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S M N I. Truth that matters.
Miss Pastrana, may I call you Marianne?
It's nice to see you again.
And you know, you're the first person to be invited back on Business and Politics.
Because we had such an interesting discussion, but we were limited by time constraints.
But thank you for making time again.
Thank you for inviting me here. It's a pleasure and I am very grateful.
You know, one of the things that really intrigued me when we were talking is your background.
If I recall correctly, you studied nutrition in college.
Your husband is in agribusiness, right?
How did you get into shipping and logistics?
You know, I always joke about it that my husband took agribusiness and he kept on agreeing and agreeing to all kinds of businesses.
But joking aside, you know, I have a story.
When my daughter was two years old, my father-in-law was living in Calbayong, Samar.
And we drove all the way, took the nautical highway.
And then when we got there, oh my God, the lines were long, the toilets were so bad.
Yes, taking the ro-ro.
And then like, I actually got sick after that trip because I was holding my pee, not using the dirty toilets at the port.
Right after that trip, I went straight to Makati Med, got hospitalized.
But the story is when we saw the state of the ro-ro network in the Philippines,
somehow my husband uttered a prayer and said,
I hope someday I can help in this area and help our country.
And maybe God heard the prayer, the universe, and He manifested it.
And somehow we got into this business in 2000.
So we started owning tugs and barges.
To carry bagged fertilizer.
And then soon after, this ro-ro.
So we bought a company with five ro-ro vessels, but old ones, secondhand from Japan.
And then we ran it for a bit, and then we realized this is not the way to go.
It's not a good business model to operate old ships imported from abroad, not suited for Philippine waters.
So we embarked on a modernization plan.
Thank God we had investors who trusted us, who trusted the vision.
And in 2010, we got approval for the funding of modern ships.
And then the first fast cat arrived in 2013.
And then now we're on our 20th ship.
And as I mentioned to you, we have a big, hairy, audacious goal of 60 fast cats by 2030.
And why and why not?
Because we are an archipelagic nation.
We depend on these moving sea bridges to connect the Philippine islands.
And so we're dreaming this for our country.
People look at your success, and they may interpret that you had a very easy going with your business.
But we were talking earlier, there were a lot of challenges, even now,
but especially when you were starting your business to grow to this scale.
Do you regret any of that?
Do you wish you went back to nutrition?
I was telling fellow entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurs' organization,
like how complex our business is and how hard it is.
And a friend of mine answered back, was a fellow entrepreneur, said,
Ann, come on, what business is not hard?
Yes, everything has its own hardships.
But I guess shipping is complex in itself.
It's an expertise.
So it needs some kind of expertise to be successful in this field.
So thank God that when you were here, even if I took up nutrition,
and managing the ships and talking to seafarers,
my thought bubble was saying that how could these people believe me
when I don't have the educational background.
So in 2015, I decided to enroll at the World Maritime University
and took up executive maritime management.
And then, as if that's not enough,
I took up maritime education and training at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy.
So what am I saying?
So our company is really being experts in this field
and being very good in this field so that our country can depend on us
in delivering the kind of services that they expect,
being an archipelagic nation.
So it's complex, but with God's help, strong faith,
we believe that we must be this expert shipping company that our country needs
because what we're doing is connecting the Philippine islands.
And it is needed for nation building and for national unity.
I always tell our people, para sa bayan.
We're doing this para sa bayan.
Our people depend on us for this.
So, yeah, it's complex.
As you said, there's a great need.
And even with 60 ships, serving 110 million Filipinos,
Still not enough.
Drop in the bucket.
So what's needed?
I mean, if you were in position now and you were to look at people like yourself,
just, you know, many years ago starting out, what would have been easier?
If you had maybe a chance to recommend to policymakers, to the government,
hey, do this so that, you know, it would have been an easier process,
journey for people who want to invest their own money, right,
and serve an important need of the Filipinos.
So, as I mentioned to you, my husband and I are very much active in the ferry world, no?
Because we feel that to be a good player in this industry,
that we must be experts and we must be learning continuously.
And one of the avenues where we get all these learnings
is from an organization of ferry owners called InterFerry.
And every time I'm there, I pick the brains of these ferry companies.
Some of them are like third generation, fourth generation.
I listen and I try to learn.
So, you know, in other countries, companies like ours are subsidized by the state.
Because the state would say…
Because you provide the public service.
The state would say if they know it's their responsibility to connect their country,
provide the road infrastructure.
So if it takes for them to connect via sea, then they have some form of subsidy.
So, like Norway, they provide fuel.
Some routes in Canada, they have a budget to support the players in the field.
So, for me, here in the Philippines, we don't have that structure yet.
But there are incentives crafted such as tax-free importation
if you bring in brand new ships.
But you see, ships are expensive.
It's capital intensive.
I think you were saying something like one brand new ship that you bought from Australia
is something around $10 million or something.
So it's a serious investment.
Yeah, serious investment.
And then you operate, you keep on moving.
There are a lot of moving parts.
And then we're subjected to weather, high tide, low tide, weather,
and then regulatory requirements, and we're scattered all over the Philippines.
So my wish is that people try to understand the business and support it in their own way.
Support would be, of course, using it, using the network,
like maybe traveling in the countryside, using the service instead of maybe going abroad.
Two, supporting us by helping us maintain our operational expenses.
So maybe don't vandalize the ships or use the equipment properly.
Be responsible passengers.
Yes, be responsible passengers.
Third, if I'm government, I will support it because it will bring to the local government unit
a lot of return when they have that connection.
I was mentioning to you that you would say that we have the bragging right,
that we were the first to connect Mindoro to Catitlan during the time of President GMA in 2004.
That was our ship that first connected those islands.
And there was no shopping centers like Mercury Drug.
Yeah, the Sari-Sari store, but not the commercial type.
Yeah, and no banks yet, no mga pera padala, ganyan.
Once you connected them.
Then the ripple effect just really brought in business and people and traffic in the area.
So if I'm government, then I'll support that.
A lot of government people, governors, congressmen would come and call and say,
hey, can you connect our islands?
And I would always say, or like one Senator Legarda asked us to connect Antique.
And I would say, ma'am, you know, we would be happy to support and connect the islands,
but it doesn't stop there.
We would need people's support by using them or if I'm LGU, gathering all the cargo
and getting them organized so that they use the service.
Because once we connect, we burn fuel already.
You can't go to one island and then not refuel.
Or pay people to run the ships, right?
There's a whole ecosystem that needs to be developed.
Where you land and where you take off.
So we have to have that systemic thinking where if you want us to connect you,
then you also help us make it easy for us to operate our ships and get the traffic,
get the people to take the ship.
Otherwise, it's going to die.
It's not going to be sustainable.
Because we've seen that happen during the time of President GMA
when they wanted us to connect Bataan.
So we pulled out a ship.
Bataan and Manila.
Manila, Manila to Bataan.
And then we put our ship there.
But then there's still traffic.
After investigating why, why, why, why is it successful?
Like the road network is not enough.
People don't feel safe.
And you were asking me about Pasig River, like what can we do in Pasig River.
So it's, you know, to be able to be successful there, you have to have not just the ship itself.
You have to have the right.
You need to have the system, right?
So right design of a boat.
You need to have the landings.
It has to be lighted.
The connection to other.
Connection to the main artery.
Connection to the main artery.
Then maybe ticketing system.
Maybe making them, making it accessible in the phone, right?
An app so that people will start using it.
So, again, it's not just the company itself, but then the whole ecosystem and population
coming together to help and make this happen.
Has it become easier now?
Because there's also, you know, not just, you know, between departments, right?
But also between the national and local governments.
Sometimes it's a tricky thing to navigate, right?
Do you see that there's more coordination now?
And maybe what else should happen so that it's a more seamless experience, right, for
people taking the ferries?
You know, I think government on their parts doing something, you know, like Marina came
up with a road map, 10-year road map.
We hear government saying they're supporting our seafares and all.
But we need to, I think, move at a faster pace.
Like have that really paradigm shift.
So all the ideas are there.
You need to implement it.
And implement it well.
Implementation and support of other agencies.
Example, ships by law should be dry docked every two years.
We don't have a shipping industry, I mean, a shipping industry, sorry, steel industry.
So all the steel plates that needs to be…
Has to be imported.
So then we need the support of the Department of Finance and then customs to get these
And one of the dream of Marina is to have like a center wherein we import tax-free.
And then get things faster than the usual route.
So it's, we've been talking about it, it's been in the air for quite some time, but
it hasn't happened, no?
So these things, no, that this has to happen, of course, encouraging industries like, yeah,
the steel industry.
We hope to have that.
We have to upscale our people and maybe change our curriculum in maritime education.
And I guess also just creating awareness in anything maritime.
Because if we do that, then the effect will be so much better.
There's a lot of opportunities and potential.
If we just really focus on it and use it to our advantage, then yeah, it will work well
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