House bill vests DMW with more power to help seafarers


THE House of Representatives wants to clothe the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) and other relevant agencies with enough powers to better protect the estimated 700,000 seafarers in either foreign-flagged ships or Philippine-registered vessels operating internationally, to ensure they have full labor protection from the time of training and recruitment up to their retirement from the profession.

With the government now expecting the hiring of more Filipino seafarers following the move by the European Commission (EC) to extend its recognition of seafarers’ certificates issued in the Philippines, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said there is more reason for senators to consider the pending Senate version of a House-approved bill on better protection for sailors in foreign-flagged ships.

Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Susan Ople expects a surge in demand for Filipino mariners not only in the European Union (EU) but in other parts of the world as well, as this EU decision is a “vote of confidence in the Philippines and in the quality of training, education and certification of our seafarers.”

Villafuerte said one measure that the House had approved on third and final reading in the last session month prior to its summer break was House Bill (HB) No. 7325 that seeks to provide “full protection” to Filipino sailors before, during and after their employment, especially in cases of maritime accidents, epidemics or pandemics, and natural or man-made crises.

The House voted 304-4 for HB 7325, or the “Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers,” that also aims to sharpen the global competitiveness of Filipino mariners by boosting maritime education, training, certification and licensing system.

“Our country is recognized as the world’s largest source of seafarers, with an estimated 700,000 working foreign-flagged or locally-registered seagoing vessels. In 2019, it was recorded that there were 380,000 Filipino seafarers overseas,” said Villafuerte, one of the authors of HB 2269 that was consolidated with the House-approved HB 7325.

Villafuerte noted the seafarers’ remittances of $12.8 billion over the 2019-2020 period.

To ensure full protection of mariners, Villafuerte said the House-passed bill requires shipowners to forge standard employment contracts (SECs) with their hired Filipino sailors, and mandates the prior review and approval by DMW of such SECs to ensure that the contract stipulations adhere to all the seafarers’ rights, as provided for in HB 7325.

HB 7325 grants the DMW Secretary, or his or her representative, access to both foreign-registered ships and Philippine-registered vessels operating internationally, for the purpose of “conducting inspection to ensure compliance with working and living standards of seafarers as provided under this Act.”

Recognized organizations may be authorized by the DMW Secretary to conduct the inspection of ship premises and issue the Maritime Labor Certificate or the Certificate of Compliance, as appropriate, in accordance with the provisions of this Act and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), he said.

HB 7325 directs the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to give “paramount importance to the safety and well-being of Filipino seafarers,” by providing adequate and timely intervention and assistance, such as representing their interests with foreign authorities concerned and facilitating their repatriation when they are distressed or beleaguered.

DOLE is mandated to ensure that Presidential Decree (PD) No. 442 or the Labor Code, as amended, and other applicable laws, international conventions, executive issuances, rules and regulations are fairly applied to seafarers who are on board ships operating domestically.

The measure directs the Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration (OWWA) to establish seafarer welfare facilities or centers in major crew-change ports, specifically in Metro Manila, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas, Iloilo, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and other areas deemed by OWWA to have a higher concentration of mariners.

Villafuerte said that with the Philippines’ ratification of the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention, “It is high time for the 19th Congress to write new legislation, in addition to our existing labor laws, in order for us to adhere to internationally recognized instruments such as those from the ILO (International Labor Organization) and IMO (International Maritime Organization.”