Frankly speaking, I am amused at how much attention the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” has been receiving of late in the US political scene. The expression can be traced back to the 16th century. It literally means “something for something”. In some cases, those who engage in quid pro quo could cross a legal red line as when a boss promises an employee a pay raise in exchange for sex. But what person — or nation — has not been guilty of the practice at one time or another?

As a maritime writer and former shipping journalist, I myself have seen quid pro quo in action in maritime Manila. Here are some examples:

Manning agencies and unions using cadets as unpaid labour in exchange for giving them a shipboard placement

Maritime publications praising a company or its president in exchange for an advert, an all-expenses-paid trip abroad, or cold cash in an envelope

Maritime executives treating a journalist to a sumptuous lunch at a five-star hotel or giving them gifts at Christsmas time in exchange for a favourable write-up or simply to cultivate friendly relations with the press

Union officials playing footsie with manning agencies in exchange for the continuance of their collective wage agreements

Training centres giving kickbacks (the local euphemistic term is ‘rebates’) to crewing managers in exchange for getting more seafarers to enrol in their training courses

Manning agents giving visiting principals the red carpet treatment (iwine, women and song) in exchange for being retained as agents

Indeed, a unique culture exists in maritime Manila which is based on an ‘I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine’ mentatlity. This culture is continually strengthened by the national obsession with seafaring and manning. Many Filipinos think nothing of it. It is normal to them. Yet, one would really have to be undiscerning to overlook what effect this kind of culture has on individuals as well as society at large. It is summed up in my ebook, Close Encounters in Maritime Manila:

It is a culture of qui pro quos in which people are often goaded by ulterior motives and favours are granted in return for something. Human interaction is reduced to a question of using others or being used by them. People tend to lose sight of what it means to be human and, in the process, unconsciously surrender a portion of their own humanity. For society at large, it is a slow descent into primitivism.

~ Barista Uno


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