43 Filipino fishermen held in Indonesia to be repatriated

MANILA, Philippines – More than 5 months after they were held by Indonesian authorities, 43 Filipino fishermen aboard a boat seized in the Muslim country for illegally entering its waters are finally set to be repatriated.

The campaign to rescue them was initiated by national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) and the International Union of Foodworkers and Allied Industry (IUF), said Sentro Secretary General Josua Mata on Friday, February 20.

Mata said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) – "after we started raising hell" for a formal appeal to the Indonesian government – paid for their return flight to the Philippines slated on the last week of February.

The Sentro leader condemned the workers' employer, believed to be General Santos City's tuna exporting giant, Citra Mina, which, he said, "did not even lift a finger" in assuring the workers' welfare and safe return. 

IUF Asia Pacific acting regional secretary Hidayat Greenfield said "this demonstrates a pattern of abuse of workers' human rights throughout the Citra Mina supply chain from fishermen to fish processing workers."

The company sent the fishing ship Love Merben II seized last August 26 to a fishing expedition "knowing full well they're going to do illegal fishing," Mata further alleged.

Undocumented or without the necessary identification papers and passports, the 43 apprehended workers were taken to Ternate Island in Indonesia and stayed there for nearly 6 months.

Mata said they intend to demand from Citra Mina compensation for the "abandoned" workers, as the families they left in their months away from home are now "deep in debt."

Rappler repeatedly attempted to reach out to Citra Mina to no avail.

Occupational safety

Citra Mina has been the subject of complaints for alleged unpaid wages to its workers and unsafe working conditions in its canning factories.

Occupational safety and health has been a priority for Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, ordering strict compliance monitoring among the labor department's regional offices.

Latest state figures show 9.97% of workers in establishments with at least 20 employees in the fishing and aquaculture industry have experienced occupational injuries. The numbers may be greater due to unreported incidents. 

In November 2013, Citra Mina workers went on strike to air their grievances. During the celebration of the strike's anniversary last 2014, Mata visited General Santos City to be with the union leaders and members only to find out about the 43 workers held in Indonesia.

Based on the group's investigation and interviews with families, Mata said there may be two more Citra Mina ships in Indonesia yet to be located.

Akbayan Party-list Representative Walden Bello urged in late 2014 a congressional hearing into the alleged labor rights abuses of the Mindanao-based company.

Bello said on Friday the hearing is set on March 18, as confirmed by Congressman Karlo Nograles of the House committee on labor and employment. – Rappler.com