(Last of two parts)
The creation of a “Department of Migration and Development which shall be the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing and administrative entity of the executive branch of the government that will plan, develop, and manage the national migration and development agenda” as proposed by Section 4 of House Bill 192 speaks of migration in general; it does not mention of any particular area of profession, skill or field of expertise. It is under Section 14 items (l) and (m) thereof that one finds reference to maritime with the transfer of the National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) functions related to international seafaring to the proposed Department of Migration and Development (DMD).
As I mentioned last week, the planned transfer of MARINA’s seafaring functions to the proposed DMD will have possible adverse effects on the deployment of Filipino seafarers on ships plying international waters. The Philippines is in the midst of the audit process being undertaken by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), and to pluck out the STCW convention implementation from the maritime administration demonstrates utter disregard to the precarious situation in which the Philippines finds itself as it faces a lot of uncertainties in sustaining its premier position as the world’s supplier of seafarers. STCW is the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers
Why include the National Maritime Polytechnic
The National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) was established in 1978 at the time when the Philippines started to gain prominence as provider of seafarers for international ships. NMP’s creation was intended to meet the need for a maritime training center as demand for Filipino seafarers in international shipping took a record rise. From its modest operations of offering basic seaman’s courses, NMP has expanded its programs to address the requirements of the STCW convention and undertaking research studies that relate to maritime education and training issues and concerns.
Transferring the NMP to the proposed migration department defies logic. What has delivery of training on Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boat other than Fast Rescue Boat or upgrading and specialized courses for deck and engine officers and the basic safety courses for both officers and ratings got to do with the proposed migration department? Why is the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) which offers upgrading program and certification standards for skilled workers not being transferred to the migration department?
Filipino seafarers on PH-flagged ships
The Migrant Workers Act defines Overseas Filipino Worker or Migrant Worker as“a person who is to be engaged, is engaged, or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a state of which he or she is not a citizen or on board a vessel navigating the foreign seas other than a government ship used for military or non-commercial purposes, or on an installation located offshore or on the high seas.” This definition does not distinguish the flag of the ship where a Filipino seafarer is employed, therefore, even one who is engaged on a Philippine-flagged ship is considered a migrant worker. A Philippine-flagged ship is considered an extension of the country’s territory in much the same way that the premises of a Philippine-diplomatic post overseas is. This results in an absurd case where a Filipino seafarer will be considered a migrant on Philippine territory.
HB 192 has very noble objectives for migrant workers but the peculiarities of the ship as a workplace calls for a more definitive treatment when dealing with welfare, safety and health of seafarers. This was recognized and given much consideration by the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC). One wonders if there was any effort to reconcile existing laws and regulations with MLC, 2006 as to craft a cohesive welfare legislation for seafarers. Does HB 192 taken account of MLC 2006 requirements?
Several labor and employment legislation have been enacted, yet it appears that the seafaring sector is persistently confronting challenges in the implementation of these laws and regulations. As at the moment, manning companies are calling for amendments of employment laws and regulations and/or seeking further clarification on interpretation of cases involving seafarers, many times adverse to the interest of the very group of workers the law is supposed to protect.
HB 192 once enacted into law as it is formulated will definitely add to more problems to the seafaring sector than how it stands now. I understand that one group, the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines has taken a strong position against the proposed transfer of the NMP and the seafaring functions of MARINA to the Department of the Migration and Development. Congress must consider the position of the seafarers. Plucking out the STCW functions from MARINA could spell the demise of the Philippine seafaring sector—for obvious reasons and which those who are proposing to do just that must realize.