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To call maritime cadets ‘utility’ as most folks in Manila do is dehumanising. The term ‘maritime flunkey’ or ‘cadet flunkey’, which I prefer, is more benign. However, it still does not give a true picture of the young aspiring ship officers who serve — for months on end in many cases — as unpaid labour for the local manning agencies and seafarer unions.

Slaves. Conscripted labour. These more accurately describe the cadets in question. The following excerpts from my e-book, ‘Close Encounters in Maritime Manila’, should shock anyone who has not become jaded and who sees these exploited youths as human beings, not as mere objects to be used.

ONE UNION official has a cadet who drives for the missus whenever she wants to go shopping. A former Korean ship captain who sits as chairman of a manning agency also has a cadet as personal driver. Believe it or not, flunkeys have been known to work in pig farms and drive taxicabs owned by manning agents.

Nursing interns and apprentice lawyers are not exploited in such fashion by hospitals and law firms. Why should college-educated maritime cadets?

What these young men and women are undergoing is servitude, not internship. The latter is a legitimate practice accepted around the world and in many professions. It enables the intern, who may or may not get paid, to gain some work experience or satisfy certain requirements for a qualification.

Unfortunately, the dimwits in Manila’s manning community fail or simply refuse to see the distinction between servitude and internship…

(from ‘The Mariime Flunkeys’, Close Encounters in Maritime Manila)

THE MANAGERS sat quietly like cadets dining in a mess hall in the presence of the naval academy superintendent. They ate their food without saying a word as Captain T. and I carried on with our conversation. I had never seen such deference in crewing managers in my life.

After a fortnight or so, I happened to be in a mall a walking distance from Captain T.’s office and decided to swing by to see him. We only talked for a few minutes as he had to leave for an outside appointment. It was almost twelve noon, so I said I would likewise go. But Captain T. insisted that I stay for lunch and instructed his crewing managers to take care of me.

It was the same arrangement as before, the cadets waiting on us like dutiful attendants in a sultan’s palace. The only difference was that the managers were more relaxed this time in the absence of their boss. They also talked a great deal.

One of them turned to a cadet, raised his right hand and then curtly pointed down to his empty glass with his stubby index finger. The lad understood the gesture and promptly filled the manager’s glass with iced water.

The manager did not say “please” or call the cadet by his name. He could have at least addressed him as hijo, a Spanish term meaning “son” which some elderly Filipinos still use today when speaking to a young male. But why bother with tradition and the niceties of etiquette when you are dealing with automatons?

((from ‘The Mariime Flunkeys’, Close Encounters in Maritime Manila)

MR. J. was amongst a group of lads who were taken in as unpaid workers by a Manila-based manning agency with the promise of being given a shipboard posting. They were transported to a nearby province where they were treated like slaves.

The young man described how they were forced to go up a mountain at midnight to plant seedlings of the calamansi (calamondin orange) tree. They once had to dig a water well so deep that any muscular fellow would have been completely spent.

As part of their routine, the boys would catch fish off a small island said to be owned by the president of the manning agency. The fish was sold in the public markets.

On one fateful night, the lads were ordered to load the day’s catch on a wooden boat without outriggers and transport it from the islet to the mainland.

They hesitated at first as the sea was very rough. But with the manning agency’s armed guards hovering over them, they finally relented. En route, the boat capsized in the darkness and two of Mr. J.’s companions drowned…

(from ‘The Mariime Flunkeys’, Close Encounters in Maritime Manila)

Close Encounters in Maritime Manila is still available at a 50% discount. Click here to find out more about the book.

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~ Barista Uno

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