Last week I participated in the Round Table Discussions (RTD) for international shipping convened by the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) and the Movement for Maritime Philippines (MMP) and where I had the rare chance of meeting Ambassador Carlos C. Salinas, erstwhile Philippine envoy to Spain and now International Maritime Organization (IMO) Ambassador. As envoy to Spain, Amb. Salinas represented Philippine interests in that country; as IMO Ambassador, he speaks for the maritime industry at-large, beyond national boundary limits.

In the early 1980’s, while with Marina’s Overseas Shipping Office, I worked closely with Amb. Salinas who shared his views on making the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the recognized maritime administration of the Philippines. At that time, the term “maritime administration” was not accorded much importance except the occasional reference to the US MARAD.

Neither Amb. Salinas nor myself had a grand view of what it needs to make Marina the country’s maritime administration as maritime policy and regulatory framework was focused on addressing the pressing issues of the times i.e. sea mishaps (remember the Dona Paz and Dona Marilyn), modernizing the domestic fleet (with containerization and roro ships were introduced in inter-island shipping). We were of course not into making those big steps, as MARINA was still in its infancy years and the country was undergoing a major political shake-up with the shift from an authoritarian to a democratic leadership. As an aside, for someone who was in the lower rung of the organization, my view did not matter much; but I was glad to provide the support to the champion of Philippine international shipping, Amb. Salinas.

During those years, we have seen the increase of ships under the Philippine registry of up to 500. Foreign beneficial owners of ships preferred re-flagging their fleet in the Philippines for reasons among which were the availability of a pool of Filipino seafarers and the relatively lower cost of operating ships under the Philippine flag in terms of taxes (with the reduction of the withholding tax on bareboat charter to only 4.5 percent). Having a Philippine fleet engaged in international operations helped promote the country’s seafarers which consequently increased demand for Filipino shipboard labor.

Then the setbacks—the integrity of the Philippine flag was attacked specifically on the implementation of the bareboat charter scheme as a mode of registering a ship. The much-touted concern for seafarers’ welfare and the call for establishing the “genuine link” were seen as the best excuse for detaining Philippine-flagged ships.

Thus, the start in the decline of the Philippine overseas fleet. It was then that we realized the Philippines lacked one crucial element that will promote the maritime industry not only as a provider of sea transport but also in developing equally important sectors such as shipbuilding and ship repair and human resource development – that of having a single maritime administration.

There are evident features that distinguish the various maritime sectors from each other and which eventually led to a fragmented industry. Seafaring for example became a function of labor generation for foreign-flagged ships, discarding altogether maritime safety, security and efficiency, attributes which shipowners consider highly important. Too, these are concerns, which maritime administrations must ensure, and safeguard. In like manner, human resource development focused in producing merchant mariners with hardly any program to promote naval architecture and other related maritime career. The policy and regulatory framework for international shipping did not move much even as shipowners become eagerly fastidious in their needs.

Credits to: Atty. Brenda V. Pimentel

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