What about the maritime industry, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. delivered a moving 114-minute State of the Nation (SONA) address on Monday (July 25), which many see as the country’s roadmap for the next six years under his administration.

The President spoke comfortably in English and Filipino. Perhaps no one would dispute that her SONA was comprehensive as it contained not only the usual maternity statements but also specific details and data.

However, various quarters of the maritime industry were a little disappointed, to say the least. They expected the president to announce, even in broad strokes, the important role of the shipping industry under his administration.

The maritime industry didn’t deserve a sentence or two, in the president’s very first SONA. There was no mention of his plans to turn the country into a logistics hub, which he spoke eloquently in several forums with industry players ahead of the May election.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. FILE PHOTO

Nor was there any mention of the Filipino sailors who have sent an uninterrupted $7 billion a year payment to the national coffers and occupy half of the ships that cross the world. For context, 90% of world trade is still carried by ship.

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Like his predecessors, President Marcos stressed the importance of the agricultural sector. His choice of agriculture as the centerpiece of his administration was evident after he chose to become Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

He spoke about this in his SONA, devoting almost a third of his first speech to the joint session of the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to the agricultural sector.

“One of the main drivers of our push for growth and jobs will be in the agricultural sector,” he told a crowd estimated at 1,300 lawmakers, Cabinet members, members of the diplomatic corps, close allies and political supporters and other guests.

He explained his plans on how to address concerns about improving agricultural production and thereby increasing food availability and reducing food prices, through financial and technical support.

“Magbibigay tayo ng pautang, habang plus ilalapit natin sa sektor ng agrikultura ang hindi gaanong mahal na farm inputs na bibilhin ng bulto ng gobyerno. Kabilang dito ang abono, pestisidyo, mga punla, feeds, fuel subsidy and ayuda para sa mga karapat- dapat na benipisyaryo.

“Financial aid and financial assistance within the framework of management and management are institutions and officials of the administration.

“For the complete solution: itataas natin ang produksyon of mga kalakal and produktong pang-agrikultura. And to do this, participate in the natin ang tinatawag na value chain nagsisimula in mga magsasaka hanggang in mga namimili.

“Gagawa supports the national farm-to-market route network with the fastest delivery speed of most products to families.”

The President, however, did not include maritime transport which also plays an important role in transporting agricultural products from agricultural producers to consumers.

Another topic he discussed at length is infrastructure, but he focused only on rail and road projects, pledging to continue the projects launched by President Duterte.

He identified a dozen specific rail projects in Luzon and Mindanao, Panay and Cebu that he said his administration is committed to pursuing.

It will also pursue major highway projects such as Cebu Bus Rapid Transit, Davao High Priority Bus System, Ilocos Norte Transportation Hub and El Nido Transport Terminal.

In passing, he mentions the development of seaports. “Improving our rail system, along with upgrading existing airports and seaports, will maximize our strategic location in the Pacific. And connect our many islands.”

He did not, however, emphasize the importance of modern ports in transporting goods in inter-island trade.

This contrasts with his meetings with industry players during the campaign period where he explained the need for a modern port system, including its required information technology infrastructure that could rival ports in developed countries. .

One area, however, where stakeholders can expect to be the new Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), which the President has generously inhabited in his SONA as a “home” for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW ) in his government.

Adhering to the labor export policy introduced by his late father, President Marcos, in the 1970s, young Marcos pledged to facilitate the deployment of Filipinos overseas.

He vowed to cut red tape in processing their documents and explore more countries where Filipinos could be sent. He assured the OFWs that the DMW would be there to deal with them whenever there were incidents of exploitation and harassment of the OFWs.

But maritime stakeholders believed the president’s statement would benefit land-based OFWs, as Filipino sea-based workers are, in general, better off than their land-based counterparts.

Still, if it meant the president appointing more maritime attachés to certain shipping nations that are major employers of Filipino seafarers, it could be a boon to the multi-billion dollar recruitment industry as well as Filipino seafarers.

Finally, SONA included a statement on the recently enacted Public Utilities Law, but the President only limited the impact of the Foreign Investment Liberalization Law on the promised improved telecommunications services in the country, passing ignoring the possible positive impact on maritime transport.

The maritime industry players do not overlook the immediate importance of the agricultural sector, but they have asked, what about the maritime industry, Mr. President?