43 Filipino fishers ‘abandoned’ in Indonesia arrive in PH

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43 Filipino fishers ‘abandoned’ in Indonesia arrive in PH
Workers identify the owner of General Santos City's tuna exporting giant Citra Mina as their employer

MANILA, Philippines – Forty-three Filipino fishermen arrested in Indonesia 6 months ago arrived here early Monday, February 23, after what rescuers alleged as the inaction and abandonment of their employer. 

The workers were aboard Cebu Pacific flight 5J 760 which landed early morning Monday and left Jakarta the evening before. 

They were accompanied in the flight by a staff of national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro), which initiated the rescue campaign along with the International Union of Foodworkers and Allied Industry (IUF).

The liaison, Herbert Demos, went last February 20 to Ternate Island, Indonesia, where the 43 workers were brought by Indonesian authorities in September after being apprehended last August 26.

They were aboard the fishing ship Love Merben II at the time of arrest, seized for illegally entering the predominantly Muslim country’s waters.

While documentary links will be harder than usual to trace due to an illegal labor system where fishing companies use dummies as ship owners, the ship is believed to be owned by General Santos City’s tuna exporting giant Citra Mina.

Workers who arrived in Manila corroborate this claim, identifying the owner of Citra Mina as their employer.

Sentro secretary-general Josua Mata accused Citra Mina of knowingly sending them to an illegal fishing expedition, as the boat’s fishing permit had already expired. 

The workers were found to be without proper travel documents and identification papers including a passport during the trip.

Citra Mina is set to face a congressional hearing for its alleged labor rights violations including substandard working conditions within its canning factories. 

Rappler has repeatedly attempted to reach out to Citra Mina for this story which first came out Friday, February 21, to no avail.

BREAKFAST. The repatriated workers eat breakfast together early morning Monday, February 23. Photo from Sentro

‘Cabo’ system

The alleged illegal process of hiring by Citra Mina called the “cabo” system has allowed the fishing company to deny any employer-employee relationship between it and its fishermen, Mata said.

The law defines a “cabo” as a person or group of persons in the guise of a labor organization that supplies workers to an employer either as an agent or independent contractor. 

In truth, Mata said, the boat is financed and the workers are directly paid by Citra Mina.

Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Order Number 18-02 series 2002 is explicit in the prohibition of this system.

Mata said workers are left with no job contracts under the “cabo” system. This, he explained, creates a “vague policy environment that clearly needs to be made more explicit.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs, whose officials the workers are meeting with as of posting time, had paid for their plane tickets back to Manila. 

Mata said this is only after the labor group raised hell to convince the department to file a formal appeal to its counterpart in Indonesia.

The expenses for the repatriation of the 43 workers “should be taken from Citra Mina and not taxpayer’s money because it is Citra Mina which profits from their work,” Mata added. – Rappler.com

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