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Crafting of the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers

Crafting of the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers
Atty. Brenda V. Pimentel September 28, 2022

THE Senate deliberations on the draft Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers continue to bring out the gaps and inadequacies in the existing laws and regulations enacted and formulated to protect this archipelago's seafarers.

The stakeholders representing the various sectors involved in the deployment of seafarers such as the unions, seafarers' lawyers, manning agencies, shipowners, maritime training centers and institutions, including government agencies, are citing existing laws and regulations pertaining to the rights and protection of seafarers. Such referencing to a set body of legislation and rules confirms there is indeed a compendium of laws already dealing with the subject matter of protection of Filipino seafarers.

In the current formulation of the bills under Senate deliberation, the draft magna carta, when enacted, will serve as amendments to those already passed. The conditions of work stipulated in the bills are covered substantially in the various laws and corresponding regulations formulated and implemented by pertinent agencies. Amending the rules and regulations issued by administrative agencies through the magna carta will have the effect of reverting to Congress every time there is a need to adapt to changes brought about by new developments and circumstances in seafarers' employment.

Having a magna carta that stipulates the basic rights of Filipino seafarers is laudable. It is the best way by which to recognize and honor the contribution of Filipino seafarers, not only in terms of foreign exchange generation but also in promoting the country's image in the international maritime community. One must not forget that the magna carta is the expression of gratitude and acknowledgment extended to Filipino seafarers who work on ships plying domestic routes. They are the seafarers who man ships that move people and goods within the archipelago.

It is therefore fitting that a Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers be crafted to demonstrate this archipelago's gratitude to the Filipino seafarer. The magna carta will serve as the principal "Declaration" of the basic rights of the Filipino seafarer as stipulated in Sections 5 to 17 of the bills under consideration. Those provisions should indeed be the highlight of the magna carta as those articulate the clear and indisputable expression of the Philippines' protection over its seafarers. The magna carta as proposed is comparable to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To it must be anchored all laws and rules and regulations pertaining to the protection of Filipino seafarers.

The inclusion of technical and procedural details tends to dilute the importance of the rights granted to seafarers. The magna carta should serve as the foundation by which rules and regulations to guarantee the exercise of the rights of seafarers shall be formulated. The regulatory framework stipulates the technical and administrative requirements plus procedures and processes must remain in the rules and regulations to be issued by implementing agencies.

The draft bill therefore must instead of the technical rules and regulations incorporate provisions that instruct all government agencies concerned to revise, amend and update their regulations to conform with the Maritime Labor Convention 2006, all existing legislation that pertains to the protection of Filipino seafarers including the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers when it is so enacted. For its part, Congress must exercise its oversight function over agencies tasked to implement the magna carta.

As proposed, it will mean deleting from the draft magna carta all detailed technical and regulatory provisions which as in the past are subject to tripartite discussions. The inclusion of provisions on conditions of work in the draft magna carta will mean constructively abandoning the principle of tripartite negotiations. The framers of the magna carta need to keep in mind that the protection of Filipino seafarers essentially calls for sustaining the capacity and availability of employers to engage the services of Filipino seafarers. The obligation of the government to continue attracting shipowners to hire Filipino seafarers remains even as the magna carta is enacted.

Guaranteeing the rights of Filipino seafarers is an objective supported by all stakeholders, such a target though must not result in alienating shipowners!