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Drown-proofing the Maritime Filipino

By: Segundo Eclar Romero - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | January 03,2023 - 08:00 AM

It’s another year!

The first urgent problem of this maritime nation is the impending ban on Filipino seafarers on ships flagged in the European Union for not meeting the training standards set by the European Maritime Safety Agency. As a nation where the government and the private sector should have joined hands as early as the 1980s, to ensure that our seafarers are trained to standard in maritime safety, we have dropped the ball.

Once again, I suspect we will try to resolve this problem not so much by taking the necessary painstaking steps that will solve the training and accreditation gap, but by political “diskarte” or attempt to use a temporary top-level smooth interpersonal relations fix.

I leave it to the President and members of the Cabinet and Congress to get us out of this dilemma.

Let me address the other maritime Filipino problem—something so granular it is right down the alley of anyone who cares to do something about it. This is about “drown-proofing the Philippines.”

The phrase comes from an article by Jonathan P. Guevarra et al. entitled “I want to see a drowning-free Philippines: A qualitative study of the current situation, key challenges, and future recommendations for drowning prevention in the Philippines” (https://bit.ly/3jLNOFy). Indeed, why should Filipinos living in a vast sea studded with 7,641 islands with hundreds of rivers, lakes, and waterways have a problem with drowning?

Based on statistical trends, there will be at least 3,300 drowning fatalities across the archipelago. With such a wide expanse of seas, one would think that Filipinos learn to swim the way they learn to walk. The World Health Organization reports that 45 percent of drowning deaths globally are children and teenagers. Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children under 15 years of age. Children in the 1-4 age groups are at the greatest risk. Drowning in low- and middle-income countries is six times more likely than in high-income countries.

Parents are meticulous in teaching their kids to cross streets safely, but we seem to neglect to drown-proof our children. It is estimated that a lack of swimming skills accounts for two out of five drowning incidents. Filipino parents should answer this: Can your children aged 10 and up swim a minimum of 50 meters using any swim stroke? We should be asking adults this same question.

Now that there is a clamor for revisiting the K-to-12 curriculum, swimming and water safety courses should be considered required subjects. It is time to revisit the House bill to make swimming classes mandatory in private and public elementary and secondary schools filed by then congressman Frederick Siao in 2016. The bill makes the classes the joint responsibility of the Department of Education and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Critical to the implementation of the scheme is a pool of trained instructors or certified lifeguards to conduct the swimming lessons and water safety and safe rescue skills in a “safe and controlled environment.” The NDRRMC will formulate a “drowning prevention plan” to serve as a guiding framework for the actions of schools. Local government units will formulate their own community action plans pursuant to the framework.

One way of generating a “surge force” for generating the peopleware (designers, program developers, managers, trainers) to drive this drown-proofing drive is to enlist the engagement of a less-known government agency, the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), which is an attached agency of the National Economic and Development Authority.

The PNVSCA has working relationships with foreign volunteer organizations, among them the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, the Korean International Cooperation Agency, the United States Peace Corps, the France Volontaires, and many others. Appropriate experts from these international volunteer organizations can be tapped to drive the drown-proofing initiative.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) should also be engaged. Tesda offers a Lifeguard Services National Certification III under its Social, Community Development, and other Services Sector.

There are also NGOs to be tapped, like the Philippine Lifesaving Society which seeks to help prevent the high rate of drowning incidents and injuries and help provide access to lifesavers, equipment, and technology.

We need to stop dribbling the ball and work on these flagship problems of our maritime nation—substandard seafarers and drown-prone people. For once, let’s muster the multisectoral, programmatic, vision-driven convergence required, so we can feel we are a real maritime nation.

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