Law enforcement, fisheries management, promotion of coastal welfare, and illicit trade are among the many problem areas faced by the Philippines and neighboring countries in achieving maritime security in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. To explore solutions to these challenges, two non-governmental organizations jointly organized a policy workshop from 10 to 11 June 2019 at the Heritage Hotel Manila. During the workshop, stakeholders from the government, private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations in the Philippines participated in lively discussions that highlighted areas for development and future opportunities for partnerships.
The Stable Seas program of the Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation teamed up with Manila-based Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress for this event. The workshop was a progression of the Stable Seas’ recently published maritime security report on the Sulu and Celebes seas. In this report, it was identified how poor coastal welfare and weak rule of law are mutually reinforcing factors that contribute to the proliferation of maritime crimes such piracy, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and kidnap-for-ransom activities. To mitigate these factors, blue economy, fisheries, and law enforcement agencies can pursue initiatives that strengthen coastal welfare and the rule of law.
The first session, chaired by Research Fellow Julio Amador II, presents findings of the Sulu-Celebes Seas report
Based on these findings, the workshop discussed efforts to improve maritime security. Policy efforts must be attentive to socio-economic development in the poor coastal areas of the Philippines along the Sulu and Celebes seas, according to participants of the workshop. In particular, the government must be prepared to tailor-fit maritime regulatory policies to different conditions in the coastal areas of Southern Mindanao. The concerns and capacity of local government units also need to be included in the development of maritime policies and in the planning process. There was also an emphasis on achieving a whole-of-government approach in addressing the overlapping concerns over maritime security, marine environment, and fisheries, considering the overlapping and dispersed mandates of many government agencies.
The workshop participants also found that existing regional economic cooperation through the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines - East Asian Growth Area did not produce the desired economic benefits. According to private sector participants, over-regulation on the maritime industry sector disincentivizes investments in connectivity projects. There were also calls to enhance inter-governmental cooperation in developing alternative livelihoods for fishers and a better understanding of the impact of business regulations on blue economy industries.
Among the recommendations of the workshop are to harmonize efforts of government agencies, identify the inland root causes of insecure waterways, and increase the involvement of communities, businesses, non-governmental organisations, and local government stakeholders in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
The workshop was also conducted with cooperation from the National Coast Watch Council Secretariat, an inter-agency maritime surveillance and coordinated response facility mandated to implement the whole-of-government approach to address current and future maritime safety, security, and environmental challenges in the Philippines.