We welcome the news that President Rodrigo Duterte has favorably acted upon Filipino seafarers' request to get vaccinated against COVID-19 with the brands of their choice. He made it clear that giving seafarers this option does not violate the equal protection clause of the Philippine Constitution because the nature of their work demands it.
The government plans to attain herd immunity by the end of the year by vaccinating 58 million Filipinos.
In a bid to help achieve this goal, the shipping industry's labor and manning groups have joined hands in urging the government to prioritize the vaccination of Filipino seafarers to prevent losing their jobs to fully vaccinated seafarers from other countries.
In their joint manifesto, the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen's Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), Associated Philippine Seafarers Union (APSU), Joint Manning Group (JMG), and the Filipino Association for Mariners› Employment (FAME) said: "The Philippine seafaring industry is not able to meet the global demand for maritime experts due to constraints on crew change, quarantine costs and now the inoculation of seafarers.
"The situation threatens the Filipino seafarers' niche in the global seafaring industry - with seafarers from China, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine now preferred over Filipino seafarers due to cheaper deployment costs and the country's capacity for a crew change."
The said manifesto outlines a six-point agenda to rectify this situation:
Simplify the process by making the valid seaman's book the sole requirement to qualify for the vaccination.
The active seafarers should be vaccinated in their respective LGUs before returning to Manila for their deployment.
The returning seafarers should be given their first dose upon release of their negative RT PCR test and before returning to their hometowns.
Because the seafarers' next deployment is often under a cloud of uncertainty, the single-dose type of vaccine is preferred. The groups are asking for 500,000 jabs to prepare for all eventualities.
DOH-accredited hospitals and clinics especially meant for seafarers should be designated as vaccination centers where the supply of vaccines is ensured by the government.
In conformity with the seafarers' new A1 status, the cost of vaccination shall be shouldered by the government.
The president gave Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. the task of facilitating the vaccination of the seafarers, possibly by group or by province, to expedite their deployment abroad.
We are truly heartened by the government's decision to move up the seafarers' position in the priority list for vaccination from B3 (essential workers) and B5 (overseas Filipino workers) to A4 (economic frontliners) and finally, for those up for immediate deployment, to A1, along with health care workers, thanks to the persuasive efforts of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) led by Administrator Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad, and the leaders of maritime and manning agency associations.
It was disconcerting to read a few days ago about a welfare survey by the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) showing that only 13 percent of seafarers have received their first vaccine shot. With these encouraging developments in the home front, we have more reason to hope that the seafarers' situation will improve, not only in terms of their physical health and subsequent deployment but also in terms of their peace of mind and mental health. The lifeblood of world trade deserves no less.