Pablo rears long standing ills of tuna industry (Part 2)By Edwin Espejo Jan 12, 2013 6:07AM UTC
(Second of two parts. See part one here.)
Dino Barrientos, executive director of the Umbrella Fishing and Landing Association (UMLA), said owners of fishing companies are also having sleepless nights. Aside from losing their fishing fleet, they also have to address the demands of the families of their fishermen.
“They cannot also sleep,” Barrientos said.
In a meeting with the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries (SFFAI), UMLA members who lost their crew said the federation will be handling the usual cash advances being given by companies involved in the tragedy to immediate families of the missing fishermen.
“It is like as if they are still out fishing and their families still are getting the usual cash advances,” Rosanna Contreras SFFAI executive director said.
However, both Barrientos and Contreras admitted that these won’t be for long. Until when? It is an eventuality both company owners and families of the fishermen will have to come to terms.
“Everybody wants to put a closure to this tragedy and move on,” Contreras explained.
Reports said a fishing company is offering P50,000 cash assistance for the immediate families of the missing fishermen. But it comes with a caveat. Recipients must execute waivers and quit claims.
The federation said it has not received any information about the reported offer.
But Philippine Navy Commander Nadugo is advising families to carefully read the waiver and quit claim forms before signing and accepting the cash assistance from the fishing companies.
The city government is reportedly also preparing vouchers for each of the families of the missing fishermen through the CSWD office under its Assistance for Individuals in Crisis Situation.
General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio however said they will still have to determine the amount of assistance that will be given to the relatives.
“We will let you know when we finish processing the(ir) papers,” she said in a text message.
She also added the city government will give livelihood projects to the immediate families of the Pablo victims.
Rep. Pedro ‘Jun’ Acharon Jr doled out grocery items and P2,000 in cash each for the relatives last Christmas.
Other than those already given and those promised, there may be nothing more the relatives can expect although the fishing companies have pledged to give priority in hiring them when they have replaced their lost vessels and resume operations.
Contreras said Pablo was the first typhoon encountered by fishermen from General Santos City.
“The scale of losses and sheer number of victims are unprecedented,” she said.
But they are now admitting the issues that re-emerged will eventually have to be addressed by all tuna fishing companies – big or small.
Somehow, the industry will have to find a formula to meet labor standards such as SSS premiums, Philhealth and Pag-IBIG contributions for their fishermen.
It will take time before industry pay and inventive structures are standardized, having learned the lessons of a protest action of Filipino fishermen in Papua New Guinea that caught international attention several years back.
Some 200 fishermen from RD Ventures Inc. abandoned their fishing vessels in 2004 in protest over pay and wage structure and demanded they be paid in standard salaries received by international seafarers.
They were promptly charged with mutiny which carries the death penalty in Papua New Guinea and were only deported after the Philippine department of foreign affairs intervened.
Twelve of the protesting fishermen were jailed days after their arrival in General Santos but were later released after an amicable settlement. The leaders of the protesting fishermen were however dismissed from the company.
Issues of their own
But fishing companies also have issues of their own aside from competition and access to fishing grounds in the face of Pablo’s horrible destruction.
“We need to have dedicated search and rescue (S&R) helicopters to respond to distress signals,” Dexter Teng said.
Teng is not pointing to the versatile but unworthiness of the AFP’s Huey helicopters to respond to another Pablo-type disaster or any distress call from troubled fishing vessels. Teng said the government should provide S&R helicopters designed to fly and navigate under harsh weather conditions in the open seas and can accommodate 10-12 stretchers in rescue mission cases.
“We likewise need to have a robust weather monitoring system,” Teng added.
Both Teng and Barrientos agreed fishing vessels should now be equipped with vessel monitoring system (VMS) which is required by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) for all tuna fishing vessels of member countries. The Philippines is a member of WCPFC.
At the time the fishing vessels from General Santos went missing, they were not equipped with the WCPFC required VMS. All they had were GPS and radio communications equipment that are vulnerable to the elements of the weather.
And yes, they will have to find a formula to provide their workers benefits in cases such as the Pablo tragedy.
Contreras said at the very least, Pablo opened up many eyes and they now have a precedent in preventing and addressing future disasters of such scale and magnitude.
The industry wants this grim episode brought to a closure. But it may not come that easy.
Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, head of Task Force Maritime said ending the search and rescue mission is an issue he eventually will have to recommend.
“It is a sensitive issue especially for the families (of the victims). So I’ll defer (issuing) any hasty statement,” Segovia said.
Mayor Custodio however said the Task Force may be entering the search and retrieval phase more than a month after the disaster.
But for Gemma, she still hopes Jodel Castro, with whom she has three children, is just marooned on an island waiting for a passing ship to rescue him.
She is having second thoughts about signing the waiver and quit claim reportedly dangled by RLG Fishing.
For Leah Layahin, who is pregnant with Jodel’s younger brother Joel Castro, her misery has just begun.
Leah wrote Joel a letter days after the brothers sailed for the open seas last September 29 after learning that the father of the child she is carrying had asked permission to marry another woman who is also pregnant.
She threatened to spoil Joel’s marriage.
Luck was on the side of Joel. He went home in November but headed straight to his future wife to explain his relationship with Leah, already a mother of two from a failed previous marriage.
Leah has not seen Joel since the latter arrived but the latter reportedly promised to give support to the baby she is now carrying.
Leah is glad Joel went home but is also angry her boyfriend is getting married to another woman.
The stories of Gemma and Leah are one of the many sidebars in the Pablo disaster. But theirs could be the story as well.