Experts’ Dialogue on Maritime Security Governance 2016

The Philippine Navy (PN), through the Office of Naval Strategic Studies, in partnership with the Foreign Service Institute and the National Coast Watch Council Secretariat, organized the first Experts’ Dialogue on Maritime Security Governance to discuss the different approaches and mechanisms on how to effectively manage the nation’s maritime domain. Drawing from the experiences and best practices of Indonesia and Malaysia and from the current governance framework of the Philippines, the delegates from 14 national agencies and from the private sector gathered together to listen and learn from the insights and perspectives of experts.

The delegates were from: Department of National Defense; Department of Foreign Affairs; Department of Environment and Natural Resources; Armed Forces of the Philippines; National Coast Watch System; Philippine Coast Guard (PCG); PNP-Maritime Group; Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources; MARINA; Bureau of Customs; Philippine Center on Transnational Crime; & shipping industry.

The Dialogue was divided into two sessions. The first focused on Managing and Protecting Commercial Activities at Sea while the second session looked into How Malaysia and the Philippines are Combating Crimes at Sea.

Regional Strategic Maritime Environment. International Relations in the 21st century is best described as the recovery of Asia or the return of Asia. The world is now witnessing the incessant effort of Asian societies to find the right balance between innovation and integration of governing and values to fuel their country’s success. Southeast Asia is no different from the Asian experience of recovery and in pursuing their national interest to ensure continuous development and progress. Southeast Asia is a maritime region home to a number of vital choke points for shipping and a strategic access points to and from South Asia and Northeast Asia.

Given this configuration, Southeast Asian countries have extensive maritime interests ranging from commercial to security interests. Therefore, it is not surprising that they invest in consolidating the capabilities of their naval and domestic maritime agencies to enhance maritime security governance. Notably, they realize that maritime security governance is multi-dimensional and best achieved through understanding the maritime security governance framework of immediate neighbors.

Philippine Maritime Security Governance. The Expert’s Dialogue is timely and relevant as the Philippines strives to excel in its various institution-building efforts of its maritime agencies while coping with the evolving maritime security concerns faced by the country.  As an archipelagic nation situated at the Crossroads of Southeast Asia, the Philippines regards its vast maritime domain as an opportunity for national development while undertaking the necessary measures to manage the drawbacks. With this, there is a need to understand maritime governance using the lens of the potential contribution of the maritime domain to Philippine national development and security.

Maritime governance in the Philippines includes, but is not limited to, the management and protection of resources, effective maritime law enforcement, marine environment protection and the protection of vital sea lanes for shipping. Enhancing the capability of its national agencies and promoting cooperation on maritime security is desirable for the Philippines particularly during this time in which the people and its neighbors are closely monitoring the developments in the South China Sea post-arbitration. The following are the key takeaways from the exchange of views:

  • The nature of maritime security is complex and multi-dimensional. The character and typology of maritime threats are constantly evolving. These threats adapt with technology and the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by maritime law enforcement agencies. It is therefore important that a venue to exchange information not readily available to other maritime law enforcement agencies other than the PN and the PCG be made collaboratively to address these threats. To understand maritime security, one must closely look into the situation on land and its interplay with sea and people. Aside from the complex and multi-dimensional nature of maritime security, it was noted in several instances during the dialogue that crimes at sea are hatched on land.  Maritime issues trace their cause from the situation on land and their interplay with sea and people.  Yet, most of the time, the general law and sea law enforcements are disjointed, and create a sense of a great divide. Thus, it is desirable to transform the disjointed efforts into complementary efforts that constitute the whole-of-nation approach. Also, the country can be pro-active and target land supply chains to prevent their access to the maritime domain.
  • Existing international and regional frameworks for cooperation on maritime security governance is at present insufficient to address evolving maritime security concerns.  Existing cooperation frameworks should undergo periodic reviews and recalibrations to effectively address present challenges. At the international level, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) remains the cornerstone of international legal instrument on maritime cooperation. At the regional level, ASEAN has played a central role in devising cooperative mechanisms.  Constant review on the effectiveness and relevance of UNCLOS could provide topics for future discussions. Alternatively, ASEAN can continue to take the lead in inter-agency cooperation across the region.
  • Strong national institutions, policies, and capabilities should underpin Philippine contribution to regional maritime security. The Philippines should continually equip itself in order to explore the possibilities of regional cooperation in maritime security governance, such as that of alignment of laws and policies, and comprehensive information sharing. Aside from the capability development of our law enforcement agencies, there should be a strict implementation of our protocols and a comprehensive plan to communicate our activities and initiatives, which may add to the country’s credible deterrent factor against crimes-at-sea. This could be achieved by improving the physical infrastructure of the country, most important of which are: (i) the information and communications technology (ICT) framework, and (ii) the port security measures.  Further, the personnel aspect should also be well considered, as this will reinforce an enabling policy environment.
  • Maritime security governance could be best articulated within the economic development paradigm. Particularly in the case of Malaysia, combating crimes at sea is viewed as having direct impact on the government and businesses. The shadow economy created by revenues from overfishing, poaching, and other crimes at sea undermines the legitimate economy. This perspective has aided Malaysia to reduce the gaps by targeting regional transnational crime logistics chains.
  • There is a need to strengthen inter-agency coordination and information sharing in both official and unofficial mechanisms to improve maritime security governance. Aside from participation of different agencies in addressing interrelated issues, another key element in maritime security governance is the clear delineation of the agencies’ functions.  Inter-agency rivalry and unilateral actions should be eliminated and be replaced with joint efforts and strong support systems.


Prof. Herman Kraft, Associate Dean for Administration and External Affairs in the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Diliman, skilfully synthesized the key points and issues raised in the two sessions.

He started with a brief discussion on the nature of maritime security issues. First, complexity was a consistent idea attached to the understanding of maritime security. The multi-threat factors and the multi-dimensional aspects underpin the complexity of maritime security. Challenges to maritime security are interrelated and somehow reinforcing one another. In order to address these effectively, one needs to understand where all these stem from.

Second, the global shift of power makes it even more interesting to study the intricacies of maritime security. There is a continuous geopolitical shift from West towards the East, which now covers the Indian Ocean. With the apparent maritime threats in this region, it is crucial that nation states give more attention to address these threats.

Third, uncertainties and vulnerabilities are becoming more apparent. The emergence of nontraditional security issues and transnational crimes are important concerns to be considered. Notably, maritime security is about securing sea lanes, the rule of law, and the activities at sea.

Undoubtedly, governance is at the focal point of addressing maritime security challenges. It brings the discussion to the capacity of governments to effectively enforce rules and regulations. Thus, this calls for actively identifying and addressing the weakness of institutions.  Certain points were raised primarily on the policies that need to be undertaken, the agencies that are primarily responsible on different issues and the coordinating mechanisms in place. At the regional level, maritime confidence building among different institutions should be strengthened.  Still at the regional level, governments must be able to forge an inter-agency cooperation to ensure its utmost contribution to the region’s efforts.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could play an important platform for inter-agency cooperation across the region. Prof. Kraft reiterated the need for both a common operating picture and maritime security awareness.  It is central to the idea of inter-agency cooperation that all share a similar appreciation of maritime security and a leveled-off awareness on the range and weight of issues. Another vital aspect of maritime security governance is strong and effective mechanisms for information sharing particularly on incidents at sea. It is important that a common database is made available to have a full picture of the issues.

The tendency of institutions to hold information from other national or regional institutions must be overcome to forge a common operating picture that will be valuable to all parties.

There was also a discussion on the legal frameworks as instruments of global and regional cooperation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) remains the cornerstone of international legal instrument on maritime cooperation. Most of regional and national policies are anchored on the UNCLOS and thus it is vital to question if it remains reliable at present. Constant review on the effectiveness and the extent on cooperation the legal frameworks provide could be topics of future discussions.

Finally, he outlined the opportunities that should be capitalized by states. By enhancing and deepening cooperation, states must be able to take-off from existing platforms and improve on them.  There is an existing institutional platform for enhancing cooperation and that is the ASEAN. The idea of cooperating on maritime security issues requires states to rethink of ASEAN’s central role in regional affairs.  There might be issues that require the full attention and cooperation of the whole of ASEAN but there are issues that are not common to all.  Thus, in capitalizing on the existing institution, nation states must be able to identify what issues are common to all Member States and concerns that are only apparent to some members.

He also mentioned of the possibility of extending existing cooperative mechanisms such as those practices in the Malacca strait to other maritime domain. Aside from this, trilateral cooperative agreements could also serve as a model in creating similar national institutions for each state so they can be used to cooperate on common issues and concerns.  This leads to the possibility of networking these national institutions to intensify inter-state cooperation.

Underpinning all these is the importance of institutionalizing contacts at various levels among nation states in order to supersede the heavy reliance on personal contacts, which is less sustainable.

Proceedings Editors:  Capt Juario C Marayag PN (GSC), Director, ONSS; LCDR Xylee C Paculba PN, Acting Deputy Director, ONSS.  Rapporteurs:  Rejane C. Torrecampo; SN2 Mary Angeline S. Balingasa PN; SN2 George S. Angeles II PN.

The Experts’ Dialogue on Maritime Security Governance 2016 Proceedings is published by the Office of Naval Strategic Studies (ONSS), in collaboration with the National Coast Watch Council Secretariat (NCWCS).