Senate bill seeks to help Filipino seafarers returning from abroad

MANILA, Philippines – To accommodate seafarers returning to the Philippines after years of hard work overseas, a Senate bill proposes the creation of an office that would assist them with their reintegration.

Senate Bill 244 or the proposed Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers includes the establishment of a reintegration center within the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

"The center shall provide a mechanism for their reintegration into the Philippine society, serve as a promotion house for their local employment, and tap their skills and potentials," said the measure filed by senators Joel Villanueva, Loren Legarda, Joseph Victor Ejercito, and Juan Edgardo Angara.

Based on the measure, the reintegration center should be able to: 

Captain Gaudencio Morales, founding chairman and president of the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines, highlighted how some seafarers are falling into bankruptcy even after long years of service.

"There's really a gap because the mindset of our Filipino seafarers is to always spend. In the reintegration program, there should be at least somebody who will mentor them how they could achieve financial literacy and how they can have a livelihood after seafaring," said Morales in an interview on Wednesday, December 6.

A 2016 study by the policy arm of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Institute for Labor Studies, found that Filipino migrant workers generally have a low level of preparedness for their return, both financially and socially.

DOLE and the OWWA recently vowed to improve the reintegration efforts for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). One step was the placement of the National Reintegration Center for OFWs under OWWA based on the amended OWWA law.

But stakeholders from the seafaring industry stressed that a separate unit for their sector is necessary.

Citing figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO), Senate committee on labor and employment chairman Joel Villanueva said 20% of the 1.2 million seafarers around the world are Filipinos. 

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) also said sea-based Filipino workers were able to remit as much as $1.9 billion from January to April in 2015.

"We want to ensure that the seafarers are given protection before, during, and after their employment. The state's obligation to assist them does not end the moment they go on board the ship," said Villanueva.

Aside from creating a reintegration center geared toward seafarers, the measure also specifies mechanisms to protect seafarers from illegal recruitment and to uphold their rights such as the access to educational advancement and training, humane work conditions, and self-organization, among others. – 

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.