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Atty. Brenda V. Pimentel: Why not a maritime education and training law?

Why not a maritime education and training law?
Atty. Brenda V. Pimentel March 8, 2023

WE are one with Congress in pushing forward the enactment of a Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers to afford full protection of the country's present-day heroes (bagong bayani).

The magna carta is indeed a categorical recognition of the Filipino seafarers' contribution to the country in the form of foreign exchange remittances and in improving the plight of those who depend on them.

The Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers is grounded on the principles of the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) which lay down the basic rights of a seafarer primarily in respect of the conditions of work.

A close scrutiny of the basis of the proposed magna carta, i.e., MLC 2006, it is clear that the focus is on the entitlement of a seafarer during his engagement onboard a ship which in all cases also includes the time from his contract signing to the time he is repatriated notwithstanding that this is outside the workplace (which is the ship). There should be no question on this as the majority of the stakeholders agree that the Filipino seafarer must be afforded protection in their workplace.

The proposed magna carta in its present formulation has, on the other hand, created apprehension in some maritime sectors primarily on the provisions pertaining to "maritime education and training."

Maritime higher education institutions (MHEIs) are mandated to procure their training ships or to enter into an agreement with local and international shipping companies for the latter to accommodate cadets.

But how many of the MHEIs could afford to buy a training ship, or does this provision propose to have the MHEIs expand their area of operations to ship operations? For shipping companies, how many can give away revenue-earning space for passengers and instead allocate space for cadets who are to be taken in gratis?

Who will absorb the cost of the cadets' stay onboard? Or is it a proposition to shipping companies to go into maritime education and training?

Requiring Philippine-flagged ships engaged in international voyages to accept cadets will impact the attractiveness of the Philippine ship registry, one of the main components of the Maritime Industry Development Program (MIDP).

If accommodating Filipino cadets becomes a condition for entry into the ship registry, even the few ships that are flying the Philippine flag may decide to re-flag. Why oblige a foreign shipowner who is engaged in the business of transporting cargo to follow the Philippine regulations on maritime education; might as well transfer the ship to another flag.

If that happens, a Philippine-flagged ship that is re-flagged may mean losing 22 slots or so allocated for Filipino seafarers who are already onboard.

Of course, there is still a possibility that the ships, though re-flagged, may continue to engage the existing Filipino crew onboard. But why take the risk? Time and again, we have reiterated that there are seafarers because there are ships and not the other way around; it is not that ships are built because there are seafarers.

It is, I suppose, one of the primary reasons for promoting the expansion of the Philippine merchant fleet, i.e., to create employment opportunities for Filipino seafarers.

Moreover, the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers must pass the rigid constitutional provision which provides that every bill passed by Congress must embrace only one subject which shall be expressed in the title thereof.

The proposed magna carta speaks of "seafarers" who do not include maritime students even if during their education they do onboard training.

Proponents of the magna carta would be able to offer justification for the inclusion of maritime education in the magna carta, still, it is best that for the coherence of maritime legislation (and many more are needed to be enacted), clear distinction of the subjects covered will help promote understanding thereby facilitate implementation and compliance.

What is proposed instead is the crafting of a bill that will promote a career in the maritime industry which will encompass broader opportunities for the Philippine human capital. A "Maritime Education and Training Act" for an archipelagic country is long overdue. Such a proposed bill could take on the provisions of the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers related to maritime education but subject to a holistic determination of the demands of the maritime industry, consistency with national objectives, and the requirements of national and international standards.

An appeal to the legislators is submitted: Do not let the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers stifle the expansion of the Philippine merchant fleet (engaged either in domestic or international voyages).