Thinking Beyond Politics
By Victor Andres C. Manhit
The Philippines has one of the world’s longest coastlines, spanning 36,289 kilometers (22,549 miles), filled with abundant marine resources and maritime industry potential. Its strategic location, critical for trade and security, also elevates the importance of protecting national interest over the country’s territorial rights.
These economic and industrial opportunities and strategic geographical location suggest that the new government should be able to use and harness concrete methods and approaches to strongly address our maritime security concerns.
To promote and protect Philippine interests and concerns, priority must be given to establishing dependable interagency cooperation between maritime agencies and institutions.
Extant structural issues and policy gaps need to be identified in order to push forward a stronger maritime posture and facilitate the development of effective and feasible solutions to further strengthen the country’s maritime security.
Specifically, the new government’s priority actions should be able to respond to the following key challenges: 1.) implementation of policies to address the degradation of the marine environment in the West Philippine Sea; 2.) harnessing productive partnerships to improve cooperation and coordination between agencies and institutions; and, 3.) strengthening the capacity of government to respond to illegal activities and exploitation of natural resources within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and to manage and prevent maritime problems including threats against vessels, infrastructure, and the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk.
Maritime security, however, needs to be enveloped under a clear and future-oriented foreign and security policy. This is one of the key recommendations of the Stratbase ADR Institute book Beyond the Crisis: A Strategic Agenda for the Next President which was launched on May 20. Other important policy advice pertained to the areas of economy, social inequality, food security, climate change, and governance.
In my paper, “A Responsive and Strategic Foreign Policy Outlook in an Interconnected and Multipolar World,” there is great emphasis on a more unpredictable geopolitical environment in the Indo-Pacific region. This therefore demands that a renewed definition and understanding of international and regional cooperation among states is imperative to collectively solve existing and emerging problems, including conflicting maritime claims affecting the national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and developmental interests of the countries involved.
The new government must be able to develop “a future-oriented, responsive, and strategic Philippine foreign policy” that has learned from the shortcomings of the previous administration.
On May 26, presumptive President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has made it clear that, “we have a very important ruling in our favor and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right.” By recognizing the country’s rights over our maritime territory, the new government is better equipped and guided to establish the policies, plans and strategies over it.
More specifically, Dr. Chester Cabalza expounds in his study titled, “Philippine Civil and Maritime Security: Transforming from Archipelagic to Maritime Power,” the importance of having “a stronger civil maritime framework and a robust maritime security under the mantle of national security.”
Dr. Cabalza attributed great significance to multilateralism in dealing with a volatile regional security environment that is being influenced by the power competition between China and the United States.
The competition is further complicated by the rise of the middle powers that aim to maintain a maritime rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.
In conclusion, Dr. Cabalza recommends the need for “a unified and stronger messaging for the next president in handling various maritime security challenges by accelerating the use of strategic communication in the defense and security sector to realize the value of whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approaches.”
With a responsive and strategic foreign policy and a stronger civil maritime framework and a robust maritime security, our country will be able to politically and diplomatically deal with China’s expansionist agenda in the West Philippine Sea and its growing maritime capability.
The extensive maritime territory and jurisdiction of our country presents limitless economic opportunities and the exploration and engagement of the blue water economy will ultimately benefit countless Filipino fisherfolk.
Leveraging existing and new partnerships with like-minded states will serve as the balancer in the Indo-Pacific maritime order.
On May 23, Bantay Dagat or the Maritime Security Framework between the US and the Philippines was signed by the Commander UA Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquilino and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, General Andres Centino.
The event at the US Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Camp Smith, Hawaii demonstrated the strong cooperation between the two countries “to improve regional maritime domain awareness and confront maritime challenges together.”
“The framework is designed to enable a holistic, intergovernmental approach to maritime security through the interoperability of US and Philippine maritime forces and option to include interagency organizations, and is a testament to the strength of the US-Philippines alliance,” US Indo-Pacific Command Public Affairs added.
To further ventilate the urgency of the country’s maritime concerns, the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute held a virtual public forum with the theme “The Future of Philippine Foreign Policy: On Maritime Security Capability and Strategy.” This May 31 event was a gathering of thought leaders and experts in the field of maritime security and foreign policy. Aside from providing context to the current landscape of the country’s maritime security strategy, it tackled existing policies and the points of intervention at the institutional and implementational levels.
Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.