Honoring the people of the sea

PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero Ballescas - The Freeman

Since 2010, June 25 has been designated as International Day of the Seafarer by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). This day honors the seafarers who, despite the risks and dangers they encounter in their jobs and in their personal and family lives, “play a vital role in world trade and truly contribute in ensuring a stable world economy and society.”

This year’s theme --“I am on board with gender equality”-- celebrates the women with maritime careers and professions onboard and onshore.

The international celebration calls attention to the important global role of the seafarers and to “the issues affecting their work and lives.” Governments are enjoined “to develop policies that lead to fair treatment of seafarers at ports” while “private ship companies and owners are also called to provide their employees proper facilities and comforts while they are at sea.”

Yearly, every last Sunday of September, the National Seafarers’ Day is celebrated in the Philippines. This September celebration celebrates the “People of the Sea.” The term- used by Pope John Paul II in his January 31, 1997 Apostolic letter, the Motu Proprio on the Apostleship of the Sea- include: “a) seafarers, those who are actually serving on merchant ships or fishing boats, and those who have undertaken a voyage by ship for any reason; b) maritime personnel: 1. seafarers, 2. those who are usually on shipboard because of work; 3. those who work on oil rigs; 4. pensioners retired from the aforesaid jobs; 5. students of maritime academies; 6. those who work in ports; c) people of the sea: 1. seafarers and maritime personnel, 2. their spouses, minor children and all those who live in a maritime person's home even if he is not currently a seafarer (for example, pensioners); 3. those who work on a permanent basis with the Apostleship of the Sea.”

This year, we especially honor the 22 Filipino crew members of the FB Gem-Vir 1 rammed by a Chinese vessel last June 9 at Recto Bank and who were left stranded for hours in the dark sea. We celebrate and thank those who immediately helped the affected Filipino crew members, especially the crew of a passing Vietnamese vessel who rescued them.

We lament and deplore the initial silence, then delayed reaction of DU30 and his officials who failed to immediately respond to the humanitarian, personal needs of the 22 Filipino crew members, especially their urgent need to be cared for during and after their 4-6 hour ordeal at sea.

Days after the June 9 incident, Du30 missed to show his genuine concern for the 22 affected Filipino fishers. Did he care whether the affected fishers were ok and cared for adequately, their families as well?

Except for some mismatched engine and fishing vessels provided by a government agency, no humanitarian help from Du30 and his government has been reported or extended.

Why the silence and lack of compassion from Du30 for our own Filipino fishers? Unlike VP Leni Robredo, why did DU30 not personally meet the distressed Filipinos? Why send, instead, the Secretary of Energy, then Agriculture, with armed riot police?

Du30’s initial and subsequent statements appeared clearly defensive in favor of China and the Chinese, rather than on our Filipino people. Du30 initially focused on and still persists in prioritizing whether the ramming vessel was indisputably Chinese and whether the incident was intentional or accidental.

Du30’s insistence, even openness to have joint fishing and joint investigation about the incident with China, shows that defending China, rather than justice and care for our Filipino fishers and our territory, is his priority. Why?


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