NY Times bares harrowing plight of Filipino seafarers


    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.



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    1. Right here marina gives them a hard time requiring stupid irrelevant courses to take before their seaman’s book gets approved! Then how about the nbi? Isn’t it sheer stupidity to require them again an nbi clearance? They’ve been out of the country for quite some time.

    2. To all of you who criticise what you term as the president helping rich people get richer. You have to remember you need rich people in a country to help the country get rich. Look at how many past presidents have stopped poverty, correct, not a single one, so it isnt just this president. You cannot alleviate poverty so easily. Words are easy but making words work arnt so easy.
      We need to elect politicians that want to help the people. Im against this new law they are trying to bring in giving public workers an extra months pay ( 14 months ). I think instead of an extra months pay why not increase their pay so they get extra spending money each week not once a year.
      Im still not sure how to assess politicians in this country. In my country ( england ) its much easier. We have political parties with members & we know what type of government they will be. Here i dont have a clue, but i like it that pnoy has sought to start on the rd to catching & jailing corrupt officials. The poorest countries in the world are all in africa & at the heart of it is corruption. Get rid of corruption for the country to start moving forward.

      • Criticizing if part of a democracy. You forgot that Englishmen criticized their Prime Minister too. Pnoy is not just a public servant. He should not just serve the small minority of rich families and clans who controls the huge percentage of the economy, he is also the president of the majority of the masses whom he calls as his “real boss” The Overseas Filipino Workers which include the seafarers is not in President’s agenda. OFW remittance is about 10% of the Philippine GDP. He didn’t even acknowledge them for their sacrifices and contribution to the Philippine economy. The worst thing is that seafarers are left alone to fend for themselves and the Philippine government don’t have enough safety nets and programs that provide ample support and protection to the Filipinos seafarers. Instead of reacting to criticism, Pnoy should look into the validity of the criticism and improve in that area and address the need by instructing the concerned agency to be proactive and do something to solve the problem and improve the service.

      • Read more, ex. oligarchy. Talking about the bad rich/landlord/businessmen and not the good ones. However, in the Phils., bad is overtaking the good ones.

    3. Raymond Stenhouse on

      Mr President why are 20 million of your so called bosses living on less then Php 100. Many without the basics such as water electricity and sewage. You created so many Php Billion fat cows at the top and left many elderly, woman and children poor. Even Filipino bosses are guilty of creating cheap labour to increase their wealth, SM employs labour for 5 months and thirty days to save earned benefits.

      • AGREE. Aaand, Mr Sy is the richest chinoy in our country. Some of his wealth came from the hardships of his employees (contractuals) evading the law on security of tenure. That’s why DON’T buy fruits, vegetables and marine products from these rich guys. Buy them from our poor filipinos making their earnings as food for every day living. Also, supermarkets have fixed prices while you can bargain prices from the vendors.

    4. Yes, we have a President who do not care of his bosses, yes he cares if judging by his words in speeches, but with actions he do not care as long as his priority will be the creation of more mistizos chinese or kastilaloys who are now dollar billionaires listed in the Forbes Magazine.
      Thats him they started creating the so called mistizos dollar billionaires during the time of the late Cory when he gave to them corporations owned by the filipinos, his bosses, example of which Meralco with no money in return to government coffers. and etc, they are opposed to opening of Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Now, who are those oligarchs into running the business of power/energy. Senators and congressmen belonging to Liberal Party and government officials affiliated with the LP are in the take of these corporations. That is the primary reasons the country has the most high cost of electricity. VOTE FOR STRAIGHT LIBERAL PARTY so that you will not be in misery.

      • The MAIN PROBLEM is, our vote will not be counted. The winner will be decided by the SMARTMATIC’s PICOS.

    5. Kaawa-awang mga kumakapit sa patalim na kababayan natin walang proteksyon galing sa gobierno……..pati na rin contractualization , tanim-bala , mataas na buwis (-it) ,hukay na daan ( na di kailangan ), gutom at matakaw na politiko !!!
      Noong araw tatlong buwan pa ang hiinhintayin ni seafarer bago mka suweldo .

    6. 38% of world wide seafarers are Filipinos. Our government must protect these fellow citizens. Sad to say Philippine syndicate I mean government, is just willing to suck our tears, sweat and blood through heavy taxes and fees but not willing to help its citizens.

      • Hindi lang ang mga seamen natin ang kawawa, iyon ding 10 million OFWs na nannies, maids, construction workers at unskilled laborers who are lowly paid and physically and sexually abused abroad.

        Kawawa ang kanilang mga anak na lumalaking hindi kilala ang kanilang mga magulang.

    7. peace advocates in MIndanao, civil society, Cardinal Tagle, Business Communities, EU, US, Japan, JICA, Malaysia, even APEC leaders and ARRM support BBL…ilang beses nagsagawa ng people power, rallies at demonstration ang mga communities sa ARMMs mobilizing thousands of Moro people for BBL approval and support..

      Makati Business club and PCC and American Chamber of Commerce are supportive of BBL..
      Yung tatlong Marcos Loyalist (bongbong, Escu and Cayetano), ilang Sultan and political clan in Mindanao lang naman ang pasimuno KUMATAY ng BBL..ang tatlo Senator ang siya ngayo’y mga candicates fot VP bid sa 2016 election..