need to craft the laws that will put in place policies and incentives for an environment conducive to progress, and provide a government machinery that will be the partner of industry rather than its obstacle in making this happen.
You will be consulted before I make any decision that will impact your industry significantly. I hope and pray that you will be ready because we have to work hard and fast if we are to play catch up with the rest of the world.
Now to our seafaring community—so often called the heroes of the Philippines—I agree with this completely—and I salute you.
The numbers show that there are 300,000 of you so well spread over the world that every time we hear about a ship that is taken over somewhere in Somalia, the probability of having a Filipino on board that ship is very high.
Out of the 16 billion dollars in OFW remittances that came into the Philippines last year, around 3 billion dollars were contributed by your sector. In order to preserve our dominance in the world as seafarers, and sustain our growth momentum, we need to be competitive—in terms of knowledge, technical skills and cost of deployment—with the least burden on our seafarers.
In our country, the seafarer and the deployment agencies have to deal with about 14 agencies of the government before they can complete their papers. This takes countless hours of agony. Other countries have one-stop shops. If they can do it, why can’t we?
Some quarters in your sector are suggesting that we pass a separate law that will deal purely with the needs of the seafaring sector rather than be covered by the Migrant Workers Act. To be honest with you, this is a proposal that I would have to study in detail before I can assure you of my commitment. Your thoughts as experts in this field are most welcome.
In almost every industry that I have had the opportunity to meet with, everybody seems to be well versed about the problems as well as the solutions to those problems. Why then are we not able to do anything about them?
Well, in so many cases, they blame government—and maybe, rightfully so. What I can promise you is that in my presidency, this will change.
As chief executive, I will ensure that government’s regulatory powers are used to favor the public and the progress of your industry, rather than special interests. There will be no regulatory capture.
When there are cases such as, but God forbid, accidents or sea tragedies, you can expect that our regulatory agencies will be fair but firm in the implementation and enforcement of our laws. However, the main occupation of these agencies will be to prevent such incidents from happening. If they are found to be remiss in their duties, you can expect that swift action will be taken on our part.
Let me make an appeal for us to work together instead of continuing the present atmosphere of mistrust and finger pointing. We appeal to everybody: do not pass the buck. In my presidency, the buck will stop with me. Do your part, and I will do mine.
A few years ago, I read about this migrant worker who, after having worked for years to ensure that his family could buy a house, his children could go to school, and accumulate some savings for livelihood, came home to find that no home was bought, his children had been left unattended, and that his wife had run off with another man. After such a homecoming, this man committed suicide. How many other stories similar to this are there? Is this the price that our hero, Juan Dela Cruz, has to pay to save his country? If only we who are left at home—whether it is the deployment agency, or the government’s welfare agencies—worked together to provide support for families to ensure that this does not happen, perhaps these cases would be lessened, if not eliminated altogether.
In closing, let me say that I did not come here to pretend to know everything that I need to with regard to your industry. You are the real experts here. I am here today to listen to your concerns and share with you my views on how we can work together to create public value and to move this industry forward.
[Archived from the official campaign web site of President Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III]