The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has sought for a relocation area for the shipyards that will be displaced if the proposed ‘Seafront City’ in Barangay Tayud in the Municipality of Consolacion, Cebu were to push through.
“We already wrote a letter to the mayor (of Consolacion) explaining the position of the MARINA,” MARINA Administrator Vice Admiral Robert A Empedrad told the Maritime Fairtrade in English and Tagalog.
According to Empedrad, the 12 shipyards situated in the reclamation site were able to serve more than 300 ships in 2019. Empedrad explained that aside from commercial ships, government ships particularly patrol and naval assets would also be affected. “Our shipyards also cater to maintenance and repairs of ships of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy,” Empedrad said.
A new smart city on reclaimed land
The Seafront City is a public-private partnership project between the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Consolacion and private consortium La Consolacion Seafront Development Corporation (LCSDC). The project envisions the 238.50-hectare area to be a ‘smart city.’ It consists of two reclamation types: an island with a size of 160.65 hectares, and a foreshore-based type that is 75.24 hectares in size. The latter is where the affected shipyards are situated.
Shipbuilding and ship repair is a vibrant industry in the province of Cebu, where around 20 shipyards are located. It is also home to large shipyards that build ships for export. Thousands of Filipino workers are employed in these shipyard facilities.
Nevertheless, Empedrad clarified, the MARINA cannot speak for the Consolacion LGU. Mentioning that Consolacion Mayor Joannes Alegado had already issued an official response to the MARINA’s official letter of position on the issue, Empedrad said that the local government “saw an (economic) opportunity (in the project).”
Sought for comments, the Consolacion LGU advised Maritime Fairtrade that it would be sending a written statement in lieu of an interview. As of writing, it has not provided an answer.
Assistance for displaced shipyard workers guaranteed
Concerned residents of Barangay Tayud have recently escalated the issue to Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte. The manifesto urging Duterte to stop the reclamation project was forwarded to the Malacañang. These residents are those who rely on the affected shipyards for their source of livelihood, including carinderia (canteen) owners and fisherfolk.
The Shipyard Association of the Philippines (ShAP), during the Maritime Industry Symposium held last September, ruled the Seafront City reclamation project as ill-timed. ShAP President Meneleo G. Carlos III criticized the move, emphasizing that it would only further jeopardize the employment of thousands more Filipino workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) recorded a 10.3 percent unemployment rate in 2020, or 4.5 million unemployed Filipinos out of the 43.9 million members of the Philippines’ labor force. “This is the highest recorded annual unemployment rate since April 2005,” the PSA report read.
As of July 2021, unemployment rate slightly decreased to 6.9 percent, or 3.1 million unemployed members of the Filipino working population.
Empedrad assured that the MARINA would extend assistance to the displaced shipyard workers. “Once we are there, we have to do something to alleviate the plight of our shipyards. In this time of pandemic, we will ask help from Bayanihan if there are funds left.”
‘Bayanihan’ or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act is the law in the Philippines that was created to grant the Philippine President the authority to liberally mobilize government resources in order to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
Amid adversities, new opportunities await shipyard workers
According to Empedrad, the defunct Korean-owned Hanjin Shipyard in Subic will soon reopen with the lead of a U.S. firm. “Around thirty-thousand workers were laid off when Hanjin closed,” the administrator said. “This is why we are very eager.”
Empedrad also shared that a shipyard will launch in the Visayas Region and another in Bataan. He stressed, “That is why we need to prepare. The signing of our memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) is timely.”
The said MOA, which was signed by the MARINA and the TESDA on 11 October 2021, provides a framework for the partnership between the two government agencies for the development of skills training programs for skilled shipyard workers.
“The key to every profitable shipyard is the logistics requirements. We also need spare parts in repair works,” Empedrad commented. With this, he also noted the weakness of the Philippine heavy industry.
“We do not have a steel industry. If wooden-hulled ships are totally phased out, then we will have to prioritize other hull materials. Therefore, we have to strengthen the country’s steel industry. We are hoping that it will be established in the Philippines.”
Empedrad informed Maritime Fairtrade that he would be meeting with officials of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines in November 2021, where he will vouch for the opportunities in the thriving industry of shipbuilding and ship repair in the Philippines.