Delegation Calls for More Philippine Merchant Marine Officers, Help from U.S.

April 30, 2015 2:18 PM
An undated photo pf President of the The Philippines Benigno Aquino visiting a bridge simulator at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy
An undated photo pf President of the The Philippines Benigno Aquino visiting a bridge simulator at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy

As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was preparing to speak before a joint session of Congress on expanding trade in the Pacific, a delegation of legislators and businessmen from the Philippine maritime industry were meeting with transportation officials and would later meet with their American counterparts to find means to better educate their ratings and put more officers aboard the world’s merchant fleet.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines John Negroponte put it this way at a forum Wednesday afternoon “old friends” were seeking ways “to reap new benefits.”

Speaking at an event co-hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Philippine Society in Washington, Rep. Jesulito Manalo said, “30 percent of the total of maritime professionals [1.4 million] are from the Philippines.”

He added in quoting from a recent work on the maritime trade’s global role, “If shipping would stop today, half of the world would freeze … half of the world would starve.”

Manalo said a key purpose of the meetings, which he said were greeted favorably in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill, were “now opening doors … to promote educational opportunities.” On Thursday, the delegation was scheduled to head to Baltimore to meet with officials of the Seafarers International Union on their programs of training and educating ratings and cadets on how to rise to officers.

Gerardo Borromeo of the Philippine Transmarine Carriers said his nation “is the single largest source of manpower” for this industry.

If vessels engaged in domestic trade were removed from the equation, Joseph Cox of the Chamber of Shipping America said, “About half of the world’s shipping is being manned by Filipinos.” The percentage is higher aboard Panamanian-flagged vessels, he added.

But the “number of officers … is not that large.” Cox said a key question that has to be asked in the Philippines is: “How many aspire to be officers?” and that is why visits to the Maryland facility are so important.

About 8 percent of Philippine ratings now become officers, Manalo added. “We need to find the right balance between officers and ratings.”

Manalo said the Philippines has taken steps on its own to improve training across the board — reducing the number of high schools with maritime studies, adding training vessels and keeping curriculum and certification with a faculty that is attuned to technological changes in line with international standards.

One possibility would be exchanging cadets between the two nations to broaden their experience. “On a ship, you don’t just have one nationality,” Borromeo said.

Maritime industry is not only about providing ships’ crews, Borromeo said. “Although we are a distant fourth to Japan in shipbuilding [China and Korea are first and second],’ he sees the potential for growth as transoceanic commerce expands in the future. He also sees potential for growth in ship repair and ship support in Philippine ports.

Two charts that Borromeo used illustrated the economic and security situation in the Pacific. The first showed the Philippines’ largest trading partners — China, Japan and Korea. The second its security partner — the United States.

“We need access to move from Point A to Point B,” including through the disputed waters around the Spratly Islands. China calls waters the “South China Sea,” and the Philippines calls them the “Western Philippine Sea.” Other nations also have staked territorial claims in the region

But to build a strong shipbuilding and shore support structure, this also means improved education and training to certify the skills of its workers, he added.

Seafaring is vital to the Philippines in another way. Borromeo said its merchant marine remits back to the nation more than $6 billion annually, about 20 percent of this source of revenue.

Borromeo said members of the United States Congress “recognize the need to build bridges” with the Philippines in maritime affairs.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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