A regional blue economy policy

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M

Negros Occidental 3rd District Rep. Jose Francisco “Kiko” Benitez filed a few weeks ago House Bill No. 69, which if enacted into law will be known as the Blue Economy Act.

The primary goal of the bill is to “Adopt blue economy as a framework for sustainable and safe use and development of marine wealth within our Maritime Zones, as a pillar of our national economy and patrimony”.

The term “blue economy” refers to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, job creation, and marine ecosystem health. Obviously, the Philippines, being an archipelago with a vast coastline, has great blue economy potential. Indeed, the National Economic and Development Authority estimates that the maritime sector can generate Php 1 trillion worth of economic revenue for the country.

Obviously, coastal regions in the Philippines can benefit greatly from a blue economy approach. Fisheries, aquaculture, coastal tourism, all provide economic opportunities for these communities. But incorporating the zealous preservation of their marine ecosystem, which is often neglected under the current economic model, can ensure the intergenerational vibrancy of the regional economy.

However, coastal regions can ill-afford to simply wait for the said bill to be enacted. Needless to say, residents of these areas should be encouraging their congressional representatives to champion such a law. But the truth is, even without any national government imprimatur, coastal regions should draw up their own regional blue economy policy.

Of course, a primordial requirement in pursuing a blue economy is to develop, and nurture, a firm commitment to self-identify as a maritime region. History will likely bear this fact out for some regions, so this paradigm shift will not be difficult. Accepting this truth means economic decisions must conform to this reality. Hence, the region’s marine resources must be the fundamental anchor of any and all economic policies, from agriculture to tourism to creative industries to ship building and so forth.

Another crucial prerequisite is for all the constituent local government units (LGUs) of the coastal region to come together and commit to the blue economy transformation. This LGU confederation is actually advanced by Article X, Section 13 of the 1987 Constitution, to wit: “Local government units may group themselves, consolidate or coordinate their efforts, services, and resources for purposes commonly beneficial to them in accordance with law.”

It is extremely vital that the entire region accedes to this change because adherence to a blue economy mindset would necessarily entail a commitment to collectively conserve marine resources. After all this is the goose that lays the golden egg, and therefore it must be protected and cared for at all costs. And obviously, this cannot be the responsibility of one or two LGUs only.

Concomitantly, this commitment also includes the rehabilitation of the marine environment that have been damaged by human intervention such as destructive fishing practices and pollution, just to name a few. The ravages caused by climate change and natural disasters to the marine ecosystem must be repaired as well. Obviously, this can only be accomplished through the concerted action of the entire region.

Pertinently, the regional development council or RDC can play a key role in promoting a regional blue economy policy. First and foremost, it has the authority and the facility to conduct a mapping of all the blue economy industries in the region. This exercise would necessarily include an inventory of stakeholders in this particular sector.

The RDC can then bring these stakeholders together and plot a path towards crafting a blue economy regional policy. LGUs and civil society organizations in the region must participate in this process too. In other words, the RDC will simply be performing its normal work, but with blue economy specifically in its sights.

A regional blue economy policy is important because it will provide a coherent and organized structure for the region’s transformation. Industries can be linked rationally; supply chains can function cohesively and the consumers can be served effectively. Without such an all-encompassing guiding policy document, the current untenable economic model will simply persist.

Seems easy enough to do, right? Well, not exactly. Many of those who belong to the political and economic elite have generously profited from the current economic regime. It will be difficult for them to suddenly break their usual way of doing business, since this is how they maintain their political and economic power. Resistance from this group is to be expected.

Inevitably, the blue economy revolution must spring from the grassroots. For this reform undertaking to succeed, it must be a community-led mobilization. Unfortunately, however, if regions do not embrace their maritime identity like their forebears, then the people of those regions may not accept the sacrifices that must be done. They may not be willing to bear the necessary hard work.

Common sense, history, and Mother Nature herself are all pointing to the blue economy as the right way forward for a maritime nation like the Philippines. Ditto for coastal regions, who need not even wait for a national directive to pursue this path.

But adopting blue economy to be the overarching policy for the regional economy means undertaking an arduous transformation process. Which amongst our coastal regions would be keen to take the plunge?