Instead of Heroes’ Welcome, Filipino Crew Faces Discrimination in Their Home Country

Apr 06, 2020
  • •Filipino seafarers are the largest population in the global maritime industry with over 375 000 people.
  • •These people contributed to the Filipino economy with $6.14 Billion in 2018.
  • •They contribute largely towards the Philippines Medical system with a portion of their salary.
  • •They send in the economy more than one-fifth of the total amount that Filipino employees send home from abroad.

Yet despite all of the facts instead of heroes’ welcome they face discrimination from the local communities.

Crew members generally look forward to arriving in their home countries to their families, friends and childhood memories. They board the ship with understanding that this is work and start counting the days until they are back home again from day ONE. Crew members do not choose this work lifestyle because it is glamorous, they choose it for the purpose of supporting their families and the local economy in their home countries.

The largest population of crew members in the seafarer industry (whether cargo, cruise, etc.) is the Filipino population with over 375 000 seafarers out of the total of 1.2 million. These people contribute towards the Filipino economy in a significant manner with $6.14 Billion in 2018 alone (Crew Center: Filipino Seafarers Send Home a Record Amount of 6.14 Billion in 2018), which was a significant increase from the previous year, and statistically they provide more each year.  Furthermore, they contribute largely towards the Social Security and Medical system with a portion of their paychecks being dived up to be sent to the Filipino Government, which was significantly increased at the beginning of 2020 (Crew Center: Payment Charges Increase to SSS, HDMF, and PhilHealth for Filipino Crew Members). It is understandable why the President of the United Filipino Seafarers (UFS) in 2018 stated that “the Philippines is by far the leading provider of the international labor market for seamen. Every day, about 250 000 Filipino seamen are at sea. If they stay home, the economy will collapse.” Furthermore, 10 million Filipinos work aboard on any given year which is one-tenth of the country’s population, yet they send in the economy more than one-fifth of the total amount that Filipino employees send home from abroad (Crew Center: Filipino Seafarers Send Home a Record Amount of 6.14 Billion in 2018).

With respect to the previous information, if the Filipino crew members stayed at home, not only would the seafarer industry and economy suffer, but so would the economy, Social Security, and Medical system of the Philippines as well. Given all of this information, one may think that when they arrive home the crew members would receive a support from their fellow countrymen with welcoming cheer and respect for the sacrifices they take every year by being away from their loved ones especially in time of much uncertainty due to the COVID-19. Yet, this was not the case for the crew members who arrived several days ago back to their home country that they support with sweat and hard work.

Flogio Advincula, one of the maritime advocates in the Philippines send us the following details:

“We have a lot of Seafarers disembarked and the government together with the department of health organize a quarantine place for the returning crew.

We have some hotels and quarantine site which are close by residential area who react why this bunch of crew were sent to their area and upset because the local people were not asked if it's ok for them to send the crew in the hotel near to their house. This local people are scared of get infected of the Virus that's why they don't want the crew stay in that hotel near their Community. The thing is this. The crew near them already did 14 days Quarantine or even more before they fly back home.

We have place for the crew with NCoV19 infected case. They sent in other place called Athletes Village Clark City in Pampanga”

April 4, 2020 crew members arrived via charter flights back to the Philippines, boarded onto buses and placed in a 14-day preventative quarantine in hotels by the Philippine Government. Although this was not what they were expecting as they have not tested positive for COVID 19, nor have reportedly displayed symptoms, they appear to be accepting and understanding the situation. However, once they arrived at the hotel they faced angry and unwelcoming masses of fellow Filipino citizens who stood in front of the hotel with banners that tell them to leave the community, they are not welcomed there, that the country cannot afford this virus, and that the Philippines does not have any COVID 19 cases. This also followed with words of insults towards the crew members. Understandably, the crew members expressed to Crew Center sadness for such welcoming, as well as fear for their safety in general as they are being picketed and marked by the angry crowds who posted videos of the crew. However, their confusion was apparent as they were not understanding where this misinformation is steaming from.

Reportedly, some news media in the Philippines made announcement prior to the crew members' arrival that the charter flight is arriving with crew members who allegedly have been affected and/or have tested positive for the COVID 19 disclosing their locations for quarantine. The crew members informed that they were sent home because their contracts either ended, they requested to return home or because there is no more work on the cruise ships at this time due to the COVID 19 pandemic. In the event that any of the crew members showed signs or tested positive, they would have been quarantined either on the ship or in the nearest hospital to receive medical treatment, not sent to travel when the World Health Organization’s recommendation is to quarantine for 14 days of any person who displays symptoms or have tested positive. With this being said, the crew members who arrived are reportedly healthy and have not tested positive, but the 14-day quarantine is for prevention purpose to assure the same as they recently traveled. We must be mindful that news media has the responsibility to inform, but also news media often can present information in embellished manner for the purpose of selling the news. Furthermore, misinformation can have effects on people, thus it is important for the news media that released this information to provide clarification and correct information as their responsibility lies in informing the masses in ethical manner. In a time of much uncertainty that drives fear, providing assurance in responsible reporting is important to provide people some peace of mind and certainty.

The crew members from the hotel have been corresponding with Crew Center informing that they are fearing for their safety as they do experience this unfair and borderline discriminatory treatment not only from hearing the masses outside the hotel, but also seeing videos related to how some people respond, as well as experiencing push back from the hotel staff as well. The pictures of the angry people in front of the hotel are enough for them to fear leaving after 14 days as people apparently also took pictures and videos of them as they arrived via buses and surely the same would occur when they are ready to leave. This marks them and makes them susceptible to more potential reaction and even violence once they are released. Fear is an understandable response to the unknown or misinformed; however, losing our basic humanity is not!

Let’s correct one more misinformation on those banners held by the angry crowd outside the hotels where the crew members are staying. The John Hopkins University of Medicine has reported total of 1, 263, 979 worldwide confirmed COVID 19 cases since the start of the spread in Wuhan, China with 183 countries affected. Amongst those countries is the Philippines with 3246 confirmed cases presently. Discussions, whether some countries have the ability to comprehensively account for the actual numbers, has been brought to the table over the past several months as some countries have limited resources and testing ability. And since most of the deaths result in upper respiratory conditions especially in people who have compromised upper respiratory immune system the cases can be marked incorrectly as some countries have experienced this issue over the last several months. Thus, regrettably to inform that COVID 19 was in the Philippines spreading already. However, one thing to be mindful of is that if the Filipino seafarers grossly support the overall economy and medical system in the Philippines, is this the treatment they deserve? And regardless of that, is that a treatment that any person deserves? What would happen if they decide to reroute their $6.14 Billion per year in a different area, would COVID 19 be the greatest fear or the potential collapse of the country’s economy, Social Security, and Medical System that are all much-needed resources for assuring the country can continue to manage its already existing outbreak? Furthermore, social distancing is the greatest prevention of the spread, yet masses are gathering in front of the hotel. Finally, what are the steps and actions that the government who placed them in this predicament may need to take in order to assure the safety of the crew members as obviously disclosing.