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Bill of/for Seafarer

“Ang taas ng bill natin sa kuryente at tubig ngayon, lakay. Saan tayo kukuha ng pera lalo’t magpa-Pasko na?” 

These were the very words my mother uttered when I overheard her talking to my father one morning. Words that seemed to rip apart every musical sheet of melodious tunes of Christmas carols in all parts of our home. Words that confront the gust of wind and the tingling feeling of cool breeze creeping over the window pane. And words that got the meter moved fast which compelled me to enter the scene and say the words, “Tay, gusto ko maging seaman.” 

Well, that’s what I felt I needed to say. If you were in my situation, would you do the same way?

Let me tell you a story. 

I was sitting under the shade of a mango tree situated in the garden of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific, surrounded by various flowers bursting with colors and unwavering fragrance. Like how the whimsical butterflies relish themselves in the care of flowers standing firmly against the direction of the wind, I was enjoying the cool breeze touching my skin.

Far from the inflicted stress, failure, and fatigue academics and academy life bring out of me, the caress of such invisible matter brought a serenity state to my mind and surroundings.

As I stood off my chair with the desire to stretch my lower limbs, a squadmate of mine avidly came to me while wearing his wristwatch. A week prior, our class was given the privilege to wear a wristwatch as part of our academy uniform as midshipmen.

I was struck by its beauty that when I locked my eyes upon it, I felt my tears burning behind my eyes as my thoughts of “what could my life be” began unfolding ahead of me. I was in such an emotional state that I started to question my family status. How is it possible for his family to purchase such a costly item and have it delivered in a nick of time?

Living in a middle-class family in a fast-paced society is like sailing on a vessel voyaging restless and rough seas that get you to alter your direction to the most practicable course of life. 

Who doesn’t desire a prosperous life in which you can provide a golden platter to your family without wincing when you notice household bills? I, for one, wish to fill up the gaps to provide financial stability for my family similar to that of my two seafaring uncles. 

My third-mate uncle’s family, which comes from a traditional household, consists of two academically-gifted daughters. “I strive in school to express gratitude to my mother and father who work overseas,” his eldest daughter, who dreams to be a lawyer, remarked. They live like any other family, merely purchasing basic necessities and focusing on their children’s future. 

Under deck, my second-engineer uncle has one daughter who can have whatever she wants. Their family enjoys living on a vessel where chocolates and gifts are just around the corner. Not to mention, the reading of their meter runs like an aircraft that they were able to travel to Hongkong in 2019. 

Such portrayal influenced my perception of being a seafarer as merely a comfortable career for in addition to knocking down a good salary, one may travel the entire world for free. 

However, beyond such a facade lies the stories of sacrifices and bravery which I never realized until I once witnessed my aunt heaving in anxiety while holding her phone, waiting for her husband to confirm his health status. 

“Nilo would often tell me that he felt overwhelmed by his duties and responsibilities since, upon checking their system, all the tasks of his superiors were forwarded to him. He would accept any work that was given to him without hesitation. My heart breaks just the thought of him taking all the work and then being unwell for three days.”

It is no denying that there are times when members of both families become vulnerable as fears of uncertainty creep in, owing to the fact that they are separated by nautical miles.

Uncle Boyet had once admitted to me that he would lose focus and cry after painstaking work onboard, especially when he was just starting his career. “I would hold my breath and feel my nerves running through my spine every time I hang high above the ground or waterline.” He’s left with no choice but to brave himself because his family’s survival depends on his perilous job.

This goes to show that living a luxurious life from seafaring comes at the expense of compromising one’s life and family time as they are aloft and both parties crave each other’s physical presence. 

Once my uncles are on board, gone are the days when they could teach their children to fix stuff as if they were a mechanic. Gone are the days when they would travel locally and would create memories to be cherished. Gone are the days when the chirping sound of birds adds rhythm to their unending laughter.

“Buddy, let’s get back to barracks.”

I jolted out of my reverie when my squadmate patted me on the back. I got slapped with the reality that I had come to a multitude of realizations. 

Being a sailor may give one a sea full of opportunities, but one must recognize that this comes with the price of being away from family and friends, subject to hazards and harsh conditions, and prone to drowning in the depths of sadness and loneliness. 

Dimmed as our modern-day heroes, they are resilient, adaptable, and pliant like bamboo. With USD 6.54 billion in economic contributions or 21% of total overseas Filipino workers’ remittances, Filipino seafarers remain at the forefront of the maritime sector, accounting for 25% of the 1.5 million global seafarers.

Taking pride in them as they are the pillar and beacon of light in the household, economy, and open seas, isn’t there a need to pay back to our modern heroes? 

Fortunately, there’s a proposed measure that has been recently taking the spotlight of national discourse which calls for the well-being of Filipino seafarers, named Magna Carta for Seafarers.

With nine bills now being discussed in Congress, it all boils down to providing decent rights and privileges, mandatory benefits and accommodation, professional advancement and training, a safe and secure workplace, participation in democratic processes, and humane conditions of employment and retirement. 

“I am more than delighted to learn that they are pushing legislation to be codified that will create headway in the clamor of seafarers’ welfare like mine. This is of great beneficial for my family since it means I can maximize my full potential to fend for them,” my uncle shared as a grin crawled up to his face, an indication of growing hope that washes away his homesickness. 

Such bill is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Filipino Association for Mariners Employment, Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc., Philippine Coast Guard (PGC), National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), and the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP).

For it is because of the proposed measure and the life experiences of my uncles’ families that I am more motivated to better my studies as a maritime student and to continue living my cadet life with humble means and be someone who embodies Virtus, Fides et Disciplina (Excellence, Loyalty, and Discipline)

As I walked through the study room for our open call, I immediately went online and contacted my family via video call. 

“How are you, son?”

I was speechless, but I managed to say, “I can do this for our family.” I then let the avalanche crash down and sought shelter in my parents’ uplifting smiles. I found a grounding space away from academics, cadet life, and homesickness with their comfort. 

Just like my uncles, I currently experience a sense of longing as I am away from home for my studies and our family’s future. However, my struggles as a cadet are nothing compared to the hurdles and emotional longing of my uncles’ families. This notion ignites me to move forward because when the time comes for me to venture my life at sea, rest assured that I will conquer the world and confront the hushed and raging oceans for the common good of my family.

With the help of our newly elected lawmakers and the support of different sectors, I can do nothing but fervently hope that the bill will be enacted anytime soon. And eventually, enables such a workforce, their family, and soon-to-be my family to sail through the ocean-wave symphony of the growing society where we can thrive and foster.

I’ll ask you again. If you were to wear my pershing cap and shoulder board, would you take responsibility for your family?

I hope that my cohort and I will be able to remark, “You don’t have to worry about my welfare and our family.” Let alone, I cannot afford to make sharp edges of coupons on my forehead whenever costs of living bills come to the table.  

The proposed bill serves as a catalyst for Filipino seafarers that will lead them to be more empowered modern heroes. After all, they are defined as more than just paying for household bills; it is conquering challenges through hard labor, devotion, and the sacrifices they make – all for the love of the family.

Special thanks to Sir JeRic Bacasdoon


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