Although President BS Aquino boasts that the Filipino people are “ his boss,” has he ever even once consulted us on any of his ambitious initiatives and projects?
We could not dissuade him from his crazy initiative—like the Comprehensive Bangsamoro agreement, the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the creation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the signing of the PH-US Enhanced Defense cooperation Agreement (EDCA)—because he sprang them on us by surprise. By the time we knew about them, they were signed and sealed. And the public treasury was already compromised.
This is our problematic position today as we behold the P7.9-billion cost and draconian impositions of the APEC extravaganza that will unfold next week. We have no choice but to endure the spectacle.
A double-edged publicity machine
APEC looks like a tremendous public relations coup. It fits snugly into Aquino’s policy of self-promotion.
But APEC is double-edged. While undeniably a publicity generator, it is conversely a gigantic megaphone, a blinding spotlight, and a super magnifying glass on the warts and imperfections of our people and our country.
While the government has locked down the capital for the event and banished from view the unsightly slums, homeless street children and monstrous traffic, hard-nosed international media will not be fooled.
In some ways, we are already seeing considerable fallout from the tanim-bala (bullet-planting) extortion racket. It has strangled our underperforming tourism industry.
A grim picture of lawlessness and cruelty
Equally alarming , we have landed in the front page of the New York Times before the summit even unfolds.
In its issue last Monday, November 9, the paper published a special 3917-word report on the tragic story of one Filipino seafarer, and the dark underbelly of our seafarer employment program.
The report stands the program on its head, while reciting the familiar high point: “No country exports more seafarers than the Philippines, which provides roughly a quarter of them globally.”
It paints a grim picture of lawlessness and inhumanity in the high seas.
A harrowing and heartbreaking story
The NYT report focuses on the case of one particular seafarer, Eril Andrade, 31, and it relates his harrowing and heartbreaking story of failed hopes for a better life, of his being exploited, cheated and finally killed by illegal recruiters and a criminal shipping company.
The report is entitled, “Tricked and indebted on land, abused and abandoned at sea.” It was written and reported by Ian Urbina of NYT.
Andrade hails from the village of Linabuan Sur, Aklan, which is home to other seafarers.
In June 2010, at nearly the same time that president BS Aquino took office as the 15th president of the Philippines, Eril and seven other seafarers were recruited and contracted to work as seamen by the Step Up Marine Enterprise, a Singapore-based manning agency. They were then sent to an apartment in Singapore, where they were locked up for weeks, while they waited to be deployed to Taiwanese tuna ships.
Seven months later, in February 2011, Eril was dead. “His body was sent home in a wooden coffin: jet black from having been kept in a fish freezer aboard a ship for more than a month, missing an eye and his pancreas, and covered in cuts and bruises, which an autopsy report concluded had been inflicted before death.”
On April 6, 2011, Mr. Andrade’s cadaver arrived at port in Singapore on the Hung Yu 212. Dr. Wee Keng Poh, a forensic pathologist at Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority, conducted an autopsy six days later. He concluded that the cause of death was acute myocarditis, an inflammatory disease of the heart muscle.
The body was then flown to the Philippines, where Dr. Noel Martinez — the pathologist in Kalibo, the provincial capital — performed a second autopsy. He disagreed with the first autopsy, instead citing heart attack as the cause of death. Dr. Martinez’s autopsy report also noted extensive unexplained bruises and cuts, inflicted before death.
Emmanuel Concepcion, a friend of Mr. Andrade’s, said he knew what conditions on long-haul fishing boats were like and doubted that Mr. Andrade had died of natural causes. After being recruited himself by Step Up, Mr. Concepcion also worked on a Taiwanese tuna ship, in the South Atlantic, but quit after the cook fatally stabbed the captain, who had routinely beaten crew members. Asked what he thought was the most likely cause of his friend’s death, Mr. Concepcion said, simply, “Violence.”
Failed effort to secure justice
Efforts to secure justice for Andrade have been unsuccessful.
Action in Singapore against the manning agency has been frustrated by red tape. The company has changed names, and switched targets from seafarers to Filipino domestic workers.
Taiwanese police and fishery officials said they had no record of having questioned Shao Chin Chung, the captain of Mr. Andrade’s ship, about Andrade’s death.
Andrade’s recruiter in the Philippines, Ms Celia Robelo, has been prosecuted on charges of human trafficking and illegal recruitment. She is currently in jail in Kalibo.
A matter of life and death
The NYT concludes its report with a mordant view of the Philippine seafaring program:
“More than 400,000 Filipinos sought work last year as officers, deckhands, fishermen, cargo handlers and cruise workers. Mr. Andrade’s death shows that governments are sometimes unable or unwilling to protect the rights of citizens far from home.
“The abuse of Filipino seamen has increased in recent years, labor officials in the Philippines say, because the country’s maritime trade schools produce, on average, 20,000 graduates a year for fewer than 5,000 openings. As men grow desperate for work, they take greater risks. Roughly a third of them now use agencies that are illegal — unregistered and willing to break rules, the officials said.
“Such agencies, favored by ship operators and workers looking to shave costs, compound the problem of lawlessness on the high seas.”
Eril Andrade is not the first Filipino seafarer to meet with tragedy in the high seas. He won’t be the last.
The full review of the seafarer program is literally a matter of life and death.