MARINA chief, 4 others face plunder, graft raps

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority and four other incumbent and former MARINA officials are facing complaints for plunder and graft for allegedly allowing the illegal operation of 22 foreign dredger ships, mostly Chinese-owned.

In a 10-page complaint filed yesterday before the Office of the Ombudsman, members of the United Filipino Seafarers (UFS), represented by their chairman emeritus Nelson Ramirez, alleged that MARINA chief Sonia Malaluan and other officials violated Section 3 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and RA 7080 or the Plunder Law.

Also charged were MARINA domestic shipping office director Rowena Hubilla, MARINA-National Capital Region director Marc Pascua, former administrator Hernani Fabia and former chief of staff of the Office of the Administrator Jabeth Dacanay.

Apart from criminal charges, the UFS said the respondents must also be held liable for administrative offenses of grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The cases stemmed from the grant of special permits (SPs) that supposedly perpetuated the operation of 22 foreign dredgers beyond the maximum two-year period allowed under MARINA Circular No. 2011-04.

The seafarers’ group said the validity of the SPs, issued in 2022 when Fabia was administrator, was extended despite lack of basis.

The UFS cited Section 4 of MARINA Circular No. 2011-04, which states that SPs may be granted to foreign registered ships provided that their validity will not exceed two years, “beyond which, the foreign vessels are required to be registered under the Philippine flag.”

The group said the SPs were granted to foreign-licensed vessels despite the presence of Philippine ships that could perform dredging activities, seismic surveys, drilling rigs and other maritime projects of the government and private shippers or consignees.

The UFS said the illegal operation of the foreign dredgers continued following Malaluan’s issuance of MARINA Advisory No. 2024-25, reclassifying the foreign dredgers as “highly specialized vessels.”

The group said that because of the unlawful extension of the SPs’ validity, the government was deprived of around P66 million in revenues that should have been levied from the foreign dredgers.

The advisory’s issuance resulted in the non-collection of fines amounting to P3 million per vessel, or a total of P66 million for 22 ships, according to the group.

“The total amount of uncollected fines exceeds the threshold for plunder, which is P50 million,” the UFC said.

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