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In Manila, cadets who serve as unpaid labour for manning agencies in the guise of internship are called “utility”. I have always found the use of this term both amusing and vexing. It sounds quirky and is one example of how Filipinos sometimes misuse or bastardise the English language.

The word “utility” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as 1) a service for supplying electricity, gas, etc.; 2) a large company that provides a service such as electricity, gas, etc.; 3) a computer program that is used to do a particular task; and 4) how useful something is.

“How useful something is”, This is what maritime folks in Manila apparently have in mind when they use the term “utility”. Cadets who work as virtual slaves in the hope of being deployed as apprentice officers do have high utility (see my earlier post, ‘Ah, the things they make Filipino maritime cadets do!’)

In that case, why not refer to them as “utility cadets” or the less accurate “cadet trainees”? This would at least indicate that they are humans who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect — not faceless entities. much less objects that one can use for some practical purpose.

But that may be expecting too much given the prevailing use-or-be-used culture in maritime Manila. I know of one secretary in a crewing agency who would holler “utility!”, and a cadet would come rushing to her desk to do her bidding. That she did not call the cadets by their first or last names speaks volumes.

~ Barista Uno

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