The Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc. (PAFI) urges the Philippines to seize the opportunity presented by its chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2017 when ASEAN celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding to assert and project a leadership role in the construction of regional ocean governance and maritime security as a Philippine contribution to the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. Ocean governance and maritime security are of vital and critical importance to the Philippines and the ASEAN and should be accorded greater and more particular attention in Philippine foreign policy and in the work and aspirations of ASEAN.
The leadership role of the Philippines proceeds from its primal characteristic as an archipelagic state that is highly vulnerable to all maritime issues and concerns, traditional and non-traditional. Geographical circumstances have in fact made the country the strategic epicenter of all aspects of ocean governance and maritime security. It is in the thick of a maritime disputes situation that can drag down regional integration and consolidation.
The archipelagic waters on the Philippines are interconnected with those of the other countries in ASEAN and the Central Indo-Pacific. The ASEAN seas and Central Indo-Pacific maritime region are flanked on their eastern longitudes in a north-south alignment by the three largest archipelagic states, namely the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Carrying more than half of the world’s maritime trade, the seas of ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific are collectively a regional common heritage that must be nurtured and managed comprehensively and seamlessly through joint cooperation among the states concerned as well as extra-regional interested states.
The incorporation of the archipelagic doctrine in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was a hard-won success for the Philippines. UNCLOS consequently is the lynchpin and underpinning of the archipelagic state. But UNCLOS leaves to its state parties a lot of work, including the legal regime implementing its provisions. The ASEAN for instance can collectively work on and arrive at a common definition of constitutes freedom of navigation in archipelagic waters otherwise known as the right of archipelagic sealanes passage.
It is time the issues and concerns of ocean governance and maritime security in ASEAN take off from the talk-shop level and translated into concrete and specific undertakings and projects. In this regard PAFI proposes that the Philippines pursue as a flagship project Integrated Coastal Zone Management to benefit the coastal areas of maritime Asia particularly in the revival of the coasts and coastal waters as sources of food and livelihood and in the mitigation of the effects of natural disasters.
PAFI hopes that ASEAN will step up maritime cooperation in its Dialogue Partner arrangements and its relationships with the United Nations system and other international organizations. The Philippines should reiterate its 1996 invitation to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish a regional office with headquarters in the Philippines.
The spirit of “open regionalism” trending in regional organizations may already be discerned in ASEAN Dialogue Partner arrangements. PAFI supports ASEAN approving this spirit the applications for membership of Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka, countries potentially making important contribution to regional oceans governance and maritime security.
In approaching issues of regional oceans governance and maritime security, particularly conflict situations such as obtaining in the Spratlys archipelago, PAFI supports the revival of sociocultural norms originating from the ancient Madjapahit and Sri-Visayan culture of “musyawarah” (consultations) and “mufakat” (consensus). These are values articulated in the Bandung Declaration of 1955 and given a modern manifestation in the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Their practice is in keeping with the ASEAN vision of “a community that is aware and proud of its identity, culture and heritage with the strengthened ability to innovate and proactively contribute to the global community.”
The PAFI intends to be proactive in conveying inputs to the Philippine Government to help frame national interests for projection in the Philippines’ hosting of ASEAN in 2017. It plans to produce a series of articles on various aspects of ASEAN and relevant national interests in line with the Philippines’ pursuit of an independent foreign policy that is ASEAN-centered and oriented to the wider Indo-Pacific region.