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Wednesday, April 05, 2006
WHILE the filipino nationality of the first person to circumnavigate the globe, Ferdinand Magellan's interpreter, Enrique de Mallaca, is subject to debate, there is no doubt that Filipino seafarers have been at the vanguard of the Diaspora, going back to the Galleon Trade, from 1565 to 1815.

According to journalist Floro Mercene, who has done a lot of research on Filipino presence in the New World, "some 60,000 Filipinos sailed on the galleon from Manila to Acapulco over two-and-a-halg centuries" as crewmen.

Mercene conjectures that "one of every five members of the crew was a Filipino native, but some historians claim it went as hihg as 50 to 80 percent Filipinos".

In a letter to the King of Spain in 1765, Spanish explorer Leandro de Viana wrote: "There is not an Indio in those islands who has not a remarkable inclination for the sea, nor is there at present in all the world a people more agile in maneuvers on shipboard or who learn so quickly nautical terms and whatever a good mariner ought to know."

In the February 25, 1889 issue of La Solidaridad, Graciano Lopez Jaena reported:"In a town near Barcelona live quite a number of Filipino sailors. I also know that in almost all the ports of England, France and America, particularly in New York and Philadelphia, there are many Filipino sailors".

Just as the Spaniards conscripted natives of Las Islans Filipinas for the galleons, the U.S. Navy actively recruited young Filipino males as stewards and mess boys soon after America took over the Philipines from Spain. The book, Filipino American LIves, by Yen Le Espiritu, points out that in 1901, President William McKinley issued General Order No. 40 allowing the U.S. Navy to rectruit up to 500 Filipino for the Naval Insular Force. By World War I, there were some 6,000 Pinoys in the U.S. Navy.

IN his column "Reveille" (Philippine Daily Inquirer), retired General and former customs commissioner Ramon Farolan wrote: "Under the Rp-US Military Bases Agreement of 1947, only the U.S. Navy was allowed to recruit Filipinos for its armed forces and during the Korean War, the Navy annually took in up to 2,000 Filipinos, ages 18 to 24. By 1970, there were close to 17,000 Filipinos in the U.S. Navy. Someone mentioned that there were probably more Filipinos in the U.S. Navy that in the Philippine Navy.

Farolan further wrote: " For many of our young men, a career in the U.S. Navy was a life-long dream. In a number of communities (and in many families) particuarly those close to the U.S. bases (Clark, Subic and Sangley Point), joining the U.S. Navy had become a tradition as well as a badge of distinction. These installations exposed the local people to American wealth, culture and standards of living, generating strong incentive for enlistment. In particular, the monetary incentive for joining was exceptional - the salary of a raw recruit was alot higher than many in the towns and villages where they came from. There was also the opportunity to ain permanent residency in the United States and with that, eventual citizenship."

Filipino naval personnle were assigned mainly to menial chores, as domestics cooks and valets of officers, with little prospect of promotionl. However, that changed over time, as the story of Rear Admiral Eleanor "Connie" Mariano illustrates.

The daugher of a U.S. Navy steward Mariano became a medical doctor and then joined the U.S. Navy in 1981, after getting a degree from the Uniformed Services University of Bethesda, Maryland. She was eventually appointed chief physician at teh White House during the incumbency of President's George H. Bush and Bill Clinton. The latter promoted her to star rank, making her the highest-ranking person of Filipno descent in the U.S. Navy.

Speaking at the 4th national conference of the National Federation of Filipino American Association in Las Vegas in 2000, Mariano quipped that her facther could only enter the officers' quarters through the kitchen, but because of him, "I now walk through the front door of the White House".

Today, based on available date, the Philippines is considetred the highest source of seamen in the world, with a quarter of a million Filipinos employed in ocean-going ships or an estimated 20 percent of total working seafarers in international vessels. About half work in luxury cruise ships as hotel and restaurant crew.

The Philippines Deaprtment of Labor has a different set of figures: "180,000 Filipino seamen or 28.5 percent of the toral maritime population of 632,000 are working worldwide. Russia is second with 7.3 percent."

The saga of the Filipino seamen will continue to be a significant chapter in the history of the Filipino Diaspora.

posted by infraternam meam @ 9:56 PM  
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