The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines – As the fight for disputed waters, including some rich fishing grounds, intensifies in the region, the Philippines finds itself in a quandary over the emergence of what may be another crucial pawn among claimants. China and Taiwan have begun a virtual bidding war for fishermen, and the latter is looking to tap at least 8,000 foreign workers, preferably Filipinos, to man its extensive fishing fleets.
China has upped its own bid for Taiwan-based fishers, leaving what it considers its breakaway province scrambling to outsource fishing services to foreigners.
In this three-cornered game, the Philippines is treading carefully, apparently recognizing that it is the weakest player with the fewest options.
Owing to maritime security issues, the country - heavily dependent on, and eager for, any job openings for Filipinos abroad - may have to think carefully before providing Taiwan its requirement of 8,000 fishermen to man its fleet.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said Monday she will have to consult the Department of Foreign Affairs if deploying Filipino fishermen for work in Taiwan-flagged vessels will pose a danger to their security.
Labor officials also need to determine, with DFA’s help, whether such would complicate the deepening tension among claimants in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), especially if the Filipino crew end up working in fishing boats sailing in disputed areas.
Tension has escalated in recent months among some claimants –between China and the Philippines, between China and Vietnam, and between China and Taiwan, which two days ago announced plans to extend an air strip in one of the biggest islands in the Spratlys.
“We will consult DFA if that (security) is an issue. It is beyond DOLE’s mandate,” Baldoz told InterAksyon.com in a text message. She was reacting to apprehensions that Filipino fishermen might be made to work in vessels that sail in disputed areas such as the Spratly Islands.
The Pilipino Manpower Agencies Accredited to Taiwan (Pilmat) earlier asked the government to subsidize the expenses of Filipino fishermen as Taiwan needs an estimated 8,000 sea-based workers to man its fleet.
“We cannot them supply because the documents themselves are very expensive,” Jackson Gan, Pilmat’s president told InterAksyon.com, referring to Taiwan’s need for an estimated 8,000 fishermen to man its vessels.
Taiwan boats’ crew return to mainland
Gan said Taiwan’s huge requirements for fishermen was caused by the massive pullout of Chinese workers who went back to the mainland, as China started building up a huge fleet of fishing vessels through the years.
China’s expansion is apparently apace its aggressive campaign to source more food and energy in regional waters, even as it beefs up its maritime armor to secure the civilian economic fleet. After being caught in a standoff with Manila over fishing rights in the Panatag Shoal off Zambales province in April, Beijing at the weekend again figured in another shoal, Hasa-Hasa or Half Moon Shoal off Balabac town in Palawan, when a warship on a “patrol mission” got stuck in an area where authorities said Chinese poachers were hiding their marine catch, including endangered Philippine species.
Meanwhile, according to Pilmat's Gan, Taiwan is also looking—besides the Philippines-- to fill up its manpower lack from other neighboring countries like Indonesia.
Gan said the Philippines has been deploying fishermen to Taiwan for many years but in limited numbers, since requirements such as passport, seaman’s book, medical fees, and training like the Safety for Life at Sea (Solas) certificate are too expensive for Filipino fishermen to shoulder.
Securing a Solas certificate involves 10 days of training and costs about P8,000 in private maritime schools. It is required before a sea-based worker is given a seaman’s book by the Marine Industry Authority.
“We ask the DOLE and TESDA (Department of Labor and Employment and Technological Education and Skills Development Authority) to realign their budget to help these fishermen instead of giving away scholarships with no employment prospects,” Gan said.
Baldoz said, however, the DOLE has no funds to shoulder the passport requirement of overseas-bound workers. “We will consult TESDA,” she said.
TESDA, on the other hand, said it is willing to offer scholarships to the fishermen and adjust its standards to help the workers.
“We can adjust our standards to meet the requirements of Taiwanese employers. We can also include this in the scholarship program of TESDA,” Joel Villanueva, the agency’s director general, told InterAksyon.com.
Gan noted that majority of Filipino fishermen do not have money to pay for requirements, and their absence during training may also mean that their families will starve in the interim. He added that since many of them live near the sea, they have to travel for hours just to get to the nearest DFA office and apply for a passport.
“Kahit ang Solas training dapat malapit sa fishing village,” said Gan, adding that English proficiency is also not a requirement for the Taiwan-bound jobs.
Taiwan offers a salary of $400 for outsourced fishermen. Gan clarified that Pilmat does not charge placement fees for applicants.