ICMA and familiarization of the culture of Filipino seafarers
Unlike land-based Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), a Filipino seafarer is required to make an allotment which shall be at least 80 percent of the seafarer’s monthly basic salary, payable once a month to his designated allottee in the Philippines.
The issue of seafarers remittances as mandatory while it is only voluntary for the land based OFWs was raised during the second “AHOY Training and Immersion Course” organized by the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) held from Feb. 20 to 25, 2023 in Pasay.
ICMA is a free association of 29 charitable organizations working for the welfare of seafarers, fishers and their families. These organizations represent various Christian churches and communities that operate in more than 400 seafarers’ centers in more than 100 countries.
ICMA was founded in 1969 to encourage collaboration and mutual assistance among seafarers’ ministry organizations.
It is the mission of ICMA to promote unity, peace and tolerance as it is the duty of every chaplains, ship visitors, and volunteers and advocates for seafarers’ welfare to serve the stakeholders regardless of nationality, religion, culture, gender or ethnic origin.
Due to the high number of Filipino seafarers who visit port based welfare centers around the world, the training course allowed participants to gain a first-hand knowledge of Filipino seafarers’ social and cultural background and other institutions in the Filipino maritime sector so as to better serve them.
Some of the members organizations of ICMA include Stella Maris, Mission to Seafarers, Sailor Society, German Seemannsmission, among others. Lectures were given by seasoned academicians, government representatives and maritime stakeholders along with familiarization tours in Intramuros, Quiapo, dormitories and centers.
I delivered a lecture on the protection of seafarers’ rights dealing with legal issues on disability and death benefits due to illness or accidents as well as illegal dismissal, nonpayment or underpayment of salaries and wages and illegal recruitment.
It is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five crew on board a vessel at any time.
The sea-based sector’s remittance comprises at least 22 percent of the total dollar OFW remittances. Data from the website of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showed the fluctuation in seafarers’ dollar remittances.
The data noted US$6,870,827,000 in 2017; US$6,139,512,000 in 2018; US$6,539,246,000 in 2019; US$6,353,522,000 in 2020; US$6,545,002,000 in 2021; and US$6,715,880,000 in 2022.
From the BSP records since 2017, the sea-based sector’s remittances increased in 2018 by US$731,315,000, then increased in 2019 by US$399,734,000, then decreased in 2020 by US$185,724,000, then increased in 2021 by US$191,480,000, and increased again in US$170.878,000.
In 2022, total OFW remittances amounted to US$32,539,430.00 where US$25,823,550,000 are from land based workers while US$6,715,880,000 are from deployed seafarers.
In terms of deployment, the records from the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) show that the total number of seafarers deployed overseas reached 376,663 in 2017; 337,502 in 2018; 507,730 in 2019; 217,233 in 2020; and 345, 517 in 2021.
Blogger Fred Uno of MarineCafe.com pointed out in an article that Filipino seafarers are being shortchanged in the conversion of their dollar remittances to pesos as he described such practice as “thievery” in the maritime industry.
Some unscrupulous manning agencies shave off at least one or two pesos from the foreign exchange rate, misleadingly calling the cut as “service charges.”
Some manning agents keep part of the remittances when converting the money to pesos by using an exchange rate that is usually one or two pesos lower than the official BSP rate.
Such tampering with the dollar-to-peso rate, he added, results to the shortchanging of Filipino seafarers since their families receive less than they should in allotments.
These practices are clearly contrary to the letter and spirit of the POEA contract, which says that facilitation by the manning agency of allotments shall be “at no expense to the seafarer, and that “allotments shall be paid to the designated allottee in Philippine currency at the rate of exchange indicated in the credit advice of the local authorized Philippine bank.”
“The seafaring worldview is presupposed by the expression “We’re in the same boat.” Whatever their nationality, religion, culture, gender or ethnic origin might be, they realize that deep within, people are basically the same. Wherever they embark from and disembark at, they are bound to meet other seafaring people like themselves,” says Bishop Ambo David, president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
(Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)
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