Legislative reform in the maritime industry



First of two parts
Many times we hear allusion to lack of laws as the cause of the many problems confronting this archipelago and most often this allegation is disputed by those who say blame it to ineffective implementation and enforcement of laws. The latter observation is most evident in the maritime industry.

The evolution of Philippine maritime legislation in the past three decades appears to focus on switching maritime-related functions from one agency to another in the name of ensuring maritime safety, maintaining the primacy of the country in the provision of shipboard labor to international shipping and protecting Filipino seafarers especially those deployed on ships plying international waters. Yet despite the plethora of laws and the development of the corresponding rules and regulations to implement the former, it seems that gaps are continuously being discovered which require amendatory laws to be enacted and most often plucking out functions from one agency to be installed in another.

The penchant for making a roundabout of maritime functions has adversely affected the development of Philippine shipping as investors, stakeholders and prospective clients of the country’s maritime services are discouraged by the uncertainties in maritime policy and legislation. Investors who put premium to predictability and transparency in the regulatory regime are met by confusing legislation and regulations, not to mention the constant changes of who is in-charge.

A number of laws have been enacted regarding seafarers yet there are a lot more pending bills on the same subject awaiting Congressional action. Some of these bills seek to amend existing laws, others serve suppletory purposes. In the meantime, maritime bills of equal importance such as those dealing with the subject of amending the ship mortgage law, Philippine flag law and marine environment protection, among others, remain in the back burner.

One can not help but ask why there are continuing initiatives to amend existing maritime laws such as those relating to the exercise of maritime safety functions and that of the implementation of the International convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers or STCW? Considering the country’s archipelagic configuration, crafting maritime legislation should be one of the strengths of our Congress; why is it then that there is always some inadequacies in our maritime laws which call for immediate amendments. A close scrutiny of the amendatory bills pending in Congress show the proponents are also the same members who sponsored the law being amended. I reserve my comments on this observation in the future.

Most maritime legislation, it is observed, deals not only with setting policy directions but also and more extensively with technical and operational details which are best incorporated in the implementing rules and regulations. Shipping and seafaring are constantly undergoing changes not only because of technology and the social and managerial dimensions of these activities both globally and nationally which lends to the corresponding adjustments in the demand, structure and character of these economic activities. Accordingly, the regulatory regime which govern them has to be re-structured.

Putting too much regulatory details in the law will mean having to go to Congress in order to keep Philippine maritime regulations up to date. Enacting a law will take a minimum of one to two years following the ordinary course of legislative cycle. There is therefore that possibility that within that same period of time the provision sought to be revised may have already become outdated.

This phenomenon of tedious and lengthy law-making process is not limited to the Philippines. In most developed maritime countries they have resorted to a practicable solution in the maritime sector: they have allocated the function of filling up the details of maritime laws to the pertinent agency which has the core function related to the subject matter of the law. It is an option which every country purporting to be a maritime nation may wish to adopt. In this archipelago, convincing members of Congress to accept such practicable option may not be easy.

To be continued next Tuesday


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