The Good, The Bad and The Ugly MAGNA CARTA OF FILIPINO SEAFARERS

By Marino World Editorial Pool

 

The Magna Carta has passed the Lower House on third and final reading with a staggering vote of 236-0 vote, so unanimous on House Bill 5685 which is a consolidation of six other bills. Key provisions of the House version are seafarer rights in line with the Maritime Labor Convention of 2006 (MLC) and covers the controversial shipboard training (SBT) of cadets.

HB 5685 consolidated HB 78 of Rep. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar; HB 457 of Rep. Jesulito Manalo; HB 574 of Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo; HB 1356 of Reps. Karlo Alexei Nograles and Jericho Jonas Nograles; HB 4360 of Rep. Tomasito Villarin; and HB 4525 of Rep. Democrito Mendoza.

Routing.

The House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs transmitted HB 5685 to the Senate on 31  July 2017 for deliberation of a counterpart bill which when also passed in the Senate shall go to the Bicameral Committee (jointly of Senators and Representatives) to resolve any conflict in the version of each Chamber. This is then transmitted to the President for approval or veto.

Should the President sign, it must be published in the Official Gazette and the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) passed by the concerned Executive Department before being implemented as a law.

Two other bills allied to SB 314 Magna Carta are pending in the Senate: SB 904 filed 26 July 2016 by Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito and SB 244 filed July 4, 2016 by Senator Loren Legarda.

The snag on SB 314 Magna Carta introduced by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara is on percentage of carrying capacity and wages for cadets on SBT.

Carrying capacity.

Angara wants 70% while HB 5685 provides for only 60% for MHEIs to show over the last three years that BSMT or BSMarE cadets are able to secure SBT berths. CHEd with MARINA shall ensure this requirement is met.

Angara’s position could mean closure of some schools which cannot comply; or at best, downgraded into offering just courses for ratings and not BSMT nor BSMarE. Final victims of this “reform” are obviously the students.

Section 22 on Angara’s bill provides for full minimum wage for probationary crew and others similarly situated.

Cadets, On-the-job trainees, apprentices and others who are onboard as part of the completion of academic or training program, shall be provided with allowances of no less than 50% of the minimum wage of regular seafarers.

While this could be implemented on foreign vessels, the domestic fleet is hard-pressed. There is no relief from MARINA and yet the Magna Carta adds expenses on the shipping company for food, lodging, amenities and instructor for the cadets on SBT.

True, CHEd allows firms to charge cadets on SBT. After all, the pragmatic reality is students are being secretly charged by cunning ship officials knowing SBT is mandatory and there is a huge shortage of slots. Yet, schools already charge students on the required SBT. If a portion of the fee is not shared to ship operators, then these are double whammies against hapless cadets.

PAMI President Felix Oca during the Movement for Maritime Phils (MMP) Convenors meeting claims such order for allowance will worsen the resistance of companies to accept cadets on board. Oca agrees with the stipend but must be on the owners’ discretion and not by a specific percentage in law.

Long overdue.

MARINA has not updated the industry since Administrator Marcial Amaro III reported about 200 Philippine flagged vessels are cheating on taxes  and refuse cadets for SBT.

Amaro made the revelation in a closed-door meeting before the formal start of the 42nd Convention and Elections of Officers of Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI), held February 10-11 at Malayan Colleges, Laguna.

Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade was present when Amaro reiterated his expose’ in his speech on the theme, “MARINA Updates on Policies for MET and Shipboard Training.”

Based on the STCW Convention, a minimum of 500 gross tonnage ships may be allowed for SBT.  CHEd requires 12 months of SBT after finishing either BSMT or BSMarE.

On validation of MARINA on ship measurements, it discovered frauds:

  • To lower taxes, measurements are decreased;
  • Being “unqualified,” owners are exempt from MLC orders on wages, insurance and provision of cabin, among amenities similar to other on-the-job training (OJT).

MARINA plans to issue a circular ordering each vessel to accommodate two SBT cadets, at least. This is not of choice but mandatory.

Reactions.

When are these to be implemented, asks MATS College Eric Henry Alterado. Amaro responded quite frankly there is no timeframe yet as he has just assumed office and they have only 70 inspectors, auditors and surveyors to go over 6,000 ships.

Before, local classification societies measure the vessels. But so much connivance are done to cheat government thus MARINA took over the function but hampered with lack of personnel and experts.

Eutiquio Reyes, Jr. of Our Lady of Fatima University suggested MARINA to re-evaluate or investigate circumstances with the help of victimized students forced to undergo twice the 12-month process to no fault of theirs.

Westbay College Pres. Benito Chiongbian suggested a matrix for vessels of 500-1000 gross tons allowing one Deck cadet and one Engine cadet and increasing as growth allows.

Amaro says he will take into advisement the proposals of Reyes and Chiongbian since MARINA is the agency that issues safe manning certificates.

Michael Esplago, MARINA Maritime Education and Training Standards Supervisor confirms the agency tried a circular mandating shipowners to board cadets but it did not pass allegedly being “burdensome” to shipowners.

Training ships.

C/E Alfredo Haboc, CHEd Ad Hoc Committee for SBT says, “Ship as the best training center.” He then jabs on MARINA for doing nothing in support of Philippine flagged vessels.

SBT program is comprehensive with various components — so many questions still not answered. Bottom line, SBT is about molding competent seafarers and officers. Haboc hopes for better things when students return to school with the new CMO of CHEd 70.

There is no update on the claim of Amaro at the PAMI Convention that the Korean Maritime University (KMU) is donating two vessels capable of 200 cadets each for training. At most, the iconic line of “continuing negotiations” between MARINA and KMU.

Verbiage.

Both House and Senate versions provide:

a. Regulate the operation of all educational and training institutions offering courses related to seafaring

b.Pursue grant programs such as scholarships, subsidies, loan assistance and other measures that will harness the skills of Filipino seafarers toward greater competitiveness given to new demands in the industry; and

c. Promote quality maritime education and training that respond to the needs of the industry and within minimum international maritime standards of competency.

Asked by Marino World after her meeting with PAMI last October 5, MARINA STCW-OIC Executive Director Joy Vera Ban-eg “no guidelines nor circulars” yet on SBT.

Ban-eg says we have no training ships except the T/S Oca of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP). MARINA looks at sea service (like Certificates on Competency-CoC), CHEd on the details of SBT. Hence, MARINA limits circular on shipboard familiarization; CHEd should take over on accreditation, guidelines on training ships/operators.

Again, the bureaucratic tugs-of-war hit hard on students who will have to comply whenever any of the regulatory agencies fancy to act on their wish or will.

(Atty Ban-eg has missed training ships other than T/S Oca. There is T/S Zammar jointly owned by Zamboanga Maritime Center and Harbor Shipping Services; T/S Pilipinas, formerly T/S Deckman, as featured in Tinig ng Marino. Whether T/S Pilipinas became operational or not, the raging issue is on SBT having to be paid by students rumored as high as P180k per year!)

Another training ship has been moored at Manila Bay, allegedly due to change of ownership from Phil Maritime Institute (PMI) to a new buyer and shall be renamed.

Last August, MAAP’s Diofonce Tunacao submitted to Cong. Manalo a study on acquisition and operation of training ships. As of press time, nothing has been issued on the status of the proposal which could alleviate SBT complexities.

No fees.

HB 5685 Section 7 provides “No fee or other charges shall be imposed on cadets, interns, apprentices, on-the-job-trainees or other persons similarly situated.

In conflict, there is a CHEd CMO on “Revised Implementing Guidelines on the Approved Seagoing Service Requirement” for the conferment of BSMT and BSMarE that states “fees for board and lodging may be collected as may be agreed upon by the MHEI and the shipping companies subject CHEd policies, standards and guidelines.

Yet, even C/E Haboc of CHEd admits this CMO is contrary to DoLE Order 129 Series of 2013 on “Rules and Regulations Governing the Employment and Working Conditions of Seafarers Onboard Ships Engaged in Domestic Shipping.”

Haboc straddles the fence by qualifying DoLE 129 is “an ideal policy” but impractical. Students suffer because there are not enough berths; shipowners confused whether they can charge on board and lodging during SBT.

At the Maritime Forum on Human Capital Sector of the MMP, C/E Chiongbian proposed using OWWA funds as loans to cadets to pay the cost of SBT.

Moratorium.

At the Usapang STCW of September 20 at the Midas Hotel, Haboc announced “First of all, it is now open for business, establishing new MHEIs (meaning, the moratorium on opening new maritime schools is over). Ergo, MARINA sanctions competitions rather than support for smaller schools to survive chopping off the limited market (already depressed by the K12 program). .

Atty Ban-eg amplifies, “We are here not to close down schools.” Instead, Ban-eg claims they are to assist for schools to align with MARINA’s MIDP 10-Year roadmap. Schools are pivotal on addressing problems on education, competency, confidence, qualifications.

ELSP.

CHEd Ellen Fernandez at the Usapang STCW held August 24 reports on status of MHEIs, viz:

Prior                                      July 2016                            Mar 7, 2017

MHEIS             91                                            77                                            55

BSMT               82                                            70                                            51

BSMARE          76                                            64                                            43

The second reclassification, factoring in SBT, made some institutions failed to comply goading them to make appeals to the technical panel. Some were granted but the final list is yet to be released with “finality” as the final, final, final list (on usual government ambivalence).

The ESLP program is for ratings which some maritime schools are offering, unable to comply with current regulations and requirements. Some dropped their BSMT and BSMarE degrees and concentrated on ESLP; others added the ELSP to get more students.

Such remedial measures to cope up is now a problem: CHEd is abolishing ESLP earlier claimed as a modified program aimed to produce qualified ratings for shipboard employment (again, criticized as an alternative for MHEIs who cannot comply with the carrying capacity). There are also views ESLP is to please the European Union audit (EMSA) as our internal “reform.”

CHEd circulars, memoranda and orders are easy to amend or repeal. But should The Magna Carta be passed into law— we need another law to amend/repeal this one barely born. If this is not parody, it is the ultimate in black humor.

Technical.

STCW Advisory No. 2017-14 suspends/terminates ESLP in maritime education with the full implementation of the Senior High School–Maritime Program (SHS-MP) of DepEd’s K-to-12 Program, ordering:

  1. By 01 October 2017, ESLP for Marine Deck and Marine Engineering is suspended/terminated;
  1. MHEIs offering ESLP are to cease from accepting new students under the ESLP;
  1. Those already taking-up the ESLP prior to 01 October 2017 may complete the academic requirements until 31 May 2019; earn the required seagoing service not later than 31 December 2020 to be considered by MARINA for certification as Ratings Forming Part of a Watch under the STCW Convention, 1978, as amended, subject to other requirements;
  1. ESLP providers not yet authorized to give SHS-MP shall comply with requirements of the Joint DepEd Memorandum and STCW Circular 1 Series of 2016; and
  1. Those failing to comply may be liable to a prohibited act under Section 8.3.8 of the IRR of Republic Act 10635.

Unwittingly, CHEd may have confined Pinoy seafarers to ratings, solidifying the sad trend that only 10% of BSMT and BSMarE holders aspire or become officers.

Rational voice.

MARINA Deputy Director Ban-eg waves the flag for a common reform with maritime stakeholders, asking for inputs and critiques for a joint decision on priorities and doables. Ban-eg is quoted “You have to decide, we have to decide together” in exploring opportunities in the reported shortage of ratings and officers.

Atty. Ban-eg is wary: “We have graduates who cannot comply with the shipboard training. As far as education is concerned, is there a need for us to create new courses, to develop new courses to address the maritime industry. For example, how are you going to modernize our domestic fleet without the necessary manpower…how about port operations.”

Thinking aloud, Ban-eg says CHEd should consider a bridging program for those graduates unable to board to be able now to meet that gap in the employment or needs of other maritime sectors like shipmanagement, cruise shipping, the likes as “compromises” since the current trend is education as a means for livelihood, not a philosophical pursuit.

Timeline.

The ISPS Code has been downloaded to MARINA but it is unable to implement due to lack of personnel and a policy/interpretation deadlock with the Office of Transport Security.

Stakeholders must input to streamline MARINA’s 10-Year MIDP, particularly in such issues as fishing, manpower, technical skills and allied expertise like drafting, welding, the likes, boosted in the K12 curriculum.

She insists on timeline after the talkies. Ironic, the MIDP Workshop on Maritime Manpower was sparsely attended because MARINA changed the date to September 26th, right smack the PAMI General Assembly at AMOSUP facilities.

Another try is scheduled October 19th, this time with major movers of MHEIs, to resolve conflicts and synchronization of CHEd-STCW-MARINA, even revision of the IRR. Communication is sought and opened — just “pick the right love language,” Atty. Ban-eg perks.

Recap.

It is a given government and legislators mean well for advancing changes. But they should visit well proposals that while idealistic, fall short of the intended results. This could be avoided by strict and compelling dialogue with maritime practitioners to provide the realities on the field as against the podium — and mandate proactively.

Be wary of knee-jerk reactions that mock policy like the genre of Italian spaghetti cowboys producing a merry mix of the good, the bad and the ugly in field implementation.

Authorities must guard against sweeping changes like just closing schools which cannot cope with new provisions. A considerate throw-back would establish they, too, have produced outstanding crew and officers plying international waters.

And our youth, are we pushing them to the bottom, mandating a culture of rejects by “alternative” courses that limit, that frustrate bigger dreams?

Hence, the defining question: quo vadis, Cadets?

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