Filipino priest to Pope Francis: Help PH tuna workers

COMPENSATION. Father Rey Ondap (in white shirt) joins calls for giant fishing firm Citra Mina to compensate 43 of its workers it had allegedly abandoned in a detention facility in Indonesia. The workers returned to the country on on February 23, 2015. Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

COMPENSATION. Father Rey Ondap (in white shirt) joins calls for giant fishing firm Citra Mina to compensate 43 of its workers it had allegedly abandoned in a detention facility in Indonesia. The workers returned to the country on on February 23, 2015.

Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The extent of problems hounding the workers of Philippine tuna export giant Citra Mina has prompted a Filipino priest to seek the intervention of Pope Francis.

In a letter to Francis dated April 30, Reverend Father Rey Carvyn Ondap appealed to the pontiff to write to Citra Mina and ask that it grant the demands of its workers.

These demands include reinstating 104 factory workers allegedly sacked for forming a union and recognizing the union; and regularizing 43 repatriated fishermen contracted by Citra Mina's fish supplier.

Ondap, executive director of the Passionist Center for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Inc, submitted the letter while he was in the Vatican.

"We believe your influence can be of great help for the resolution of the problem. We believe so much of your power to enlighten the management and the owner of the company," Ondap wrote to Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

The letter cited Citra Mina's "neglect on occupational safety and health standards causing work-related diseases and accidents in the high seas," as well as "unfair immediate dismissal and unjust jailing of 3 workers," and "non-recognition of workers’ legitimate union," among others. 

Ondap wrote that "the social impact" of Citra Mina's alleged labor violations "is getting worse." 

He said the dismissed workers "have no more food at home" and "have no more money to pay for their bills like electricity, water, and their basic needs."

Ondap told Francis in his letter that the workers "stopped sending their children to school," and that one worker was left by his wife "due to unemployment."

"Citra Mina case is just a tip of the iceberg if we talk of labor malpractices in the whole tuna industry in General Santos City," wrote Ondap, who is also based in the city known as the country's tuna capital.

The "People's Pope," as the Argentina-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio is known, preaches about reaching out to the people in the fringes, or the poor and the vulnerable.

It is Francis' humility that makes him an inspiration to both believers and non-believers around the world, young people have observedHis appeal transcends religious boundaries, and he is considered a darling not only of the devout but of the secular press.

Named TIME Person of the Year in 2013, Pope Francis believes the church's first duty is to prioritize society's wounded. 

PASSIONISTS. Father Rey Ondap holds his letter to Pope Francis as he stands beside Vatican press office vice director and fellow Passionist, Father Ciro Benedettini. Photo from Ondap

PASSIONISTS. Father Rey Ondap holds his letter to Pope Francis as he stands beside Vatican press office vice director and fellow Passionist, Father Ciro Benedettini.

Photo from Ondap

The case of PH tuna industry workers

While his family is based in the United States, Ondap has been living in General Santos City for 6 years now.

The highly urbanized city of more than half a million is home to some 200,000 workers in the tuna industry, according to national labor center Sentro.

The village of Tambler, about an hour away from the airport, has tuna canning factories and fish processing firms whose products are for export. (READ: Filipino wives appeal for fishermen-husbands detained in Indonesia)

Residents of the surrounding region migrate to General Santos City to try their luck as a handliner – a fisherman who utilizes a vertical rod with a bait, often a squid – or a canning factory worker.

Handline fishing in the deep sea is among the fishing methods to catch the tuna for export, often sashimi-grade. 

An initial investigation by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) found that handliners in General Santos are often subjected to hazardous working conditions, lodged in cramped quarters with no clean and adequate water. (READ: Decent jobs? The case of Filipino handline fishermen)

Handliners often "start at a tender age" and work "months away from home" with "long hours" and "obscure" rest periods, the DOLE probe found.

Ondap has worked closely with advocates in fighting for the protection of these workers.

"Anybody poor and oppressed, I cannot sleep if I cannot help....This is my call," said the Passionist priest, who prefers to be "with the crucified ones of today."

"We continue to support the cause of the poor and remain to speak on behalf of the voiceless and those who are not being listened to," he said. – Rappler.com