President Rodrigo R. Duterte delivered July 24th his Second SONA, with informalities (and occasional swearing) but came across very personal and sincere. More importantly, maritime concerns were shared with some attention, even as collaterals to his roadshow, the Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.
Duterte increases spending on infrastructure, from 5% to 7% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 2022, costing some P8 to 9-trillion (US$160-180 billion on current currency exchange rates). Arguably, he starts “Golden Age of Infrastructure” to enhance mobility and connectivity, spurring growth and equitable sharing of wealth in the country.
“To improve our sea connectivity, we launched 15 brand new RORO vessels to ply major nautical routes all over the country. We also opened an ASEAN Ro-Ro Shipping Route connecting the ports of Davao and General Santos, Philippines to Bitung, Indonesia.
To address the congestion of our sea ports, we modernized the Ports of Iloilo, General Santos, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga. We shall complete strategic road and bridge projects and some of the road sections shall be widened and improved to address the worsening traffic.”
He raised eyebrows when he traveled to China in friendship, after a public series of harsh words for the Americans, a traditional partner for decades by all Administrations. At the SONA, he directly acknowledged and thanked Chinese Ambassador Zhao for China’s commitment to build two bridges to span the Pasig River, free of charge.
The SONA of over two hours, peppered with ad libs the official speech, eliciting a host of applause, laughter — grit from some quarters, like the mining industry which received his in-your-face diatribes and warning.
Ms. Brenda V. Pimentel analyses the SONA on a maritime perspective, like The President “made reference to the maritime industry as he highlighted sea connectivity through the nautical highway.” The launching of roll-on roll-off vessels “…is a positive sign he thinks maritime” and tap more activities for local shipyards.
Pimentel notes shipyards here are capable of building ships of 30 meters long, weighing 40 tons to over 400 meters long of over 100,000 tons in weight. Building ro/ro ships here will mean jobs, preserving our dollars, generate taxes and fees for the government. As well, we can show the world the capacity “to produce small and large ships proudly made by Filipinos.”
The GenSan/Davao-Bitung, Indonesia route that was jointly launched earlier by Pres. Duterte and Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo. The mention in the SONA is proof of the importance the current Administration attaches to the maritime industry. “ It is recognizing the role of maritime by strengthening the sea lanes of communications among member States of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean)” as nine of the 10 member-states are connected to the sea.
The first attempt to connect Southern Philippines with Indonesia was in the late 1990s, the same route was opened as part of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). However, the shipping operation in the route was not sustained for lack of cargoes and passengers, and harmonization of the countries’ customs, immigration and quarantine regulations.
The matter was further exacerbated by heightened security concerns due to piracy in the Celebes Sea. A parallel route was also opened in the Zamboanga-Sandakan, Malaysia route during the time and to date continues to run.
Pimentel thinks the market for Philippine-built ships that cater to the BIMP-EAGA routes has been created. Filipino shipowners should be encouraged to go into short-sea operations that will connect southern Philippines with Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam as no less than The President articulated in the SONA his support.
Davao and GenSan ports could be developed to serve cruise ships, says Pimentel.
The President mentioned the country’s natural resources shall be extracted and processed in the Philippines. Raw materials exported are later imported as finished products. The country should be able to produce its own requirements for the manufacturing and construction sectors, possibly even roll the steel needed for shipbuilding.
Ms. Brenda accepts much work are to be done for the maritime industry to be able to participate and respond to the policy direction of The President. Maritime stakeholders must start serious work; plans and activities must be in the roadmaps of the sectors.
Raise the sails, the SONA has blown great winds to ply to progress!