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Catching the Wave and Charting the Future
G.S. Jacinto

"The history of any nation follows an undulatory course. In the trough of the wave we find more or less complete anarchy; but the crest is not more or less complete Utopia, but only, at best, a tolerably humane, partially free and fairly just society..."

Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963), British author. Grey Eminence, ch. 10 (1941).

On December 8, 1997, a working group led by then Vice-President for Planning and Development Fortunato T. de la Peña held the first of a series of roundtable discussions on the concept of Archipelagic Studies and Oceans Policy. The discussions were guided initially by a concept paper prepared by then College of Law Dean Merlin M. Magallona for an Archipelagic Studies and Oceans Policy Program in the University. This first meeting was followed by two meetings in early 1998 where participants discussed the current activities and programs of their respective units that relate to Archipelagic Studies and Oceans Policy.

In line with the suggestion of then UP President Emil Q. Javier, the group aimed to formulate an agenda for policy studies as well as actual R&D directions in marine science, fisheries, and other disciplines. An agenda-setting workshop was held in March 1998 participated in by 50 faculty members from different units of the UP System as well as representatives from various government agencies.

In the fourth quarter of 1998, the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP-CIDS) published a book entitled, Archipelagic Studies: Charting New Waters, edited by Prof. Jay L. Batongbacal. The book was based on eleven papers and outputs of the March 1998 Worskhop.

Meanwhile, the University of the Philippines Board of Regents (BOR) at its 1123rd meeting on August 27, 1998 approved the resolution creating the Systemwide Network on Archipelagic and Ocean Studies (AOS). The initial members of the UP AOS Committee include eleven principal academic members and representatives, six specialized units of the University, and all Vice-Presidents of the UP System as ex-officio members. The UP-CIDS provides the Secretariat support for the Network.

Why such a program in the University and what may have been the predisposing factors to this program? An excellent treatise on the subject has already been written by Dean Magallona. I only offer to paraphrase and perhaps supplement what has already been proposed by him and other colleagues in the University.

Events, more than anything else, have been the precursors and may even have been the catalysts to this program. Although not chronological nor in order of importance, these events include:

  • The dispute over the Spratly Islands where various features in the area are occupied by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
  • Since 1990, a series of workshops on "Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea" have been held in Indonesia. These nongovernmental gatherings have been convened to explore ways to engender cooperation among the nations bordering on the South China Sea.
  • The Workshop series spawned since 1992 Technical Working Groups on topics such as cooperation in marine scientific research, resource assessment and means of development, marine environmental protection, legal matters, and navigational safety. The Philippines through the UP Marine Science Institute, convened the first Technical Working Group on Marine Scientific Research in 1993. This group has met six times since then.
  • The need to engage other claimant countries in the Spratlys on a bilateral basis in order to minimize tension resulted in an oceanographic cruise between the Philippines and Vietnam, the RP-Vietnam Joint Oceanographic and Marine Scientific Research in the South China Sea (JOMSRE-SCS) in 1996.
  • The formulation of a National Marine Policy (NMP) in 1994 and instructions of then President Fidel V. Ramos to effect a shift in development policy, which would emphasize the country’s status as an archipelagic state.
  • The establishment of the Cabinet Committee on Maritime and Ocean Affairs chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and which has been recently strengthened with the creation of the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center under the Office of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.
  • The occupation of Mischief Reef by China in 1995 and subsequent "improvements" made therein has remained a major source of tension between the Philippines and China.
  • The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which took effect in November 1994. With the Philippines being signatory to the convention, new challenges and problems have emerged.
  • An increasing number of requests to conduct marine scientific research in Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The issues that have emerged and continue to confront us go beyond the political sphere and have economic and social dimensions. For many years, the Spratlys was considered to be a source and transit zone of marine organisms obtained by fishers in the Philippines and surrounding countries. In fact, fisheries from Palawan constitute 20 percent of the country’s total fish catch with fisheries occupying a central role in food security. More than 55 percent of the country’s population of 70 million live in 25 cities and more than 1,000 towns located in coastal areas. More than two million fisherfolk are directly employed in the fishing industry and close to 10 million families derive subsistence from it.

Moreover, the potential for obtaining energy from the sea using temperature differences between surface and deep waters and harnessing surface currents running through constricted passages between islands, remains largely unexplored.

On the shipping industry, a recent Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study noted that over P50 billion was lost for the past 12 years due to marine tragedies that caused the deaths of more than 10,000 people. The Philippines has about 300,000 seafarers, making up 20 percent of the world’s total shipboard labor force and contributing 0.5 billion US dollars annually to the national economy.

The 1990s has also seen a growing capacity of our ASEAN neighbors to undertake ocean studies. But the Philippines only has a limited number of academics interested and involved in studies of the SCS despite the return to the country of new PhDs in oceanography as well as increased expertise in various aspects of marine and fisheries sciences. The optimum use of the country’s three newly-acquired research vessels will also have to be addressed.

During the last few years there is a greater appreciation by the government of the utility of scientific research in helping define, develop and advance our ocean policy. Environmental awareness has, likewise, been heightened on issues such as climate change, El Niño, La Niña, overexploitation of coastal and offshore resources, and harmful algal blooms.

What then should be the role of the University’s AOS program in response to these realities? The program shall determine the interests of the nation cognizant that it is an archipelago. The AOS is called upon not only to be responsive but also to be pro-active and visionary; to digest and anticipate issues and events; to synthesize and to challenge; to encourage interaction; to examine inconsistencies in law, policies, guidelines, and practices; to catalyze action; to liaise with various sectors within and outside the university; to lead and point directions; and, consistent with the fact that the University is a community of scholars, to challenge existing paradigms and propose new ones, develop techniques, generate new concepts, disseminate and effectively archive and make available data and information.

We would like to see the AOS, with the help of the University, seek the participation and the support of the public and private sectors; provide a favorable environment within the University for the development of specialized marine research centers and the provision of corresponding human and financial resources; help mitigate user conflicts between research and non-compatible ocean use activities; hold regular fora where natural scientists and social scientists interested in archipelagic and ocean studies meet with staff members of other institutes and departments within and outside the University to discuss policy issues, needs and directions; foster public awareness and facilitate informed public input regarding the country’s natural and cultural/historic ocean and coastal resources through interpretive education.

We would like to see a program that is inter- and multi-disciplinary, targeting outputs that can be used by policy-makers in areas such as: marine policy; offshore resource management and utilization of living and nonliving resources; coastal resource management; maritime and marine transport; foreign policy (e.g., code of conduct in contested islands, management regimes in contested areas, EEZ); tourism and ecotourism.

We envision a program that can exist and may even thrive in "virtual mode", not relying on the establishment of new structures to survive, but harnessing expertise wherever these may be in the University System.

Finally, we seek a program of scholars that is relevant, responsive, integrative, and stimulating.