“Filipino seafarers are our gift to give to the world and to the Church.”
These are words that have become part of homilies during the National Seafarers Day observance on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021.
Former president Fidel V. Ramos issued on July 9, 1996, Proclamation No. 828, declaring August 18 as National Seafarers Day to give due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers toward the development of the Philippines as a maritime country.
The group Stella Maris Philippines was tasked to coordinate with the public and private sectors for activities related to the observance.
Later, Proclamation No. 1094, issued in 1997 by President Ramos, moved the celebration to every last Sunday of September.
The Philippines is considered a major supplier of maritime labor globally. It is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five complements on board a vessel at any time.
The sea-based sector’s remittance comprises at least 22 percent of the total dollar remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers.
These remittances help spur domestic consumption in the Philippines and has become a key ingredient in the country’s drive to achieve higher but sustainable growth.
Seafarers have been in the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, playing a vital role in sustaining the stream of important items, akin to food, household, and medical provisions.
However, the pandemic has also placed extraordinary demands on seafarers.
Hundreds of thousands of them were stranded on ships for months beyond their original contracts, unable to be repatriated due to travel restrictions. A similar number were unable to join ships.
“As Filipino seafarers continue to sail the seas of the world, they give hope that despite the pandemic which has paralyzed many of our day-to-day activities and ventures, somehow, we are still interconnected,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, Bishop Promoter of Stella Maris-Philippines.
Bishop Santos noted that Filipino seafarers give honor to the Philippines with their dedication and discipline.
Pope Francis earlier aired his concern on the challenges that are faced by maritime workers and their families in the midst of the pandemic, saying that “without the people of the sea, many parts of the world would starve.”
Bishop Santos said “seafarers and fishers bring healing when hunger is nourished and when material sustenance from their cargo ships or boats reach our ports and shores.”
In 2012, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said Filipino seafarers are “saint potentials.”
Referring to Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod, the cardinal said they were seafarers and missionaries at the same time before they became saints.
The work of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park.
Away from his family and working on board vessels sailing non-stop for weeks or months the world’s oceans, the Filipino seafarer is physically, mentally, and emotionally stressed.
The shipping industry and seafaring profession are not without incident or peril. Some may go missing or die in maritime disasters, while others may suffer illnesses or injuries due to increased work-related stress and exposure to extreme weather changes.
The European Maritime Safety Agency declared in a report that between 2011 and 2020, there were 745 work-related fatalities among maritime workers and nearly 9,000 persons injured
Let us continue to pray for the Filipino seafarers’ perseverance, for their protection, and for their safety.
Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.