This article is part of the ‘Blue Security’ project led by La Trobe Asia, University of Western Australia Defence and Security Institute, Griffith Asia Institute, UNSW Canberra and the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue (AP4D). Views expressed are solely of its author/s and not representative of the Maritime Exchange, the Australian Government, or any collaboration partner country government.

What are the maritime governance priorities of the Philippines?

The Philippines, an archipelago and developing country, faces multifaceted maritime governance issues. These relate to coastal and marine management, tourism, transport, maritime and territorial disputes, and institutional capacities. Despite introducing the National Marine Policy (NMP), a framework for maritime governance, in 1994, the Philippines has struggled to set clear strategic priorities amidst ongoing complex challenges. This situation frequently leads to a focus on immediate crises, and the neglect of long-term sustainability and comprehensive governance. Presidential guidance predominantly shapes the country’s policy direction. Key documents such as the National Security Policy (NSP),[1] the Philippine Development Plan (PDP)[2] and the Maritime Industry Development Plan (MIDP)[3] convey these priorities.

A significant national emphasis lies on safeguarding territorial integrity and sovereignty. The NSP and PDP underline the importance of defending land, marine, and underwater resources against threats. The current President’s legislative priorities encompass the Blue Economy bill, fostering integrated marine management, and revising the fisheries code for a science-backed approach to sustainability.[4]

Moreover, considering the Philippines’ susceptibility to natural disasters, addressing climate change’s ramifications is crucial, as highlighted in the NSP. The government is focusing on countering its adverse effects and rectifying harmful agricultural and fishing methods. Integrating climate considerations into national policies is mandated, underscoring the nation’s commitment to environmental resilience.[5]

The MIDP envisions bolstering the merchant fleet, honing maritime professionals, ensuring efficient sea transportation, and endorsing ecological conservation. It aligns with the ambition to elevate the marine sector as a pivotal economic growth pillar. An emphasis on advancing maritime education resonates with the need to meet global standards, especially following the EU’s caution regarding Filipino seafarers’ competencies.[6]

What does the Philippines see as the most critical maritime security challenges?

The South China Sea disputes present the Philippines with its most pressing maritime security challenge and is recognized as a “primary national interest” in the NSP. The West Philippine Sea (WPS), an official designation adopted in 2012 for areas of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone, is notable for its abundant fish resources, position as a major trade route, and the potential of its oil and liquefied natural gas reserves.[7] Recognizing its pivotal role as a frontline nation in the South China Sea disputes, the Philippine government emphasizes the direct impact of any escalation of tensions on its national interests and the livelihoods of its citizens.[8]

In a bid to address these challenges in the South China Sea, the NSP underscores strengthening the National Task Force for the WPS. The Congress has advanced House Bill 07819, the Maritime Zones Act,[9] to delineate maritime zones under the Philippine jurisdiction. This legislation seeks to strengthen the Philippines’ stance in the South China Sea and ensure food and economic security by directing government bodies to protect maritime territories. Furthermore, in light of continued Chinese incursions and aggression in the South China Sea,[10] a Philippine Coast Guard Modernization Act has been proposed[11] to enhance Coast Guards’ capabilities, reflecting its frontline role in the disputed waters.

What are the maritime governance strengths of the Philippines?

The Philippines demonstrates maritime governance strength through its robust institutional building blocks, strategic use of international laws, and collaborative international partnerships. Central to this governance is its commitment to sustainable use of marine resources and a participatory approach to engaging diverse stakeholders.[12]

Notably, the Philippines leveraged the Permanent Court of Arbitration to challenge China in the South China disputes, underscoring its commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Its consistent participation in UN and ASEAN forums and track 1.5 and 2 dialogues accentuate its dedication to a rules-based maritime order and international maritime cooperation. The recent endorsements in adopting the High Seas Treaty underscore its commitment to ocean protection, environmental conservation, and sustainable resource management.[13]

At the community level, the Philippines employs community-based coastal resource management,[14] a localized inclusive governance model. International partnerships bolster this approach, aligning local initiatives with global standards.

From the legislative standpoint, the country has also made significant efforts. The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and its 2014 amendment provide a clear framework for fisheries management, combating illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, and leading to the revocation of the EU’s 2015 yellow card warning on IUU fishing.[15] In addition, the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004[16] sets forth a comprehensive pollution prevention strategy, and the 2006 Executive Order No. 533 institutionalizes Integrated Coastal Management as the national blueprint for sustainable coastal and marine resource development.[17]

Success stories like the 2020 Ecological Solid Waste Management initiative in Cavite, facilitated by the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia, testify to the value of such collaborative governance. [18] From community organizations to corporates like Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines Inc., the project achieved garbage-free coastlines and sustainable community livelihoods.

What are the most significant maritime governance capacity gaps of the Philippines?

The Philippines faces substantial maritime governance capacity gaps, with shortfalls in maritime domain awareness standing out as a primary concern. Limited surveillance capabilities, inadequate assets including patrol vessels and aircraft, and underdeveloped information-sharing mechanisms constrain the maritime authorities’ comprehensive and real-time understanding of the Philippines’ extensive maritime zones. These gaps hinder the effective execution of maritime operations. Further exacerbating the situation are budget constraints, which stall the acquisition of necessary equipment and technology essential to meeting the country’s goal of “minimum credible deterrence”[19] and establishing a “self-reliant defense posture.”[20]

On the legislative and policy fronts, the NMP remains regrettably stagnant and outdated with overly broad directives.[21] The Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center under the Department of Foreign Affairs oversees the NMP and leans heavily towards legal frameworks and foreign policy considerations rather than toward pragmatic interim measures for archipelagic development.[22] This results in persistent policy gaps. Compounding these challenges are fragmented policy implementation and ineffective interdepartmental discussions, intensified by overlapping mandates, which place undue stress on the country’s fiscal and operational efficiency. The National Coast Watch System, established in 2008 alongside its governing council, intended to facilitate inter-agency synergy, unfortunately, falls short in synchronizing the initiatives and undertakings of all involved agencies.[23]

What are priority areas for international cooperation that would improve maritime governance capacity in the Philippines?

The priority areas for international cooperation should target a broad spectrum of strategic and environmental objectives. Foremost among the concerns is the need for maritime security and defense cooperation. The Philippines should continue pursuing joint maritime exercises and patrols with partners and allies to counter threats such as piracy, IUU fishing, and incursions by foreign nations’ forces. Moreover, enhancing intelligence sharing and maritime surveillance will strengthen proactive defense and augments the capacity of the Philippine Coast Guard and Navy. In the South China Sea, the Philippines should consistently uphold its commitment to the 2016 Arbitral Award, enlisting support from the international community for its maritime rights. While leveraging relationships with the long-standing ally, the United States, engagements with dialogue partners, including Australia, Canada, the EU, India, Japan, and others, should be enhanced. On the other hand, more concrete mechanisms beyond diplomatic talks should be established with China to lessen the tensions and ensure safe encounters at sea.

On the environmental front, sustainable fisheries and marine biodiversity are particularly pressing issues. Collaborative initiatives targeting sustainable fisheries management can arrest the decline of marine resources. Successful programs backed by international organizations such as Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia and the U.S. Agency for International Development could be scaled across coastal municipalities. Furthermore, the establishment and effective management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) through international partnerships not only preserve marine biodiversity but also provide socio-economic gains.[24] Sustainable MPA management, given its current funding challenges, stands to gain significantly from such collaborations.

Lastly, given the nation’s heightened vulnerability to climate change, adaptation and mitigation strategies become crucial. Partnerships can offer access to best practices in coastal protection, resilient infrastructure, and innovative mitigation techniques. A project like the EU-funded global navigation satellites,[25] which delivers space-based monitoring, is a beneficial prototype that can be further expanded. These initiatives can offset the challenges posed by rising sea levels and changing weather patterns while bridging knowledge and technology gaps.

How can existing regional and minilateral security frameworks contribute to maritime governance in the Philippines?

Regional and minilateral security frameworks are essential for the Philippines in bolstering its maritime governance. Through regional platforms like ASEAN, the Philippines can engage in dialogue and negotiations with its Southeast Asian neighbors, fostering a cooperative approach to challenges such as territorial disputes, maritime resource management, and environmental conservation. By actively participating in these regional discussions, the Philippines ensures its interests are adequately represented and benefits from shared intelligence, cooperative surveillance, and coordinated patrols, enhancing regional maritime security. ASEAN, with its external partners, continues to organize workshops and training courses such as on promoting legal order for the seas, marine scientific research, ensuring just and humane treatment of fishermen (especially in disputed waters), blue economy, regional search and rescue, and conducting joint studies and research on new technologies for marine environment protection.[26]

Via minilateral engagements, the Philippines can leverage specific strategic partnerships to address immediate and pressing maritime concerns. Engagements with countries like the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, whether through bilateral, trilateral dialogues or the Quad,[27] and with other maritime Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia[28] and Vietnam,[29] provide the Philippines with avenues for targeted training exercises, advanced technological collaborations, and capacity-building endeavors. Such minilateral efforts facilitate a deeper, more nuanced collaboration that can address specific maritime challenges, from IUU fishing to maritime piracy, ensuring a safer and more secure maritime environment for the Philippines and the broader region.

[1] National Security Council. “National Security Policy 2018-2023,” August 2023.

[2] National Economic Development Authority, “Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028,” December 2022.

[3] DOTr MARINA. “Maritime Industry Development Plan 2019-2028,” June 10, 2022.

[4] Marcos Jr, Ferdinand. “Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., Second State of the Nation Address, July 24, 2023.” Republic of the Philippines Official Gazette, July 24, 2023.

[5] Cervantes, Filane Mikee. “PBBM: Gov’t to Integrate Climate Agenda in Infra Projects.” Philippines News Agency, May 22, 2023.

[6] European Commission. “Maritime Transport: Commission Continues to Recognise Filipino Seafarer’s Certificates.” Mobility and Transport, March 31, 2023.

[7] National Economic Development Authority, “Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028,” December 2022.

[8] Presidential Communications Office. “Presidential Speeches – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s One-on-One Dialogue with WEF President Børge Brende,” January 19, 2023.

[9] Arenas, Maria Rachel. “An Act Declaring the Maritime Zones under the Jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines.” Republic of the Philippines, House of Representatives, August 28, 2022.

[10] Valmonte, Kaycee. “House Bill Filed for Four-Part Coast Guard Modernization.”, May 14, 2023.

[11] Tarriela, Leody. “An Act Providing for the Modernization of the Philippine Coast Guard and for Other Purposes.” Republic of the Philippines House of Representatives, May 10, 2023.

[12] Batongbacal, Jay. “The Philippine National Marine Policy.” In Routledge Handbook of National and Regional Ocean Policies, 416–43. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2015.

[13] Tamayo, Bernadette E. “PH Helping Formulate Treaty on High Seas.” The Manila Times, August 16, 2023.

[14] Batongbacal, Jay. “The Philippine National Marine Policy” p438.

[15] PH gets EU’s nod on efforts to curb IUU fishing | Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. “PH Gets EU’s Nod on Efforts to Curb IUU Fishing | GOVPH,” April 23, 2015.

[16] Republic of the Philippines Official Gazette. “Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004,” March 22, 2004.

[17] Republic of the Philippines Official Gazette. “Executive Order No. 533, s. 2006,” June 6, 2006.

[18] PEMSEA. “Recalibration and Revitalization: Sorting out Cavite’s Trash,” February 23, 2023.’s-trash.

[19] Mangosing, Frances. “Lorenzana Says 2nd Stage of PH Military Upgrade Won’t Be Completed on Time.”, October 13, 2020.

[20] Zubiri, Juan Miguel. “Senate Bill No. 304 .” Senate of the Philippines 19th Congress, July 10, 2019.

[21] Batongbacal, Jay. “The Philippine National Marine Policy.” In Routledge Handbook of National and Regional Ocean Policies, 416–43. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2015.

[22] Co, Edna, Mark Anthony Gamboa, and Michael Eric Castillo. “National Maritime Policy Review.” Public Policy 15, no. 1 (2016): 28–47.

[23] Sanidad, Ellaine Joy. “Strengthening the Philippines’ Approach to Maritime Security.” East Asia Forum, August 4, 2020.

[24] Manila, U.S. Embassy. “USAID Gives Awards to Four Outstanding Marine Protected Areas in Palawan.” USAID Gives Awards to Four Outstanding Marine Protected Areas in Palawan – U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, October 5, 2022.

[25] International Partnerships. “Global Gateway: Satellite Images to Build Resilience to Climate Change in the Philippines,” April 14, 2023.

[26] ASEAN. “ASEAN Maritime Outlook.” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, August 1, 2023.

[27] Manila, U.S. Embassy. “Joint Statement on Quad Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” Joint Statement on Quad Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific – U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, February 14, 2022.

[28] Indo-Pacific Defense Forum. “Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines Renew Commitment to Cooperation – Indo-Pacific Defense Forum,” July 25, 2023.

[29] Rocamora, Joyce Ann. “PH Seeks Stronger Maritime Cooperation with Vietnam.” Philippines News Agency, August 1, 2023.


About Ivy Ganadillo

Ivy Ganadillo is a Ph.D. candidate at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea. She has lectured at Ateneo de Manila University and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and served as a consultant and defense analyst for the Philippine Navy's Office of Naval and Strategic Studies.