overseas Filipinos

Gov’t promises action on seafarers stranded in China for 17 months

Michelle Abad
Gov’t promises action on seafarers stranded in China for 17 months

STRANDED. Seafarers stranded on the MV Angelic Power speak to the House committee on overseas workers affairs on June 17, 2021.

Rappler screenshot

'How can you eat when your family does not have food?' says stranded seafarer Leonardo Lansang as he describes the mental suffering the crew of MV Angelic Power went through

Philippine government agencies in charge of the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) promised a crew of 13 Filipino seafarers repatriation and full pay for the 17 months they were stranded in South China.

In a House hearing on OFW affairs on Thursday, June 17, seaman Leonardo Lansang spoke on behalf of his crew on the MV Angelic Power carrier about the mental suffering they’d endured because they have been stranded since the coronavirus began to break out in China in January 2020.

They claimed their agency, the Magsaysay Maritime Corporation (MMC), has been withholding their salaries since the start of 2021.

According to Iric Arribas of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) migrant workers affairs office, the Philippine consulate in Guangzhou, China, was trying to get ahold of Chinese authorities about the issue. They would follow up within the day or “first thing” in the morning on Friday, June 18.

Meanwhile, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) chief Bernard Olalia guaranteed that even if their contract had expired, for as long as they were stranded on the boat, they were still entitled to receive their basic salaries.

Huwag kayong mag-alala kung belated ‘yung kanilang aksyon dahil sila ay mananagot (Don’t fret if their action is delayed because [MMC] will be held accountable),” said Olalia.

I-re-remind ko ulit sila na gawin po ang agarang solusyon para sa immediate repatriation ninyo (I will again remind [MMC] to do the quickest solution for your immediate repatriation),” he added.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier reacted to the crew’s case on Monday, June 14, ordering the DFA to repatriate them immediately.

‘Hindi na po kaya’

Lansang said the crew was “detained” and “hostaged” by the Chinese government, and reportedly had their passports taken away by a Chinese court.

Olalia said the seafarers were held for two reasons: travel restrictions when the coronavirus struck, and an economic dispute involving the owner of the ship.

Olalia added that because the ship was “embroiled in illegal proceedings” as the owner reportedly sold it, the workers needed to stay behind because their testimonies were needed. MMC also confirmed this in an earlier statement.

Although not specifying when, Lansang said the Philippine consulate in Guangzhou had already arranged their repatriation, but nothing had happened. Meanwhile, the Greek government had already repatriated their Greek crewmates.

“Deep inside our hearts, we are crying, Mr Chair, because of our families suffering. They produce food for us, but how can you eat when your family does not have food?” said Lansang.

Lansang also asked the government why they were not included in the government’s cash aid programs. Their families at home were reportedly denied aid because they had family working abroad.

Nagpupursigi po kaming umuwi – hindi na po kaya. May mga kasamahan kami dito na nag-iiba na ‘yung pag-iisip, iba-iba na po ang nararamdaman,” Lansang added. 

(We are persevering to go home – we can’t stay here anymore. There are some of us here who are already having strange thoughts and feeling strange emotions.)

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Representative Raymond Mendoza, who chairs the House committee on overseas workers affairs, appealed to the government agencies to sit down and solve the problem as soon as possible, at best, within weeks. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.