Last week, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) launched the formulation of the Maritime Industry Development Program (MIDP) as highlight of its 43rd foundation anniversary.
The Marina celebration brought together various maritime stakeholders who presented their wishlists that they hope will be incorporated in the MIDP. The discussants raised issues and corresponding actions that were known to most of those in the industry. It was like a walk in time reviving the problems that confronted the industry years back. I was waiting for one of the speakers to give an appraisal of the obstacles to achieving progress and why those challenges persist.
The proposals were straightforward, enactment of pending bills, amendment of rules and regulations, adoption of certain policies. These were done in the past, dialogues between Marina and the industry have taken place in every administration with a slew of measures to be undertaken. In those series of dialogues, strong commitments were expressed by both parties to work together to develop the industry.
The presentations last week proved there is still much to be done. Accomplished tasks were recognized, such as the designation of Marina as the single maritime administration for the Standard of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the ratification by the Philippines of the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 (MLC 2006). Yet, implementing these two maritime conventions appear to pose complexities which government and industry seemed unable to overcome.
The ratification of the MLC 2006 for example was at the time seen by proponents for ratification as necessary for the country to retain its rank as the top supplier of shipboard manpower to the world’s shipping. There was euphoria as the Philippines was the 30th signatory to the convention thus on record was responsible for bringing the convention into effect. Several years after affixing its signature, the Philippines is still struggling to implement the convention. This was confirmed during the anniversary of the Marina with industry raising concerns brought about by overlapping functions among agencies in the implementation of MLC 2006 and the complications in the interpretation of technical requirements under the said convention. And yes, we still need to hear about the implementation of the MLC 2006 in domestic shipping, which is an important component in determining the country’s full compliance with the convention.
In enacting maritime bills, there were tons of them filed and re-filed in Congress. Authors of these bills have come and gone. Angkla, the maritime party-list has been elected to Congress. The enactment of RA 10635 designating Marina as the single maritime administration for STCW is attributed to Angkla’s initiatives. Could Angkla work for the passage of other pending maritime bills, filed 30 years ago and re-hashed several times?
It was mentioned by the presenters that some of these bills have been approved at the House of Representatives Committee level for plenary discussions. We shall earnestly wait how far Congress can act this time.
The decreasing number of ships engaged in international voyages under the Philippine flag was cited. Several possible steps to address the matter were mentioned. These were the same solutions discussed and deliberated ad nauseam. After the lapse of time and despite the optimism expressed during the Marina anniversary of seeing the light at the end of tunnel, it may serve well to examine the obstacles that hinder in realizing a ship registry that is competitive to attract shipowners to re-flag ships in the Philippines.
Several other challenges were raised on the matter of protecting seafarers’ welfare, which I believe is a core mandate of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and not Marina. One notes the shift in the focus of the discussion from one of welfare protection to that of assailing the benefits granted to seafarers under existing regulations and the court awards to claims made by seafarers. The dichotomy between sustaining the Filipino seafarer’s employment opportunities and that of seeking the best terms for him must be clearly defined and articulated in order that affected parties can strike a good balance of keeping the employment market and getting committed seafarers. This requires continuous and open dialogues and consultations among the government, industry and labor.
The problems concerning the training, education and certification of seafarers, which aptly rest in Marina’s area of jurisdiction, were reiterated. The seeming helplessness in providing sufficient berths for cadetship has resulted in a big number of enrollees in merchant marine courses unable to complete their baccalaureate studies. Such a situation is worse than the big number of bar flunkers who though not being able to practice law enjoy the benefit of receiving a Juris Doctor diploma.
The list of issues and concerns articulated during the MIDP launch is by no means comprehensive. Marina should be able to build on the interest to formulate the MIDP by ensuring broader and active participation by stakeholders and the nationwide consultations planned by Marina shall provide the platform for generating inputs from the wider maritime stakeholders. Marina and industry should during those consultations focus on finding what ails the maritime industry —and both I am sure will have a lot to discover.