Congress OKs Aquino-backed seafarers bill
MANILA, Philippines – Congress approved a bill that seeks to help the country’s world-renowned seafarers by aiming to avoid a European Union (EU) blacklist of Filipino ship officers.
The Senate and the House of Representatives approved on 3rd and final reading a bill that consolidates the training and certification of over 400,000 Filipino seafarers under one agency: the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).
Both chambers of Congress passed the measure on Monday, February 10.
After President Benigno Aquino III gave a “direct and personal order” to avert the blacklist, the bill passed swiftly in the Senate. Staunch Aquino ally Senate President Franklin Drilon is the principal author of the measure.
Senators approved the bill with 21 affirmative votes, no negative votes, and no abstentions. Drilon said the President will sign it into law by the end of the month.
The measure is part of the administration’s efforts to avoid the EU blacklist.
MARINA administrator Maximo Mejia Jr told Rappler in a previous interview that 5,000 Filipino officers aboard EU ships will be affected if the EU blacklists the Philippines.
This includes captains, chief mates, second mates, third maters, chief engineers, second engineers, third engineers, fourth engineers and other “managers.”
Mejia said the European Maritime Safety Agency’s (EMSA) biggest concern was for the Philippines to have a “system that works” in identifying maritime schools that comply with international standards, particularly the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, Watchkeeping for Seafarers or the STCW Convention.
EMSA is an EU agency charged with reducing the risk of maritime accidents, marine pollution from ships, and the loss of lives at sea.
In a statement, Drilon said his bill will address the concerns of EMSA. The measure designates MARINA as the single maritime administrative agency with the mandate to enforce the STCW Convention.
The bill also authorizes MARINA “to carry out an effective regulatory framework conducive to the efficiency, transparency and competitiveness of the Philippine seafaring industry.”
In the current set-up, several agencies handle these functions including the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and Department of Health (DOH).
The Senate President said the fast passage of the bill is “relevant” as the Philippines waits for EMSA to finalize its audit report on the country’s maritime administration.
Mejia had explained that EMSA became “very disappointed” when it audited the Philippines for compliance with the convention last April 2013.
EMSA conducted a second audit in October and it is about to release its report, which will be the basis of the European Commission’s decision on the possible blacklist by April.
“With the passage of the bill, we can now say that our country is taking broad efforts to maintain our compliance with the STCW Convention, thus averting any need for the EU to proceed with their ban on our workers,” Drilon said.
Drilon has said that of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers, Filipinos comprise almost 400,000 or a quarter of the officers and crews. Of this number, 100,000 Filipino seafarers are estimated to be working onboard European-flagged vessels. The EU has 28 member states.
Improving seafarers’ skills
Besides averting the blacklist, Drilon said the bill aims to prevent a loss of income for seafarers and their families.
He said Filipino seafarers’ remittances amounted to nearly $5 billion in 2012.
He added that the bill will protect the Philippines’ “position in the seafarer industry, where Filipino workers are often favored due to their skill and work ethic.”
“More than ensuring our compliance, the passage of this bill will assure [the world] that the skills of our seafarers are properly honed through continuous training and updating of the curriculum to be administered by Marina,” Drilon added.
“We hope that it shows the rightful acknowledgment of the invaluable contribution of our maritime workers in the national economy, and the country’s overall reputation in the global market.” – Rappler.com