The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has yet again earned the ire of maritime stakeholders at the manner in which the former handled the private sector consultation for the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for RA 10635, “An act establishing the MARINA as the single maritime administration responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the 1978 international conventions on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) for seafarers.”

 
Last June 5, MARINA held a public hearing session at the Philippine Ports Authority GAD Center in order to give the private sector their say regarding the IRR provisions. However, the attendees felt that the meeting was nothing but window dressing. The different provisions were presented one by one but during the portion for questions and recommendations, the discussion facilitators were almost “Nazi-like” in screening who gets to speak, and for how long.

 
The entire session took only a little over four hours from start to finish – a ridiculously brief amount of time which left little chance for meaningful feedback from the attendees. The proceedings were such a farce that Capt. Rodolfo Estampador, president of the Conference of Maritime Manning Agencies (COMMA), felt moved to call a halt to the discussions. When his request was denied by the facilitators, Capt. Estampador chose to walk out and the “consultation” continued in his absence.

 
The attendees unanimously felt that the private sector session was prematurely wrapped up; especially so because the IRR draft was due for immediate ratification within the next few weeks. In the end, the attendees were simply told to write and submit their respective position papers. MARINA STCW executive Tormon’s excuse was that they were pressed for time.

 
Tormon explained that the IRR was initially drafted last March and MARINA was told that they were  given six months to review and modify the IRR as needed. However, by April, MARINA was suddenly told that the IRR draft has to be finalized by May, a scant two months instead of the half-year period originally allotted.

 
We can’t help but feel that this is plainly wrong on so many different levels. Let us count the ways.

 
First of all, MARINA seems suspiciously driven to sweep away any reactions and input to the provisions of the IRR draft. Tormon uses time crunch as an excuse for the rather arbitrary public consultation but if the approval of the IRR draft is so urgent, then it becomes even more pertinent for MARINA to hear out the industry stakeholders’ input. Apparently, the democratic process is not a priority in the matter.

 
Tormon pointed out: “MARINA is empowered kung ano ba yung tama dito na ilagay. At the end of the day, it is the MARINA, the Administration that will set the standards, the guidelines, para maka-comply tayo sa STCW. That’s the ultimate goal.” The implicit message was that despite objections and recommendations from the private sector, MARINA would continue to do what it wants, industry recommendations and position papers notwithstanding.

 
Second, the IRR draft also sprang a rather unpleasant surprise, as it muddles over what MARINA’s responsibilities should be. It would not be out of place to call MARINA out as an unconstitutional cherry-picker.  If the IRR draft is approved as it is, then it would give MARINA the newly-acquired authority to issue clearances, certificates and licenses instead of CHED, the NTC and the DOH, among other agencies. And yet, MARINA will not be obligated to take over the actual operational functions of these respective agencies. What does this mean? The short answer is that MARINA gets to do the fun job of issuing out documents while the agencies continue to carry out the grunt work.

 
On this count alone, the IRR draft is already strikingly inconsistent with the provisions of the law which it is supposed to be based on. It is clear as day that RA 10635 mandates MARINA as the single maritime administration to implement the STCW conventions. Section 4(c) states that when it comes to functions related to the effective implementation of the STCW convention, MARINA shall assume ALL (not just some) of the powers and functions of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), the Commission of Higher Education (CHED), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

 
In fact, it specifically states that MARINA shall be the “one-stop shop agency” for all purposes relating to STCW compliance. Nowhere in RA 10635 does it say that MARINA can run roughshod over other government agencies when it comes to the division of labor.
What could possibly motivate MARINA to push for this kind of set-up? Well, numerous accounts of blatant bribery and shenanigans regarding the issuance of CoPs and SIRBs provide very revealing clues. If the stories from disgruntled seafarers and applicants are anything to go by, the going price for the “expedited” issuance of CoPs and SIRBs run to the tune of Php3000 and up. Can you imagine how much more ”rewarding” it would be if the same corrupt heads are put in charge of PRC licenses, communication permits, medical clearances, etc. We can practically see the peso signs reflected in their eyes.

 
On a side note: it is borderline amusing to see how eager MARINA seems to be when it comes to acquiring more document-issuing functions, considering that they have remained inutile in implementing a better system for the CoPs and SIRBs which have been their job for decades. Before MARINA took over the SIRB issuance from the Philippine Coast Guard in 1994, renewing a Seaman’s Book only took a few hours. You went in, filled out the application, waited a bit and came home with your document.

 
Now, it takes an average of three months – basically 90x longer than it used to be. Can you imagine what would happen if the same ineptness is carried over to the processing of marine engineering licenses, the NTC licenses, and other documents which are so vital to the gainful employment of Filipino seafarers? It would be so comical if it weren’t so tragic.

 
As for the draft of the IRR document per se, we believe (along with other industry stakeholders) that it is nowhere close to acceptable. Following the directions of MARINA, several stakeholders submitted position papers: COMMA, the Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI), the Philippine Association of Maritime Training Centers (PAMTC) and the Joint Manning Group (JMG).

 
COMMA’s position paper strongly stated what they thought of the IRR draft: “inconsistent, superfluous, redundant, (and) lacking in merits.” Meanwhile, PAMI presented several suggestions which addressed fundamental corrections. For instance, the document did not even provide a clear definition of the term “conflict of interest” (a concept which apparently exists in Tormon’s blind spot?); there was no distinction between “closure” and “phased-out” as it pertains to educational programs; and certain provisions that were inconsistent with those currently implemented, like the CHED’s Manual of Regulations for Private Higher Education (MORPHE).

 
It is not surprising that the IRR draft lacks several crucial aspects. After all, it was simply thrown together within a short period of time without MARINA feeling the need to ask for input from those with indispensable knowledge in the industry. Just to provide a point of comparison: when Rep. Aglipay filed for the Magna Carta for the Filipino Seafarers, country-wide public consultations were held to make sure that the said law has the foresight and perspective needed to benefit the interested sectors. Aglipay sought feedback from different maritime sectors, unions, and even international organizations.

 
What’s with the indecent haste to pass the IRR? Yes, we recognize the urgent need for STCW-compliance but does that excuse a so-so execution that will only end up causing more trouble in the long run? It is this attitude of mediocrity that has led us to fail numerous EMSA audits. When will the government officials learn their lesson? When we have finally been blacklisted?

 
MARINA has been attempting to paint UFS in a negative light because we have always been vocal of our disgust and frustration at the numerous and multiple kapalpakan that the Mejia administration has been stumbling into, one after the other. Mejia had even gone so far as to declare the UFS-led call for his resignation to be motivated by a personal agenda. But now that the industry stakeholders themselves have started to protest against the lack of transparency and poor democratic governance that MARINA has displayed in connection with the IRR draft, where will they find a convenient scapegoat now?

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