43 repatriated fishermen get emergency livelihood aid
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz on Tuesday, March 10, travelled to General Santos City, the country's known tuna capital, to personally hear the fishermen's plight.
Most of them have no other means to gain income but through fishing.
The 43 workers were part of the fishing crew of ship Love Merben 2, seized by Indonesian authorities last August 26 for allegedly illegally fishing from its waters, known for its abundance in sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna.
The P2,040,000 check from the government will be used to build primary fishing vessels and their accompanying pump boats. Each primary vessel will be able to carry 7 to 8 fishers.
"They will fabricate 4 fishing boats and several service boats for hand fishing," said the labor department's communications director Nicon Fameronag, who joined the trip.
Tapped to help in the project, Herbert Demos of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) in the Soccsksargen region said a system of scheduling will allow all 43 fishers to share in the livelihood program.
Each expedition must take 7 to 14 days to give way to the next batch of fishing crew, he added.
Demos explained that it will take about two months to build the vessels, each with pump boats locally known as pakura.
In the meantime, the fishermen are finding work as part-time drivers of habal-habal, a local motor-based means of transport, or as part-time fishers whenever slots are available in bigger vessels.
In General Santos City on Tuesday, Baldoz also met with stakeholders of the local fishing industry.
Employed by Citra Mina?
Josua Mata, secretary general of national labor center Sentro, earlier alleged that the 43 fishermen were employed by tuna exporting giant Citra Mina.
The company merely used fishing operator and General Santos City local Felisa Ave as a dummy through a prohibited system of hiring known as cabo, he said.
Citra Mina spokersperson Fred Lumba denied any direct link to the 43 fishers, saying it is Ave who must be considered their employer and be responsible for them.
Speaking in the vernacular as translated by her son, Ave told Rappler she only finished grade school. She was granted a P14 million loan by Citra Mina to build the ship Love Merben 2.
Ave says she is now deep in debt since Love Merben 2 was siezed and an earlier ship also loaned to her caught fire.
Baldoz had explained that any liability arising from possible labor rights violations against the workers will have to be shouldered by both the principal – in this case, Citra Mina – and its subcontractor.
Workers interviewed by Rappler all say they had not received law-mandated benefits despite their years of service. (READ: 'Citra Mina ignored my family's cry for help')
In an interview Tuesday, Demos reiterated the financial incapacity of Ave to become the employer of the 43 fishers.
Documents he provided to Rappler from the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the local assessor's office certify Ave does not own any property in the city except for a transport operation managed under her name.
The foreign affairs department had already billed Citra Mina for the repatriation of the 43 fishers, said lawyer Francisco Noel Fernandez III of the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs. – Rappler.com