The Philippine maritime industry is overwhelmed by numerous bureaucratic entanglements as it struggles to understand the policy and regulatory structures governing its various sectors.
Then as now, maritime functions are moved from one agency to another, and often without a thorough analysis of the reasons behind it. No one disagrees that maritime covers an area of divergent interests and concerns so vast that, regardless of the degree of their involvement in maritime-related activities, agencies claim they are mandated to perform all the other functions related to that.
This results in an absurd situation where an agency, whose core mandate is not maritime in nature, is given functions that are best placed in the maritime administration.
I am reminded of efforts of some industry stakeholders who continue to push for the transfer of STCW-related functions to government agencies overseeing labor and overseas workers’ welfare.
To digress, STCW stands for the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. It is an international agreement that aims to promote maritime safety and environment protection.
The convention specifies the minimum standards in training a seafarer and the subsequent certification of his competence; there is nothing in it that speaks of seafarers’ welfare. It is submitted, though, that scrutinizing the contract between a seafarer and his employer rests squarely on the Labor department and pertinent agencies.
For this reason, these agencies, in executing their mandates, assume the task of protecting seafarers by ensuring that work conditions are consistent with national and international regulations.
It must be stressed, though, that certain government agencies, by virtue of their mandates, have tasks related to the implementation of the STCW convention. One is them is the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), which is tasked to set minimum standards for programs and institutions of higher learning.
The convention sets the standards of training and education for seafarers deployed on ships in international voyages, and so CHEd must align its programs on educating merchant marine officers with what the convention had set.
CHEd is assisted by technical panels that make recommendations on specific requirements according to the needs for developing professionals. In the case of merchant marine officers, the commission has a technical panel for maritime education (TPME). The development of higher education programs, regardless of areas of specialization, follows certain pedagogical principles that CHEd must oblige higher education institutions to implement.
Single maritime administration
The enactment of Republic Act 10635, which designated the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) as the single administration for the implementation of the STCW convention, was expected to resolve the many challenges facing the country’s compliance with the convention. The law clearly stipulates the functions that Marina must assume and highlights the coordinative role it must play to effectively implement the convention.
Marina continues to face difficulties, primarily because of the distorted view that it has assumed all functions of the other agencies cited in the law, ignoring in the process its basic directive to coordinate the country’s compliance strategies.
Instead of providing guidance to agencies, such as CHEd and the National Telecommunications Commission, on how to meet the requirements of the convention relative to their core mandates, Marina focused on undertaking tasks that properly fall on these agencies. Conflicting policies and regulatory issuances leave stakeholders confused and skeptical on the capability of the single maritime administration to discharge its functions.
Surprisingly, there is a now a move to transfer the functions of CHEd to Marina, purportedly to enable the latter to properly implement the convention. Supervising higher education institutions is the commission’s core mandate, while ensuring maritime safety by ensuring compliance with the STCW convention is Marina’s.
Their respective mandates presuppose there is expert knowledge and understanding being obtained in these agencies as to the subject matter of their mandates. Why a maritime safety agency should be more capable of discharging the regulatory supervision of higher education institutions defies logic.
It is conceded that President Rodrigo Duterte has the prerogative to reorganize the Executive branch based on prevailing jurisprudence. Maritime stakeholders recognize this power of the President, yet they call on him to solicit the view of those who would otherwise take a stand opposite of that of proponents of the transfer of CHEd functions to Marina.