The Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development chaired by Senator Joel Villanueva discussed anew on Monday several bills aimed to protect the rights of seafarers.
One of the bills tackled is Senate Bill No. 314 or the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers Bill, a bill authored by Senators Villanueva, Angara, Legarda, and Ejercito, which aims to institute mechanisms to protect our country’s seafarers’ rights, provide them compulsory benefits, and enforce standards set by international laws.
The committee also discussed Senate Bill No. 429 or the “National Seafarers’ Commission” which aims to create a centralized agency directly involved in promoting assistance to all seamen and seawomen; and Senate Bill No. 881 or the “Pilipinong Marino Act” which gives greater protection and welfare of Filipino sea-based migrant workers through the creation of a National Seafarers Administration.
“Naniniwala po tayo na ang mga panukalang batas na ito ay angkla sa matatag na trabaho at magandang kinabukasan ng mga Pinoy seaman at seawoman at kanilang pamilya,” Villanueva said.
During the hearing, the major issue that was put into light was the decreasing number of Filipino seafarers being deployed. According to Ericson Marquez, Vice Chairman for External Affairs of Joint Ship Manning Group (JMG), from 400,000 seafarers deployed in 2017, the number decreased to 370,000 this year.
Marquez attributed the drop in the deployment of seafarers to the unreasonable awards or legal costs being shouldered by employers whenever injured seafarers file a medical claim. He further cited a situation wherein a company lost 20 ships due to an alleged unreasonable claim amounting to USD250,000 for a cut middle finger sustained by a seafarer. Marquez said that these kinds of injuries are being declared as total and permanent disability which costs the employer huge amounts of money that affect their businesses.
On the other hand, Dennis Gorecho from the National Seafarers’ Day Committee said that while these problems exist on the part of employers, it is more important to pass a law that will not limit the protection being given to seafarers and should instead reflect the greater interests of Filipino mariners.
Recognizing the issue at hand, Villanueva assures the stakeholders—employers and seafarers alike, that the committee will strike a balance in addressing issues coming from both sides that will protect the interests of shipowners while ensuring that rights and welfare of Filipino seafarers are safeguarded.
“We cannot afford to lose more jobs for Filipino seafarers. Ayaw po nating mawala ang oportunidad sa mga Pinoy seafarers at para ma-maintain din natin ang maritime industry sa bansa kaya ginagawa po natin ito, kaya itinutulak po natin ang mga panukalang ito,” Villanueva said.
Apart from the said issue, the committee also tackled the training of seafarers and the alleged exorbitant fees being paid by cadets to maritime schools for their cadetship. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) which is in charge of regulating the fees of schools and institutions maintained that they follow existing regulations to monitor the increase of fees being charged by maritime schools.
With regard to the proposed creation of a specialized agency that will address the concerns of seafarers, Villanueva acknowledges the position of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) that there might be some duplication or redundancy if a new commission or seafarers’ administration will push through.
The passage of the said measures is targeted to benefit thousands of seafarers. Based on the data of the Philippine Statistics Authority, there are around 700,000 Filipino seafarers worldwide. Of the said figure, 380,000 are deployed in foreign ships which constitute 25% of the whole maritime industry at a global scale.
“Malaking pwersa po ang bilang ng mga Pilipinong marino para pag-ugnayin ang mundo kaya nga talagang ‘kayamanan sila ng ating lahi.’ Sabi nga po, titigil ang ekonomiya ng daigdig kapag bumaba ang mga Pinoy seaman sa mga barko dahil 90% po ng lahat ng pagkain, raw material, coal, oil at gas ay binabyahe sa dagat,” Villanueva shared.
Furthermore, remittances of Filipino seafarers are expected to reach $6 billion this year.
“It is our firm belief that the passage of these bills into law can help create a better and brighter future for our seafarers and their families. Our seafarers truly deserve the passage of these measures without any more delay so that we can maintain their advantage over other nationalities and spur the development of the Philippines as a maritime country,” Villanueva said.