Citra Mina: Joint ventures with local fishers 'customary practice'

MANILA, Philippines – General Santos City-based tuna exporting giant Citra Mina defended its practice of partnering with locals to recruit fishermen whom it does not regard as its employees. 

Lawyer Raul Miguel, legal counsel for Citra Mina Seafood Corporation, told a House panel on Wednesday, March 18, that the "sharing basis and joint ventures" in the fishing industry is "customary practice" that had existed long before the Philippine Labor Code.

Under joint ventures, fish processing firms partner with local boat owners or boat captains, who supply their fish catch to the corporation.

"Because the management really has to rely on the skills of the captain or the master fisherman who knows where they should be fishing, how they should catch, what time they should be casting their nets," he said.

This is the "convenient arrangement" in the tuna exporting industry when it comes to handline fishing, Miguel told the House committee on labor and employment.

The committee was hearing a resolution filed by outgoing Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, seeking an inquiry in aid of legislation into the alleged labor offenses of Citra Mina.

Miguel was responding to allegations that Citra Mina was employing dummies in hiring local fishermen to be able to deny employer-employee relationship with these fishermen and consequently not provide them with law-mandated protection for workers. (READ: Citra Mina: No direct relationship with 'abandoned' fishermen)

Industry partners

Miguel told Rappler it is wrong to call fish suppliers dummies, as Citra Mina and similar companies simply buy fish from them.

Earlier, Rappler learned that Citra Mina granted a P14-million loan to Felisa Ave, fish supplier and registered owner of ship Love Merben 2, for her to be able to build the said boat.

The fishing boat was recently seized by Indonesian authorities for alleged illegal fishing in the predominantly Muslim country's waters.

Some of the previously detained workers appeared during the House committee hearing, attesting that it is Citra Mina who provide them their cash advances prior to a months-long fishing expedition.

Miguel, however, said this is simply a long-time practice in the tuna fishing industry.

"The fish boat is registered in the name of Felisa Ave, and Citra Mina buys the fish catch of this particular vessel," he said.

"It is also a common practice in the local fishing industry, if you want to corner for example the fish catch because you need those fish for your processing operation, that you advance or you finance the operation," he explained.

Citing a Rappler report, Pangasinan Representative Rosemarie Arenas urged discussion on whether laws are needed to intensify government efforts against schemes creating leeway for employers to deny workers' protection prescribed by law.

Labor Undersecretary Rebecca Chato said efforts are underway to enhance compliance monitoring in the contracting of sea-based workers, including ensuring the provision of law-mandated benefits such as SSS, PhilHealth, Pag-ibig, among others. – Rappler.com