THE country’s known union of maritime professionals with 57,000 strong members, the United Filipino Seafarers (UFS) has expressed its shock in the unceasing drop of Filipino seafarer deployment from 2016 until 2017.

UFS President Engr. Nelson Ramirez, in a statement said that in December2017, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) logged 378,072 deployed sea-based workers, tens of thousands far from 442,820 in 2016.

“Imagine 64,748 seafarers lost their jobs? And, God forbids, we expect more of this drop in the near future. Nakakaalarma ito. We can expect thousands of seafarers loitering in Kalaw since we will lose more principals and foreign shipowners,” Engr. Ramirez said.

Ramirez, a seasoned seafarer, foresees that the spike of jobless seafarers is in the likelihood of surplus in Filipino registered nurses in 2016 when it reached 200,000 (data according to the Philippine Nurses Association).

He further said that besides international economic turmoil and the swelling of maritime graduates every year, there is a decline in the deployment due to the proliferation of ambulance chasers, which disappoint and dishearten foreign shipowners.

“Maraming dahilan ang mga ganitong pangyayari, isa na riyan ang ambulance chasing na ikinasasakit ng ulo ng mga shipowners at principals. Nawawalan na sila ng tiwala sa atin,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez alleged that ambulance chasers are aiming at ship owners and principals, in connivance with bent seafarers, not to mention corrupt arbitrators and arbiters of National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and National Conciliation and Mediation Board, both under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

“We consider them a mafia which hounds the industry, as these “starving beasts” are waiting for the compensation that is being awarded to seafarers by some ill-fated manning agencies and principals, in exchange to their egotistical services,” Ramirez reiterated. He said that as an arbitrator, he personally knows that money changed hands and sometimes the decision favors to the highest bidder.

He also stressed that “this controversy tends shipowners to abandon their enterprise here in the country, along with our seafarers, and recourse to other races such as Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Myanmares, Russians, Ukrainians, Indians, among other emerging seafaring counterparts.”

Ramirez said after talking with top manning agencies in the country, they irked the proliferation of some old seafarers that are conniving with ambulance chasers.

“Yung ibang matatandang marino kunwari magsasakit-sakitan, at ito namang mga nagsasamantalang mga abogado, kukumbisihin ang mga marino na magsampa ng kaso laban sa kanilang manning agency at hihingi ng total disability. Ang mga abogadong ito ay may kakuntsaba sa ilang arbiters ng NLRC at arbitrators sa  NCMB. Milyones ang kadalasang nakukuha ng mga marino ngunit ang nakalulungkot higit sa kalahati nito ay napupunta lang sa mapagsamantalang abogado,“ according to Ramirez.

He further stated that of course the manning agents and shipowners appeal the ridiculous decisions of arbiters or arbitrators and in some cases the decisions are reversed, prompting the seafarers to restitute the awarded disability claims.

“Kawawang marino kasi siya lang ang obligadong magbalik ng milyones na iginawad sa kanya, samantalang  ang abogado niya na nakakuha ng mas malaking parte ay nagbingi-bingihan na lang. Isa pa, nagasta na niya ang pera. Foreign principals are leaving and are forced to leave because they have no other option to avoid fictitious claims filed against them,” averred Ramirez.

He also reiterated as these catastrophe looms, it would incur lesser dollar remittances; jobless employees from shut down manning agencies and training centers; and even maritime schools will be affected—a domino effect that is bound to happen if the confidence of foreign shipowners are mislaid.

Meanwhile, CF Sharp Crew Management President and CEO Miguel Rocha shared the same sentiments and said they lost roughly 1,000 crew due to ambulance chasing controversy.

“Filipino maritime professionals are competitive and attractive since they are dependable, hardworking, with good communication skills and are proficient in English. Thus, seafarers has become a significant workforce of the Philippines’ total labor force, bringing in $6 billion remittances to our government coffers, but sadly, things are totally different now,” Rocha said.

Rocha explained these principals are “so sick and tired with the ‘unimaginable, unpredictable and unbudgetable hullabaloo that’s why they are leaving the enterprise.”

Likewise, Capt. Rey Casareo of Cargo Safeway Inc., also a manning agency, was informed, quoting International Group for Protection and Indemnity (P&I), projected that Filipino manning agencies are bound to lose $49 million in revenues by 2019 if these ambulance chasers continue to operate its illegal activities, not to mention the thousands of jobs that Filipino seafarers are bound to drop.

The UFS president maintained that it is about time stakeholders must demonstrate its unitedness in curbing the menace in the industry by making a manifesto and submitting it to the lawmakers for an enduring solution to curtail ambulance chasing.

“We cannot afford to give away what we have sown in the worldwide maritime business to emerging markets of our counterparts.  Congress and Senate should formulate an enduring response to this problem—a bill that would defend our partners so our lifeblood will be preserved and protected,” Ramirez said.

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