Round Table Discussions: LOWER HOUSE SEEKS MARITIME VIEWS

Stakeholders participated en force at the roundtable discussions (RTD) July 12th sponsored by Cong. Aniceto “John” Bertiz III (ACTS OFW Partylist) held in Quezon City at the RVM wing of the House of Representatives.

Seven are major groups:  Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union (AMOSUP), Masters and Mates (MMAP), Marine Officers and Ratings (AMOR), Overseas Filipino Seafarers and Families Welfare (OFSAFWAI), Maritime Training Centers (PAMTCI), Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA) and Archipelago Phil Ferries (AFCI-FastCat with PROA, association of roro operators).

Government policy makers came from the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Breaking news.

At our presstime, a rumor strongly circulates that the European Commission (EC) has partially banned the Philippines and derecognized. MARINA sources debunk this claim as EC is yet to respond by October this year, with some EC officials quoted still to read the Philippine response which are “too voluminous.”

Experts from our diplomatic corps say this is very unlikely as countries honor commitments on the pacta sunt servanda (that agreements must be kept) principle. In this case, EC has given deadlines and must wait on the compliance/expiry of the timelines before acting with partiality or finality, whether fully executory or on calibrated imposition.

The rumor on the partial ban appears emanating from a participant of a recent Intl Maritime Organization (IMO) meeting in London, England.

But as in the nature of rumors, there are “value add-ons” as these flit ears.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Targets.

In aid of legislation, Bertiz hopes the RTD unifies positions on different maritime issues, the resolution and the decision coming directly from stakeholders themselves. These could be remedial measures and should be proactive.

He fears the possible de-accreditation of the country based on the negative report of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) which for ten years made facility and policy audits on the Philippines.

Bertiz noticed the absence of ANGKLA Partylist of the maritime sector. But he announced the nominee, Rep. Jess Manalo, is reportedly abroad. Bertiz promised to furnish Manalo with the proceedings of the RTD.

Bertiz himself was obviously time-pressed that day, fleeting from calls of The Speaker of the House and to rushed meeting with the Secretary of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

He exhorted the discussants to solidify positions, not to wait for Congress to act. They should not rely only on Congress but may collaborate with other prime movers like the mass media, to include MARINA Administrator Guerrero whom he believes a good and qualified man.

The RTD proceeded informally to elicit more information, not meticulous in documentation as in Congressional hearings. But Chief of Staff (CoS) Jun Aguilar confirms RTD has a clear target of passing relevant resolutions before this Congress winds up by October.

No holds barred.

Aguilar ministered the RTD as he admitted his limitations on the topics. While of Marine Engineering Batch 77 at the Technological University (TUP), he shifted to mechanical engineering to be a land-based OFW. He was a shareholder of a shipmanagement firm, have classmates, friends and blood relatives in the merchant marine profession.

The CoS clarified RTD has no intention to “outface” anyone. “We want every stakeholder to take part… broaden so that all spectrum will be seen.”

Targets.

The six-hour RTD aimed at:

  • Compliance or not of the Philippines in the STCW as cited by EMSA, and implications
  • European Commission (EC) Reassessment Report Jan 2018
  • Philippine IMSAS Draft Audit Planning for 2021
  • Actions of stakeholders for full compliance
  • Other matters, time allowing

Government.

MARINA Jonrey Calderon, Supervising maritime industry development specialist, cited the background of EMSA inspections, detailing the chronology. He is also Vice Chair of the MARINA EC Task Force created in February, 2018.

Ms. Eleanor Fernandez, Chief, OPSD-CHED, has guarded pronouncements: “We know that EMSA visit took place even before the CHED was part of the issue.” Hence, Fernandez prefers to beg off comments on all the EMSA findings because “it is the responsibility of MARINA.”

She explains CHED has submitted to MARINA corrective actions consolidated in The Philippine Report submitted to the EC on April, 2018.

Ahem…

Asked point blank on the status of Philippine compliance, Calderon hemmed with details: Based on about ten years inspections (actually, audits) in “2006, 2010, 2012, 2013 (twice) 2014…7th inspection March 2017… “we must wait, comply, wait…ho-hum.

He thinks the “inspection of EMSA not comprehensive but random.” Topics are as EMSA wiles, be it policy, facility or implementation — and on EMSA perspective, not ours. ” Thus, the Philippines is pushed to a mendicant position of “continuous cycle of compliance.”

To illustrate, after the 7th inspection, EMSA gave us a draft report. MARINA worked at once on this and submitted corrective measures. Then came the final EMSA report, with comments on the Philippine submission.

Next move.

Back to the drawing board, MARINA focused on it from July to first week of September, 2017. By end of September, the Philippines submitted our voluntary corrective action (VCAP) which was forwarded to the EC. Both EMSA Report and the VCAP were evaluated for compliance with the Convention on training, certification and watchkeeping (STCW), as amended.

EC analyzed the EMSA Report and the VCAP alongside STCW with thrust on the safety of life and property at sea, the protection of the marine environment. The process took EC from October 2017 to early January 2018, sending us by end of the month an Assessment Report.

Calderon says MARINA submitted to EMSA on April 27 a reaction to this Assessment Report comprising of two voluminous documents. An EC response is expected by October, 2018.

(Calderon claims that in a meeting of the MARINA Administrator and the writer of the EC Report, the Europeans revealed they have not read the submission being “too voluminous”.

“What we want you to submit are factual evidence by October that you have implemented these correctly,” Calderon quotes the writer.)

Over and above.

Three deadlines: April 30, 2018, Philippine report must contain “measures done, or intended, to areas mentioned.” Next deadline is October 31st, for submission of “evidence of implementation” and a year after, 31 October 2019, the Philippines must show “evidence support Information Technology (IT) systems have been developed.”

Not asked.

Calderon says the 2019 deadline for the computer system was not asked by EC nor EMSA but our VCAP promised it. Because of the Pinoy penchant to give answers even without any question, EC itself inserted the term “voluntary” as VCAP volunteered things not asked.

Further reflecting EC objectivity, some EMSA points were not taken in the EC Assessment. The Philippines should not knee-jerk on the EMSA Report but react just on points taken by the EC Assessment, frills avoided or deleted.

The EC Assessment is the binding decision and official act of the European Union. Each extraneous point we “volunteer” is additional requirement we impose on ourselves.

(In the IMO assembly meeting of November 29th, Calderon, Atty. Vera Joy Ban-eg and a legal officer met informally with EC officials. The three were advised not to submit anything not asked; just answer points asked and do not impress with extra collaterals.

And wait for EC answers, not pepper with more answers to questions not asked.)

To wit, the February 2018 Task force is created, assuring EC and EMSA their observations will be corrected, fast. Yet to date, VCAP remains practically a concept.

Aguilar concludes: “Now it’s clear… the Philippines has put the cart ahead of horse. This is how we interpret it.” He is concerned we cannot do what we volunteered to do.

Stakeholder views.

PAMTCI President Arsenio Padilla notices EMSA questions firefighting and advance firefighting, not the other courses. But Circular 2018-02 changed just about everything, on top of earlier contradicting circulars and advisories, asking for more investments in re-development, tools and facilities — in six months!

MMAP VP Jaime Quinones claims the April 2015 EMSA audit took only “3 ½ hours and we completed everything because everything has been cleared and everything has been accepted by EMSA.” Quinones was a technical adviser then to MARINA on this shortest audit but “this is (only) my personal opinion,” he qualifies.

Quinones postulates in auditing, the scope, objectives, and limitation must be clear and agreed by both auditor and auditee. But this is not the case in EMSA which picks what it wants and thus the carousel of auditor observations, auditee compliance, remarks on the remarks — and worst — new topics and new concerns, ad infinitum.

Capt. Diofonce Tunacao, PAMTCI EVP as Training Director of Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific says PAMTCI has been asking for the assessment of EMSA on the VCAP but secured one only March or April. He believes he could have contributed as an actual operator, having observed with his chief engineer the pilot-testing of the ATFF in Sariaya, Quezon, by the New Simulator Center (NewSim).

With our expertise, the Philippine could have submitted better answers to EMSA which found weakness on the Philippine response (as maybe, it is just from a limited circle of MARINA insiders and not a synthesized industry position).

Calderon retorted on Tunacao’s views that MARINA has “corrected by incorporating the missing item and allotting time for the practical training. “ He gave a slight snide in that “Hindi naman kayo pinagbabawalan na mag input.” (No one is preventing you to input.)

Cooler heads.

Quinones dosed the potential simmer: MARINA should exercise better transparency so that we all could contribute as a country for the economy. It is not to belittle MARINA capabilities but the technical expertise of professionals in the field may come in handy.

He continued, “What we have today is a clear and present danger from EMSA. We stand to be eliminated at any time if and when we cannot reply with the requirements…” with about 50,000 jobs lost to our seafarers.

Quinones went on to warn this concern is not who is brighter but “the national economy that will be affected by the loses of employment of our very own brothers in seafaring.”

He appealed for unity and suggested to remember the Three “C”: communicate, coordinate, cooperate. With these, it is impossible to fail.

Asks but don’t do.

Responsible sources in the industry claim MARINA do consults with the public and private sector. But they also say they are never appraised what of their suggestions are officially included, and what reactions these gathered from EMSA and EC. Even members of the

STCW Advisory Council are in the blind.

Aguilar agrees MARINA should be more open, as a “report is supposed to be disseminated so that the stakeholders would be having knowledge…” and be more useful on subsequent waves. He also assured RTD “… is not just to find fault but to really come up with a better solution.”

MMAP President Edwin Itable laments MARINA has not honored commitment to present to stakeholders Philippine answers prior to submission to EMSA and EC.

AMOSUP legal counsel, Emmanuel Partido, notes we are a party to so many conventions but shortfalls are not as harsh as the STCW which could collapse the national economy.

He observes that to retain leadership in global manning, we cannot be complacent as Indonesia and China are knocking at our backdoor, even if we are still reputed as the best merchant mariners. He adds, EMSA is a creation of EU, with member-nation Denmark and Norway independently sending audits before EMSA to countries of their choice.

Hopefully, EU does not confirm EMSA’s conclusions as a recent law obliges all member-nations to follow all EC edicts.

Partido agrees with Quinones parameters must be resolved before any audit. While AMOSUP has agreements with European owned, managed or operated vessels, Partido is uncertain these AMOSUP labor agreements could be invoked over EMSA sanctioned by EC.

There may also be the trend Europeans may be recovering jobs lost to aliens, from ratings to officers, with the lowering of wages and perks. In Asia, Singapore shipowners are aggressive in recruiting nationals other than Filipinos.

Partido is happy Cong. Bertiz, possibly with Cong Manalo, may come in for Congress to fund the right person at competitive salary to deliver the pivotal expertise.

Figures.

MARINA says we have 695,742 seafarers (from traditional and hospitality sectors), 17% are merchant marine officers and 35% ratings produced from MHEIs, Bridging Programs and Senior High Schools (the latter claim too premature as it has just begun).

Other estimates round off to 700,000, of these 130,000 are officers. The numbers are huge— yet, each is a person with a story to tell.

Remittances from sea-based workers total US$5,578,000,000 for 2016; US$3,344,956,000 just from January to July, 2017. The 2016 performance is 11% of the national budget. Year 2017 is trending to increase of remittances.

About 73,200 Filipino seafarers (officers and ratings) are on board EU flagged vessels. According to EMSA 2017 Outlook, there are 28,874 Filipino seafarers holding Certificates of Competency and Endorsements attesting recognition by EU countries valid in 2014.

Data network.

EMSA also runs an STCW information system which contains objective and comparable information on seafarers holding EU certificates/endorsements and, therefore, able to work on board EU registered ships.

Should the Philippines fail again, future certificates issued by MARINA will no longer be recognized by the EU. However, officers (not ratings) with valid COCs may continue sailing until renewal time. This is aside from Port States sanctions and implementations yet to be discussed.

With a huge pool of students and cadets, crew and officers unable to board EU ships and sympathizing Administrations — the bogeyman now could become a horseman of the Apocalypse should the EU axe falls on the Philippines.

Allies.

Quinones sees EU helping members with weak economies by recovering jobs in seafaring. But this seems not doable as Filipinos are perceived as better alternatives. But to hold that leadership, he thinks we need “better strategies and better governance.”

He even recalls that in an IMO meeting, his European friends all chorused they will stick to Filipinos “no matter what happen.” The Greeks, having the biggest tonnage today in shipping, also assured Quinones, like Tsakos Shipping, one of the biggest in the world.

AMOR Sec-Gen Bienvenido Lorque demands “The Filipino cannot be just thrown by shipping companies…” even if some vessels are re-flagging to non-EC nations. There is also the Norway formula of re-training and re-assessment at the Norwegian Training Center-Manila to issue the COC. But this is rather embarrassing for the COC issued to Filipinos by a foreign country based on training done on Philippine soil.

AFCI-FastCat legal counsel Rex Tupas underscored they are first to embark into modernization, now with 12 new vessels. He says AFCI is not affected being domestic, beyond the ambit of EMSA. On top, people will have to travel the islands which AFCI serves well.

But local operators want to level up, also train cadets and even absorb retirees. They want government to analyze what EMSA wants and comply to bring the country to world-class standard. This should make us always competitive with our peers, even against resurging maritime nations panhandling with lower wages and perks.

As the Philippines did earlier, actually.

 

-o0o-

Comments

comments