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President Marcos vows to bring home 17 hostages


Helen Flores – The Philippine Star

December 2, 2023 | 12:00am

DUBAI — The Philippine government will exhaust all remedies available to bring home safely the 17 Filipino seafarers held hostage by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants in the Red Sea, President Marcos said yesterday, as authorities bared plans to expand the list of high-risk areas in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

“We’re doing everything possible to bring them home,” Marcos said in his video message from Manila to the Filipino community at the Dubai World Trade Center Thursday night.

Marcos said he opted to cancel his participation in the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or COP28 here to personally address “important developments” in the case of the 17 Filipino seafarers.

According to Marcos, a high-level delegation would be dispatched to Tehran, Iran to extend assistance to the Filipino seafarers.

“That’s why we formed a delegation to go to them (Iran) and talk to those who are holding them so that they can go home. So, perhaps you understand, that we put that first because we have to ensure of course the security of our countrymen,” the Chief Executive told Filipinos based in the United Arab Emirates.

In an interview with the media here on Thursday, Department of Migrant Workers officer-in-charge Hans Leo Cacdac said they are looking at discussing the expansion of the high-risk areas in the Red Sea at the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) in response to the kidnapping of the Filipinos.

“What we’ve done is we have reached out to the social partner, meaning the ship owners and employers’ group, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) representatives back home, we wish to discuss the matter on the possibility of looking into the expansion of high risk areas, red zones in the Red Sea,” Cacdac said.

“There were already high risk areas off the coast of Yemen but we just encouraged our social partners, including ourselves, to sit down and discuss the matter of expansion of high risk zones. Because what happened with the Galaxy Leader was the (incident happened) outside the high-risk area zone,” he added.

Seafarers are advised in advance if their vessel’s route or destination would be in areas with high risk for pirate attacks and kidnapping, he said.

“The seafarers have the right to refuse but if the seafarers still choose to board the ship, their salaries will be doubled. That’s the effect when you are passing a high risk area,” Cacdac said.

“But it has to go to a social partner venue to discuss this, which is termed as International Bargaining Forum or IBF, so we are hoping to discuss this matter at the IBF level,” he said.

Established in 2003, the IBF was set up as a process in which maritime employers, represented by the Joint Negotiating Group, and seafarers’ unions, represented by the ITF, could negotiate over the wages and conditions of employment of seafarers serving on ships to which ITF special agreements apply.

Cacdac, however, did not say how this would affect the country’s deployment of Filipino seamen.

The DMW official, meanwhile, assured the public the government continues to provide assistance to the families of the 17 Filipino hostages.

“The role of DMW is to make sure that the families are assured of the fullest support and assistance of the government as directed by the President,” he said.

“So we are also providing them the necessary assistance such as the DOH (Department of Health) if they need medical assistance and if they need counseling, so (we) provide the necessary services,” Cacdac said.

He said certain foreign governments are helping the Philippines secure the safe return of the overseas Filipino workers. He did not elaborate.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday said the 17 Filipinos are “in good condition” and are expected to be freed soon.

Yemeni rebels seized the cargo vessel in retaliation for Israel’s offensive in Gaza, according to a recent statement by the DFA.

The Philippines was the top source of seafarers in the world in 2021, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The country deploys more than 400,000 Filipino seafarers overseas, on average, from 2016 to 2021, the Maritime Industry Authority said.

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