MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Ambassador to the United States (US) Jose Cuisia on Thursday decried media reports saying that the “incompetence” and “poor English language proficiency” of Filipino workers could have caused the fire that hit an oil rig platform off the coast of Louisiana on November 16.
The statement from the Philippine embassy in Washington noted that Cuisia was joined by the employer and co-workers of the Filipinos in disputing reports that the fire may have been triggered by the wrong use of torch by the workers.
In a eulogy he offered for the Filipino victims, Cuisa said that he would be doing them a “great injustice if I do not speak out and express my disappointment and dismay over unfair insinuations in media that our workers are to be blamed for the accident.”
The incident had claimed the lives of three Filipino workers — Ellroy Corporal, Avelino Tajonera, and Jerome Malagapo — and injured three others. There were nine Filipino and five non-Filipino employees working on the oil platform during the incident.
“The nine Filipinos who were on that platform on November 16 would not have been there if they did not pass stringent training, safety and language requirements both here in the United States and back home in the Philippines,” Cuisia said, adding that the men had extensive experience in the oil gas industry abroad with companies like Shell, Chevron, and British Petroleum.
The envoy had said that Philippine workers were very much in demand among big oil companies abroad, adding that they were “highly valued and well compensated” because of their skills and work ethics.
As of November, there are 40,000 Filipinos working in the offshore oil and gas industry in various parts of the world, said Cuisia, citing statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
About 2,000 of them are in the United States, including in Louisiana, which accounts for 23 percent of total US crude oil production.
Meanwhile, Mark Preagant, President and Chief Executive Officer of Grand Isle Shipyard Inc, also disputed media reports, saying that the Filipinos “did not cut the wrong line” and that they “did not cut that piece of pipe with a torch.”
Pregeant, in his eulogy, also lauded the Filipino offshore wrokers by highlighting their “crucial role” in restoring oil production in Louisiana following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the US Gulf coast in 2005.
“I do not have one customer who has something bad to say about Filipino workers. Let there be no mistake about that,” Pregeant said.
Romeo Capili, a co-worker of the victims, said Internet reports of the Filipino workers’ incompetence “broke his heart.”
“If that were the case, probably, we Filipinos would not have been asked to come back and work here since 2005,” he said.