Pushed and Pulled by Politics: THE MAGNA CARTA OF FILIPINO SEAFARERS
Passage is delayed by too many supporters: House Bill 8057 has 14 versions by 29 congressmen, original filed by Cong Michael Edgar Aglipay on July 1, 2019.
In the Senate, SBN-1745 was filed on July 28, 2020 by Joel Villanueva; SBN-1369 filed on February 19, 2020 by Nancy Binay; SBN-357 filed on July 11, 2019 by Risa Hontiveros; SBN-300 filed on July 8, 2019 by Ramon Revilla Jr. and SBN-135 filed on July 2, 2019 by Sonny Angara.
The updates or differences are triggered by provisions which may “answer” critical issues of the COVID-19 pandemic like Section 28 on Sickness Benefits During Public Health Emergencies; Section 30 on Repatriation; and, Section 31 on Emergency Repatriation/or Seafarers Onboard Foreign Registered Ships.
Section 32 on Quarantine and Medical Expenses in Repatriation hits hard on the shipowner or manning agency as they “… shall cover the following expenses until the seafarer is considered duly repatriated to the point of hire”:
- Medical care, board and lodging for periods spent by a seafarer in quarantine or self-isolation, whether or not the seafarer has symptoms or has been exposed to any
infectious diseases, virus or bacteria - until declared as free of any infection, virus or
ailment by the DOH Bureau of Quarantine or any DOH-accredited clinic; and
- Hospitalization and medical treatment when the seafarer is sick or infected - until
declared as fully recovered.
OWWA will pay should the seafarer need further quarantine or medical care.
Crew Change has been defined in Section 37, seems preparatory to the Green Lane, a bid by the country to be an international hub for crew change.
Point of hire.
The Senate and House versions may not have critical differences except for the insertion by Senator Villanueva of Section 42, Repatriation Destination, Chapter XI of Senate Bill 1745:
“SEC. 42. Repatriation Destination. - The repatriation destination, at the option of the
seafarers, may either be the place indicated in the SEC as the point of hire, or the
place stipulated under the collective bargaining agreement.”
It created an angry buzz in a recent maritime conference where licensed manning agencies echoed complaints of shipowners against escalating costs. Somehow, “point of hire” becomes an issue of whether upon landing in any Philippine airport or arrival of the seafarers in their home.
Also, Section 43 is on Emergency Repatriation for Seafarers On-board Foreign Registered
Ships in cases of war, epidemics, abandonment of ship by shipowners, natural or
manmade disasters or calamities. The Dept of Foreign Affairs (DFA) acts, in coordination with the POEA and OWWA, and international agencies.
While DFA shall draw from the Emergency Repatriation Fund (ERF) under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) to defray the expenses, the POEA shall require manning agencies to effect repatriation within forty-eight (48) hours, unless prevented with valid reasons. Failing, the manning agency shall suffer suspension or cancellation of license.
OWWA gets to pick the costs, subject to the reimbursement of the manning agency within
sixty (60) days from notice. This is a financial dagger at the throat of the manning agency.
The Red Cross (PRC) had been replaced at all ports and airports by Firstaide Diagnostics, being the only accredited Molecular Microbiology Diagnostic laboratory (Biosafety Level 2) COVID-19 Testing Facility by the Ports Authority (PPA), commissioned by the Dept of Transportation (DOTr) to be a One-Stop-Shop for inbound and outbound travel requirements for seafarers.
It claims to be equipped with abGenix - Automated Nucleic Acid Purification System for rapid extraction via streamlined work processes utilizing Magnetic Pillar Rod technology while promoting reliable results fit for sensitive downstream applications; and abCyclerQ (real-time PCR system) to ensure accurate data analysis.
A maritime viber group is frustrated on the snail phase of Firstaide which reveals it is unprepared for its exclusive snatch for the Green Lane requirement, to point just an aspect.
Some 300 seafarers are locked at NAIA Terminal 3 for failure of Firstaide to release test results.
Pay to be free.
Firstaide service appears free, funded by Philhealth. But really, it is not free because users pay premium at Philhealth. PRC was replaced for publicly airing its disgust with Philhealth for not paying obligations to PRC bill breaching over billion pesos over time.
PPA will wave collection of some port fee for shipping companies/operators and returning seafarers be given free coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing.
These initiatives started 01 December 2020 under RA 11494, also known as the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act” (Bayanihan 2).
To reduce the adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the shipping industry, the amount of P250 million will be utilized as financial assistance to subsidize the fees to be collected from domestic shipping owners, specifically, dockage (domestic) and lay-up fee (domestic).
For shipping companies/operators must be a holder of a valid Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC), Provisional Authority (PA), or Special Permit (SP) issued by the MARINA and holder of a valid accreditation certificate issued by PPA.
Only returning Filipino seafarers who have disembarked through Philippine ports and airports are entitled to avail of the free COVID-19 testing.