MANILA, Philippines – The hiring of new Filipino seafarers in European Union (EU) member-states and the jobs of around 50,000 currently deployed in the region will be at risk if the Committee on Safe Seas arrives at a negative decision on the Philippines’ certification in November.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega shared this to lawmakers on Thursday, October 27, during a House committee hearing on the country’s compliance with Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Requirements.
De Vega added that although the country’s decertification would not cause the immediate termination of active seafarers aboard EU-flagged vessels, it may lead to similar issues in countries outside the EU.
“As long as the current STCW certificate is still valid, they can still work until the expiry of such certificate, but as DMW said, there will be no new hirings of new seafarers with new STCW certificates. Then, there’s going to be the domino effect. Eventually, other countries outside the EU are going to say, ‘We’re not going to hire your Filipino seafarers,’” De Vega told the House panel.
The Philippines’ decertification may even affect jobs in other industries, according to Migrant Workers Assistant Secretary Jerome Pampolina.
“Another impact assessment we feel is pertinent is the loss of jobs in the seafaring and manning industries and other related industries. It might affect not only seafarers but also manning industries, manning agencies, and other related industries which depend on maritime trade,” Pampolina said.
In its latest audit in 2020, the European Maritime Safety Administration (EMSA) found 13 shortcomings and 23 grievances in relation to the Philippines, including lack of training equipment and inconsistencies in teaching and assessment.
In February, the National Maritime Polytechnic had already warned that Filipino seafarers posted in European flag-registered ocean-going vessels were at risk of losing their jobs if the Philippines did not comply with the STCW. According to Pampolina, 2022 is the final year earmarked by EMSA for compliance.
The Philippines faced a similar risk in 2013, when, according to Maritime Industry Administration (MARINA) data, the number of inspection findings rose to 116 from 2012’s 16. During the initial audit in 2006, EMSA had 158 findings.
Of the concerns raised by EMSA, the maritime studies curricula and training standards are the most prevalent. De Vega said that curriculum-related concerns should have been addressed already because these have been consistently raised by the EU.
De Vega also said that MARINA should have fixed the curriculum “a long time ago” together with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
“So, when we hear na, ‘We’re adjusting this. We’re adjusting,’ one thing consistent with what the EU says is that, “Well, dati pa dapat eh (You should have done that a long time ago),” said De Vega.
Kabayan Representative Ron Salo, chair of the House committee on overseas workers affairs, also pressed on MARINA’s non-compliance. He asked why the curricula are still not up to par with international standards, despite issues being raised as early as 2006. He also urged the agency to align with CHED on the implementation of changes made to maritime programs.
“Ipapasa rin ng CHED later on, ‘It’s MARINA,’ then kayo rin naman, sasabihin ninyo, ‘It’s CHED.’ So, sino ba talaga at the end of the day? Ngayon, sasabihin natin we already created this technical committee who is in charge that all these curriculums being introduced by all these authorized universities or higher institutions. Ang problema, bakit ‘di compliant?” said Salo, addressing MARINA.
(The ball will be in CHED’s court later on, and they’ll say, ‘It’s MARINA,’ then you’ll say the same thing: ‘It’s CHED.’ So who should it be at the end of the day? Now, we’ll say we’ve already created this technical committee that is in charge of all these curriculums being introduced by all these authorized universities or higher institutions. The problem is, why are they non-compliant?)
According to Samuel Batalla, officer-in-charge of MARINA’s STCW Office of the Executive Director, maritime institutions in the country often change curriculum.
“Madalas tayong mag-change ng curriculum. So bago pa tayo nakakapag-adjust again, meron ulit tayong mga i-implement na mga bagong provisions (We change curriculum often. So before we can adjust [to the curriculum] again, we have new provisions we have to implement),” said Batalla.
Earlier this year, MARINA and CHED released a joint memorandum on revisions made to the Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation and BS Marine Engineering programs.
The curricula that were phased out were only three years old as the agencies updated the same programs in 2019.
When asked about why the curriculum changes frequently, Batalla requested that CHED comment, saying that the agency had the mandate on this matter. Jorel Ramirez from CHED’s office of programs and standards development explained that these changes were triggered by EMSA inspection findings.
“There are issues and concerns identified for program and course approval. Curriculum is one of them. The changes are triggered by these findings, that’s why they change. Every time that EMSA identifies [issues], we come up with revisions to address the findings of the European Maritime Safety Agency,” Ramirez said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Ramirez proposed that a National Maritime Admission Exam be institutionalized and non-compliant programs be phased out. Meanwhile, Batalla recommended changes on the administrative front. He suggested making the MARINA administrator a career official rather than an appointee, meaning that the title-holder would have first-hand experience in maritime affairs. He also proposed the granting of additional personnel items to expand the agency’s capability. – Yana Uy/Rappler.com
Yana Uy is a Rappler intern studying in the University of the Philippines Diliman. This article was done under the supervision of Rappler staff and her copy was vetted by editors.