Villanueva calls for reopening of more airports, seaports to hasten process of arrival, departure of Filipino seafarers

Senator Joel Villanueva on Saturday called for the reopening of more airports and seaports to fast track the arrival as well as the deployment of Filipino seafarers.

Sen. Joel Villanueva (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

The chairman of the Senate labor committee issued the appeal as he warned the government of a looming drought in the deployment of seafarers due to its continued restrictions on travel and movement amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Dahil po sa limitadong pagbyahe at iba pang mga pagbabawal sa transportasyon, pahirapan po maka-alis ang ating mga seafarer para palitan ang mga kasamahan nila na kasalukuyang naglalayag, at hirap din makauwi sa kanilang pamilya ang mga bumaba sa kanilang barko (Because of the limited travels and other restrictions to transportation, our seafarers find it difficult to leave to replace their co-workers who are still sailing and have yet to come home to their families)," Villanueva said in a statement.

"Kailangan po ng mga barko na magsagawa ng crew change para masigurong patuloy ang kanilang operasyon ng maayos at makapag-pahinga ang ating mga seafarer (Ships also have to have a crew change to make sure that they continue their operation well and so that our seafarers could rest)," he added.

He said his office received reports that shipowners and international manning agencies are already looking for alternatives to Filipino crew due to supposed difficulties in Philippine crew change process.

Other countries deploying seafarers such as Ukraine and India could stand to gain in the country’s failure to deploy its seafarers, and it could trigger a two-year drought in deployment in the short term, he raised.

"We will lose by default to seafarers from other countries," he said.

The labor committee will hold an inquiry on the situation of Filipino seafarers amid the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, August 25.

He said the government should immediately help address the crew change problem of the 460,000-strong sector as he emphasized its contribution to the economy.

"Our seafarers play a vital role in both the national and global economy, contributing close to US$7 billion in inward annual remittances to the country,” Villanueva said.

"In 2017, Filipino seafarers contributed US$5.87 billion in remittances, up by 21.4 percent from US$4.84 billion in 2012,” he added.

He also noted that Philippines enjoyed a good standing in the international shipping industry for many decades, citing that Filipino seafarers make up over 25 percent of the over 1.5 million seafarers worldwide.

"As policymakers, we should look into their concerns and introduce legislation that would address these. We will work for common grounds to help our seafarers without flouting the regulations intended to prevent the further spread of COVID-19," Villanueva said.