KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 3 / July-August-September 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
OFW JOURNALISM CONSORTIUM
INSTITUTE ON CHURCH AND SOCIAL ISSUES
2/F ISO Building, Social Development Complex,
Ateneo de Manila University,
Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1144,
63-02-426.59.53 / 426.60.70 (fax)
extract from the
SPECIAL EDITION ON THE PLIGHT OF FILIPINO SEAFARERS
August 28, 2002
The OFW Journalism Consortium pays tribute to the over 200,000 Filipino merchant marines who, despite their small number as compared to millions of land-based OFWs scattered in over 190 countries, have contributed over US$1 billion to the Philippine economy last year (or a sixth of last year's total remittances). This newspacket is the Consortium's contribution to participants in the forthcoming Filipino Seafarers National Convention slated September 27 to 28 in Manila. We highlight here the plight of Filipino seafarers who have contracted HIV/AIDS, and who urgently need help from various stakeholders. A recent Department of Health report said the number of HIV/AIDS cases has risen to 1,733. Health secretary Manuel Dayrit said on August 23 that among OFWs with HIV/AIDS, seamen "are the ones prone to such diseases because they spend months out at sea, and are likely to indulge in short-term sexual relationship…"
National convention called to identify and address problems of Filipino seafarers
By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano
CIVIL society groups addressing the welfare of seafarers are hoping that a forthcoming national seafarers' convention will help to develop a firm government commitment to look at the problems affecting sea-based overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Fr. Savino Bernardi of the Church-based Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) Manila said the Filipino Seafarers National Convention, slated to take place in late September, will be a wide-ranging one, hoping to pinpoint the various problems of seafarers - from their deployment overseas to their eventual return home. The Australian priest of the Scalabrinian Missionaries of Italy added the forthcoming Convention is more comprehensive than previous meetings. "Issues in seafarers' training and education, employment and placement, laws affecting seafarers, the government bodies handling seafarers, and the domestic shipping industry will be tackled," said the AOS Manila director.
OUMWA, the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, and the CFO, Commission on Filipinos Overseas, are organizing the event. The convention theme is Pulong-Pulong ng mga Marinong Pilipino: Pagsulong ng Talino, Kakayahan at Matatag na Kinabukasan (Meeting of Filipino Seafarers: Promoting Wisdom, Ability and a Strong Future). The CFO said that the activity, which hopes to gather 300 participants, will identify problem areas, survey existing laws and government bodies affecting seafarers, and design a comprehensive program to empower seafarers and their families. Stakeholders in the shipping industry such as manning agencies, trade unions, civil society organizations for seafarers, government agencies and academicians are expected to participate. The organizers also hope that a Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers and an "Agenda for the Sustainable Economic Empowerment of Filipino Seafarers and their Families" will be the results of the Convention.
Fr. Bernardi is encouraging stakeholders, especially the seafarers themselves, to voice out their problems and concerns during the Convention.
For example, Fr. Bernardi said, seafarers are confused as to which agency they should approach for specific concerns. "The Convention should clarify links and responsibilities between all 13 agencies dealing with seafarers. It should lead to coordination, in such a way that seafarers will find it a lot easier spending much less time going to one office or another," he explained.
There is also a proposal by legislators to create a Department of Maritime Affairs or a National Seafarers Administration to streamline operations and services for seafarers, which Bernardi said, should be studied "very carefully." Fr. Bernardi called for a good and honest look at how the seafaring educational system, with 118 maritime schools nationwide, may be improved to facilitate employment and prepare officers for their jobs.
In general, laws must be drafted explicitly for seafarers, he said, since existing ones, such as Republic Act 8042 (the Magna Carta for OFWs), address land-based jobs and any support for seafarers is stipulated "just between the lines", not directly. Fr. Bernardi pointed out that RA 8042 has no specific provision directed at seafarers. "It has been hastily prepared after the case of Flor Contemplacion. But seafarers (were put on the back burner) in that law - except in the affirmation of very general principles as Filipinos deserving protection from the State," he said.
Seafaring as an employment classification is not included in the definition of the law on who are overseas Filipino workers. While RA 8042 caters mostly to the land-based workers, rules in deploying sea-based OFWs are "substantially different from [rules for deploying] land-based OFWs." These rules should be drawn from instruments made by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) such as those on illegal recruitment and disciplinary measures for manning agencies, he added.
Dennis Estopace of Atikha, Inc, an NGO, said that while all the provisions in RA 8042 can be applicable to seafarers, but it does not stipulate that they are included as its specific beneficiaries. Domestic workers are also not specifically listed as the law's beneficiaries.
Fr. Bernardi also has a special concern for utility boys, whom manning agencies fool by getting them to work for free as part of their training, prior to their deployment.
Filipino seafarers account for 20 percent, or approximately 240,000 seamen, of the world's total merchant fleet of over 1.2 million. Figures from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that the deployment of Filipino seafarers reached 204,951 last year, from only 50,604 in 1984. In last year's remittance figures, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported that seafarers contributed over a billion US dollars last year, or one-sixth of the total remittances of US$6.234 billion during the period.
Just last year, the Philippines made it to the "White List" of the International Maritime Organization, which certifies that its seafarers are qualified and competent to work in ocean-going vessels, and that the country faithfully complies with the provisions of the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).
"But we have to remain alert regarding government's commitment to seafarers by holding it to the Convention. That should be checked and assessed afterwards. I hope the government has that goodwill for seafarers," Fr. Bernardi said.
The welfare of Filipino seafarers remains a problem. The International Commission on Shipping (ICONS) wrote in its 2001 report, Ships, Slaves and Competition, that "tens of thousands of seafarers are exploited or subjected to physical and psychological abuse worldwide."
…OFW Journalism Consortium
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