ONE much-hyped accomplishment of the past administration is the Build, Build, Build program which constructed roads, highways, bridges, ports and airports. Where erected, these concrete structures cut down the time spent on land travel and offered convenience through well-paved thoroughfares and highways.
New ports were built and the existing ones were repaired or refurbished, and ports are at the end of the line in the land transport system. Few would disagree that ports are the start-off points of sea transport. And in this archipelago, connecting the islands for people mobility, domestic trade and rural development, is as important as land transportation. In fact, the call for unity in this archipelago will be difficult to achieve without linking the over 7,000 islands.
To many, it is inconceivable to undertake a Build, Build, Build program at sea, unless bridges or underground connections are erected under the sea, very much like the one connecting England and France in the English Channel.
There is no need to build bridges or roads at sea as was done ashore! The Philippines has erected two decades ago a Philippine Nautical Highway (PNH). The Development Bank of the Philippines and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) have long started the Build, Build Build program at sea! Of course, there are no concrete roads erected over the vast waters of the archipelago; ships, RoRos, fast crafts, tankers, lighters, boats and all other floating assets engaged in the movement of people and cargo were built to complete the country's nautical highway. The PNH is the transport infrastructure at sea primarily in the form of ships equivalent to those built in the land transportation system The nautical highways are only possible with ships, and ports are where the nautical highway starts and ends. The ship/port interface is a necessary component of the PNH.
The PNH fulfills the objectives for which Presidential Decree (PD) 474 was issued and the grant of the mandate given to Marina under the said law. Domestic shipowners responded to the call to establish the nautical highway; ships were deployed to link the islands, taking on the character of concrete roads and highways at sea. There was in fact overwhelming response by the shipping industry to the launch of the PNH despite the challenges brought about by restrictive regulatory impositions by the government and inadequate support to promote a favorable environment for the expansion of domestic investment in shipping enterprises.
Citation of the PNH appears to be limited to rhetoric, whenever and wherever convenient, never going beyond oratories by government officials. Understanding what the nautical highway is in realizing the purposes of PD 474 is hardly manifested. In the meantime, domestic shipping continues to deal with the bureaucratic maze, incoherent and ambiguous regulations, and inadequate support. The Build, Build, Build at sea should have focused on instituting reforms to resolve long-standing challenges confronting domestic shipping.
At the end of the immediate past administration, the Build, Build, Build program was highlighted, giving a tally of the accomplishments of the agencies under the Department of Transportation which conspicuously did not include Marina.
The Build, Build, Build at sea constituting the continuing expansion of the PNH was not mentioned. Why so? The completed programs in the establishment of the missionary routes and the additional Ro-Ro routes should have been cited as part of further developing the PNH! The deployment of new and modern ships in domestic routes is an accomplishment under the Build, Build, Build at sea program of Marina but which was unfortunately missed out in the Department of Transportation report.
It was for Marina to have pointed out the accomplishments of expanding the PNH which helped optimize the benefits and opportunities offered by the nautical highway, and mind you, without a heavy capital burden from the government! Sayang!