FILIPINO seafarers are among that great body of more than 10 million men and women who are heroes of our nation and Republic. The Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs remit the bigger portion of their income abroad to their families back home here in the Philippines. Thanks to that our country has one of the world’s largest foreign currency holdings.
That, together with other economic indicators showing ours to be a stable state full of human talent and capital as well as natural resources, has made us a so-called emerging tiger economy.
With the rest of the world in the economic doldrums, we among other Asian countries are seen to be a great place to invest in and even live and be happy in.
The Labor Department’s Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) says our country has been the world’s largest supplier of seamen for global shipping since 1987. We are seen as the ship manning capital of the world.
Some 229,000 Filipino seamen (and women) are at work aboard merchant marine vessels around the world at any given time, Filipino seafarers make up more than one-fourth of the world’s 1.5 million persons working in merchant ships all over the world. Filipinos make up the biggest bloc of seamen and women from one country in the global shipping industry.
Not only because they are among the OFW heroes who are the saviors of the Philippine economy and its leading engine of growth and revenue, but also because they are our fellow human beings and Filipino compatriots, our seamen and women should be treated with some deference. And the government should not cause them problems in their work.
Alas, the Marine Industry Authority (MARINA)—the government agency that should be taking care of our seafarers—has been making life hard for them. MARINA makes the seafarers queue up for hours to get their internationally recognized Seafarers Identification and Record Books (SIRB), which is like a second passport to a seaman (or seawoman). MARINA also makes them fall in line for hours to get the Certificate of Proficiency.
And now the MARINA has added something new to the oppression—instead of tender loving care – it deals to our seafarers. The MARINA ran out of proper Seaman’s Books.
The Seaman’s Book is vital to the life of a seafarer. It proves to immigration authorities that he or she can land from an airplane and proceed to his or her ship. It proves to the ship’s officers that he or she is really a seaman and is the person to be allowed to board the ship and work there.
To solve the problem of the absence of Seaman’s Books, MARINA is now issuing the so-called Philippine Seafarers Identification Record Sheet (SIRS). The booklet has been replaced with a sheet of paper.
The MARINA administrator has sent a message to all concerned – presumably ship captains and immigration authorities all over the world—telling them that our country’s stock of SIRBs has been depleted and that until the new supplies come, Filipino seafarers will be issued the sheet called Philippine Seafarers Identification Record Sheet or SIRS.
Of course our seamen are upset—and worried. Have all the other countries’ ship captains and first mates, immigration officers and airport and seaport police been reached by the MARINA Administrator’s memo? Will a seaman aboard a plane be allowed to land as a visitor in a foreign country on the way to his ship by immigration authorities expecting to look at the Seaman’s Book but are given a sheet of paper instead?
We share the apprehension and anger of the United Filipino Seafarers.
We lament this new oppression of Filipino seamen and seawomen by the MARINA.