FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. on Thursday led the unveiling of a Philippine Green Lane, described as a pioneering effort for providing timely humanitarian relief not only for Philippine seafarers but for all sailors of the world.
“And special thanks to all those who did the actual provision after detailed provision of this superb process,” Locsin added, during the signing ceremony of the Interagency Joint Circular on Green Lanes. He was joined by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, DILG Undersecretary Bernardo Florece, DOJ Assistant Secretary Nicholas Felix Ty, and DOH-Bureau of Quarantine representative Dr. Edgar Maala.
The Philippine Green Lanes facilitate the speedy and safe travel of seafarers, including their safe, swift disembarkation and crew change during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Locsin.
He added that “with this guidelines we are answering the call of the International Maritime Organization [IMO], and the maritime industry, to put in place a framework for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the Covid-19 pandemic and we are doing more.”
Locsin said the country agrees with the IMO “that the current situation is unsustainable for the safety and well-being of the ship crew and the safe operation of maritime trade, and we need to address the situation of the world’s seafarers.”
He noted that without the mariners, “there would be no shipping,” and people to “ensure the maintenance of global supply chains.”
According to Locsin, the Philippines is “a maritime nation, the most important country of origin in the world for all shipping crews of all ranks, and our Filipino sailors play a key role in merchant shipping worldwide.” He said the economic impact of the Philippine maritime industry, comprising, among others, the crewing and manning industry and the training of seafarers, is huge and hard to measure.
“Remittances of seafarers alone contribute billions of dollars to the national economy,” Locsin said, adding that the European Union has a marked “preference for Filipino mariners and pays them top euro.”
A seaman’s entry-level salary ranges from P10,000 to P12,000 per month, sometimes up to P17,000 per month for the highly experienced. Seamen abroad have a starting monthly salary of $900.
From January to April, Filipino seafarers sent home $2.14 billion, up 10.7 percent from $1.93 billion in the same four-month period in 2018, according to the party-list group ACTS-OFW.
Seafarer remittances totaled $6.14 billion in the whole of 2018, up 4.5 percent from $5.87 billion in 2017.
The country’s top envoy added, “that is why the European Union (EU) has bent over backwards again and again in assessing the adequacy of our marine schools.”
The EU has sent representatives to the Philippines to make sure that its mariners who graduated from a host of marine schools meet international standards, he said.
Around 280,000 students graduate from maritime schools every year. In 1996, it was estimated that there were more than 250,000 Filipino seafarers; in 2013, that number was estimated to have increased to about 460,000.
Filipinos employed as seamen worldwide exceed any other nationality, according to records.
Locsin said, “We are aware that the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions worldwide have caused thousands of seafarers to be stranded at sea and they have to extend their service onboard ships, after many months at sea, enabled to be replaced after long hours of duty.”
Locsin thanked those who facilitated the Philippine Lane “to facilitate the speedy and safe travel of seafarers, including their safe, swift disembarkation and crew change during the Covid-9 pandemic.”
He singled out Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, “for your patience with my request in returning overseas Filipino workers in staggering numbers.”
“And special thanks for making allowance for the arrival and departure of nuns,” he said, saying Tugade could be a mother superior in his past life.
“But I have a soft spot for nuns and as general [Task force implementer Carlito] Galvez said, ‘we are getting points in heaven, the only reward we should expect for all we do.’”
He thanked the DFA partners and the interagency task force for their fantastic and speedy collaboration.