Maritime security in Sulu and Celebes Seas
(The Philippine Star) - July 9, 2019 - 12:00am

Maritime security and law enforcement, fisheries management, promotion of coastal welfare, and illicit trade are among the problem areas the Philippines and neighboring countries face in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Two non-profit organizations jointly organized a workshop to explore solutions to these various challenges and opportunities. Stakeholders from the government, private sector, academe, and non-governmental organizations participated in the workshop held on June 10 and 11 at the Heritage Hotel Manila.

Manila-based think tank Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress teamed up with Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation for this event, which looked at a recently published report by OEF on Sulu-Celebes maritime concerns. The report identified poor coastal welfare and weak rule of law as mutually reinforcing factors contributing to the proliferation of crimes such as piracy, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and kidnap-for-ransom among others.

Efforts to improve maritime security must also be attentive to socio-economic development in the poor coastal areas of the Philippines along the Sulu and Celebes seas, according to participants of the workshop. In particular,  government must be prepared to tailor-fit maritime regulatory policies to different conditions in the coastal areas of Southern Mindanao. The concerns and capacity of local government units need to be taken into account in the crafting of maritime policies and they must be better integrated in the planning process. There is also a need to have a whole-of-government approach in addressing the overlapping concerns over maritime security, marine environment, and fisheries, considering the difficulty of dispersed mandates across many government agencies.

The workshop participants further found that regional economic cooperation through the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines - East Asian Growth Area did not produce the desired economic benefits in the past. According to private sector participants, there is over-regulation on the maritime industry sector that disincentivizes investment in connectivity.

Among the recommendations of the workshop are to harmonize efforts of government agencies, identify the root causes of unsecured waterways, and increase the  involvement of communities, businesses, NGOs and local government stakeholders in the Sulu and Celebes Seas management.

Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress is a think-tank seeking to promote future-oriented, people-centered, peaceful and independent Philippine foreign relations, with maritime development and security as one of its focal programs. Stable Seas is a program of One Earth Foundation that promotes collaborative maritime solutions to organized political violence and other threats to coastal welfare.

The workshop was conducted in cooperation with the National Coast Watch Council Secretariat. – Aileen SP Baviera, president, Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress

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