Anchors aweigh!

Published June 19, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


As our collective ‘date’ with the new administration draws closer, thoughts inevitably turn to the economic challenges this new government will have to face. It’s no big secret that over the decades, one of most reliable of Philippine exports has been manpower, our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). While in a better world, this phenomenon of having to seek gainful employment in foreign countries could actually be a thing of the past; for now, we accept how it’s a great dollar earner, and is the route taken by so many economically-challenged Filipinos to uplift their lives.

One of the biggest employers of our OFW’s is the global maritime industry; and the pandemic did create disruptions in the industry. So I was heartened to learn that Ebsen Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) was a recent visitor here, and had encouraging words to say about a bright future for Filipino seafarers. A guest of the Filipino Shipowners Association (FSA), the primary voice of the Philippines’ private overseas shipping industry since its foundation in 1950, the FSA is a member of the ICS.

The International Chamber of Shipping accounts for over 80 percent of the world tonnage. So don’t underestimate the power of the ICS, as just think about how even during the pandemic, we were so dependent on the trading and movement of goods all over the world to keep foodstuff, supplies, and even pandemic-related material, reaching their destinations.

Heartened by the pronouncements of Mr. Poulsson, our FSA Chairman, Dario Alampay said, “Our beloved Filipino seafarers comprise 25 percent of the global maritime workforce, they are the heart and soul of shipping, and we are determined to advocate for their safe and continuous employment.” This was declared, with the assurance that remedial steps for the ongoing course correction are being made to address issues raised by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

DURING THE recent visit of Ebsen Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping: From left: Dario Alampay, FSA chairman, Poulsson, ICS chairman, and Gerardo Borromeo, FSA vice-president for External Affairs, ICS vice-chair.

By the side of FSA Chairman Alampay was Gerardo Borromeo, FSA vice-president for external affairs, and an ICS vice-chair. He concurred with Alampay, who went on to speak about manpower gaps resulting from the situation in Eastern Europe, and had this to add, “Our Filipino seafarers are here to support the industry, and ensure the uninterrupted trading of goods required by the world’s people and industries every day.” This declaration of support was warmly received by Mr. Poulsson.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) mentioned last year that we are the biggest single nationality bloc in the maritime industry – that at any point in time, there are over 229,000 Filipino seafarers deployed in merchant shipping vessels. Many young Filipinos enroll in maritime schools, attracted by the fact that the starting salary as a properly recruited seafarer is substantially higher than local job opportunities – this despite the hardship it entails. Pre-pandemic, in 2019, it was estimated that the 519,000 deployed seafarers accounted for US$6.5 billion in remittances to the Philippines.

Our National Artists, and providence

I was at a hotel dinner event two Fridays ago, with Director Alex Cortez, Issa Litton, and her host-talent Mica Pineda, when social media lit up about the new set of National Artists. Alex has worked with Dulaang UP for years, and both Issa and Mica consider themselves ‘MabesaBabes’, so all three were close to tears to read that Sir Tony Mabesa had been posthumously conferred National Artist for Theater. ‘Finally’ was the collective gasp I could sense from the many whose lives had been touched by Sir Tony, and were now congratulating him on their feeds.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya for Cinema, and Salvacion Lim-Higgins for Fashion are also posthumously honored. While Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Ricky Lee, Gemino Abad, Agnes Locsin, and Nora Aunor can enjoy their National Artist status, and be present during the awarding ceremonies. They’re all deserving, and I’m happy with the selection.

A PHOTO from December 2018: Your columnist, actress Sue Prado, newly conferred National Artist for Theater Tony Mabesa, and actress/host Issa Litton.

But I would like to make the observation that Direk Marilou passed away in 2012, and Salvacion Lim-Higgins left us in 1990. Tony Mabesa was a Founding Artistic Director of Dulaang UP in 1976, was connected to the UP Playwrights Theater, and has been involved either as a director or actor in over 170 productions – and passed away on October of 2019.

Now I know, the status of National Artist can often be mired in politicking and controversy; but I just wish there was more of an effort made to confer National Artist status when these exemplary individuals are still alive, and can enjoy the honor and recognition. Let’s be honest, it takes us 10 years to recognize the contributions of Marilou Diaz-Abaya? And after more than half a century of being a leading light of Philippine theater, we still couldn’t recognize the gigantic shadow that Sir Tony had cast? What would it have taken for these two to have been made National Artists way back in 2010, when they were still productive, and had already accomplished so much?

Like can we just give Lea Salonga her just desserts? An Olivier and a Tony, how many other Filipino thespians will earn those accolades? Deserving doesn’t have to be connected to age, and should be all about achievements. Just saying….