You are here

BRENDA V. PIMENTEL: Quo vadis, PH maritime industry?

Quo vadis, PH maritime industry?
BRENDA V. PIMENTEL February 3, 2018

This question was asked by the Movement for Maritime Philippines (MMP) in a forum last week to express concern over the leadership vacuum at the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) after Engr. Marcial Amaro 3rd’s dismissal as its administrator. Not even one at the level of deputy administrator had been appointed to carry out Amaro’s duties as officer-in-charge.

Transportation Undersecretary Philip Judan was authorized to sign documents that Marina usually issues to its clients, but stakeholders ask if his authority is, indeed, limited to documentation for seafarers. Can he sign vessel or company documents, such as certificates on ship safety, Philippine ship registry and company accreditation?

If so, stakeholders, and flag and port states to which these documents are presented, should be properly informed about this. If not, Filipino sefarers and/or Philippine-registered ships run the risk of being challenged at ports.

Who is in charge?

During the forum, several misconceptions were clarified. MMP said in a statement it does not question the designation of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero as Amaro’s successor and acknowledged the prerogative of President Rodrigo Duterte to choose his men.

What the MMP wishes to bring to the President’s attention is the need for someone to take charge of Marina before Guerrero formally assumes his post in view of the forthcoming assessment on whether the Philippines should maintain its whitelist status for the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Convention).

Then there is also the European Maritime Safety Agency audit list of non-compliances that need to be resolved as soon as possible. These are two concerns raised by the stakeholders who attended the forum.

Even as these issues were discussed, stakeholders were facing a blank wall regarding the real score on these: What is the International Maritime Organization (IMO) visit for? When would its representatives visit? What are the EMSA audit findings? Why is it that the government is consistently withdrawing pertinent information from stakeholders and the public? Would disclosing such information affect national security? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be better if stakeholders are engaged, as they’re on the ground?

Seafarers, manning agents, maritime-education institutes—they would be most adversely affected should the Philippines be removed from the IMO whitelist, yet they are left out of the equation when creating a solution. They are left to seek information from sources other than the government, leading to conflicting conclusions and speculations.

What was distressing was the call of some stakeholders to use Marina’s weakness—blamed on its lack of a leader—to bring back the STCW functions back to the Department of Labor and Employment. No wonder some chose to keep quiet, as a leaderless Marina makes it vulnerable to attacks on the manner the STCW functions are being discharged.

Even more distressing is the seeming silence of Marina on questions of its ability to perform its most important maritime-safety function: ensuring that Filipino seafarers are competent in accordance with the STCW Convention.

Best piece of legislation

As far as I’m concerned, Republic Act 10635, or the law designating Marina as the sole maritime administration, is the best piece of legislation for implementing the STCW Convention. The law finally put to rest the question of which among the agencies performing STCW functions should be in charge. That, to me, is a no-brainer: the maritime administration should be it.

For more than two decades, this matter was debated among government agencies. RA 10635 declared it is Marina. In other maritime countries, it is the maritime agency that discharges the obligations of state parties to the STCW Convention, which aims to ensure maritime safety and protect the environment from pollution caused by ships. That’s it. It is not about seafarers’ welfare; there are other international agreements dealing with that.

However, there is a problem in the formulation of the implementing rules and regulations of RA 10635. That should be given attention, if Marina will have to properly implement its provisions and align these with the objectives of the STCW Convention.

But I forgot, who is in charge in Marina?