The private sector has taken the lead in the creation of a Philippine Maritime Code, which seeks to update the country’s antiquated shipping laws, which have weighed on the industry’s growth.
A technical working group made up mostly of shipping industry veterans concluded a series of meetings at the House of Representatives last week.
The goal was to come up with Maritime Code proposal that consolidates several shipping-related bills already filed in Congress. These include House Bill No.2382 by Representative Antonio Kho and House Bill No. 1156 by Rodolfo Biazon.
“This can be one of the landmark achievements of the Aquino administration,” said maritime lawyer and TWG chairwoman Iris Baguilat.
She expects the bill, which is backed by House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, to be passed before the House goes on recess next month.
Jay Batongbacal, a professor on transportation laws at the University of the Philippines, said “the bill updates old and archaic laws in Philippine shipping and we also incorporated standards that are in international agreements.”
The discussions come at an auspicious time for the country, which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the MV Doña Paz, the Philippine ship that took the lives of over 4,300 people in the deadliest peacetime ferry disaster in history.
Batongbacal said the majority of maritime laws enforced today date back to the Spanish era, which leads to a number of problems.
For instance, under the old Spanish doctrines, ships over 15 tons that call at Philippine ports are charged a “heavy lift” fee.
“But that rule dated back to the galleon trade,” said Jose Mari Moraza, president and general manager of United Salvage and Towage Philippines.
The draft code, which is expected to garner the support of President Aquino’s allies in Congress, seeks the establishment of a Maritime Council that would be the main regulator for the country’s shipping sector.
The new regulator would likely replace the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).
Other major areas that the code seeks to cover are ship registration, seafarers contract standards, wrecks and salvages and mortgage and liens.
Pete Aguilar, counsel for the Philippine Inter-Island Shipping Association (PISA), said the Maritime Code aims to address the lack of practical knowledge and expertise, not only of regulators but of seafarers as well.
This comes amid the recent threat by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) that it would ban all Filipino seafarers from working on European Union ships due to the country’s poor training standards.