Becoming a party to international maritime conventions a must for maritime Philippines



Last of two parts

In last week’s article, I mentioned about how a lawyer friend of mine who I shall call Lawyer #1, questioned the Philippines’ signing up international maritime conventions, which to him imposes unnecessary burdens on the country’s shipping sector.

Another lawyer friend, who I shall address in this article as Lawyer #2, called me last week to remind me of the mandatory IMO member states audit scheme (IMSAS), and that the Philippines is slated for the audit in 2021. That’s still a good five years away, I told Lawyer #2.

He was adamant in his retort. Past records showed how the Philippines had been remiss in meeting deadlines when it comes to compliance with international standards, in one instance, almost losing the international shipping community’s recognition of our ability to provide competent Filipino seafarers.

Yes, our ticket to the global shipboard labor market is defined by our ability to observe the standards set by the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). But I also needed to remind Lawyer #2 that the reason for the problems we encountered was not because of the non-ratification of the convention; rather, it is how we implemented the convention, which our government officials considered as more of a labor marketing tool rather than a global measure for ensuring maritime safety.

“Precisely!” was his excited response. Ratifying or acceding to maritime treaties is an indication of the country’s commitment to ensuring safe shipping and protecting the marine environment. Non-ratification of maritime conventions limits the opportunities of a country’s fleet as they are presumed non-compliant with international standards, and in turn their ships are deemed substandard. Questions of seaworthiness and adopting measures to protect the environment will certainly impact on the marketability of their freight services.

Therefore, contrary to the position of Lawyer #1, who demands that we should not ratify international maritime agreements, it is imperative that the Philippines strive to ratify the rest of the IMO conventions and other maritime conventions for the reasons cited above.

It is reckless to even consider dissociating the country from the rest of the international maritime community by rejecting participation in multilateral agreements such as those adopted by IMO. Measures to promote maritime safety and the protection of the environment should be gauged against the benefits that accrue to the country and the people’s welfare.

The Philippines is planning to adopt a process in the ratification of IMO conventions that include the conduct of a National Interest Assessment (NIA). This shift from the erstwhile step of soliciting separate letters of concurrence from pertinent agencies to that of holding inter-agency discussions and dialogues offers a better chance of getting the various positions of stakeholders, from which the decision of whether or not the Philippines will ratify a convention will be drawn. This process calls for strong collaboration among the stakeholders. It is also during the preparation of the NIA that various interests and positions could be explored and eventually aligned.

Philippine membership in IMO has opened social, economic and political opportunities for the country. It is up to us to maintain the stature we now enjoy, including that of being considered as a responsible Flag State and the premier supplier of seafarers on ships engaged in international voyages. To measure up to this requires much work and commitment, bearing in mind the forthcoming mandatory IMSAS, wherein member states will prove the status of their compliance, monitoring, and reporting (CMR) to the IMO conventions or protocols to which they are parties.

The question raised by Lawyer #1 on why we need to ratify IMO conventions and bear the burden of imposing global standards on Philippine-flagged ships has to be answered, more to convince ourselves there is no other option for Maritime Philippines.

And I echo the reminder of Lawyer #2: we need to commence the preparation for the IMSAS. Let’s do away with the Pinoy’s “mañana” habit please!


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