Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mayday! Mayday! for the aviation industry

The local aviation industry could crash if the exodus of aviation experts does not slow down. The industry is composed of two sectors: the airlines and the service providers.

``Poaching at the highest level’’ was how a Filipino airline executive called the aggressive recruitment by foreign airlines. These ``poachers’’ have been reportedly coming to make choice pickings from the Philippines’ pool of highly trained experts. They could offer higher pay because they had not spent money and time to train their own.

More than 100 hundred Filipino pilots to go. This was what the Indian air industry was reportedly in search of during its recent recruitment foray in the Philippines. That’s too many considering that the Philippines’ has about only 700 commercial pilots to go around.

Singapore reportedly has an active order for 50 pilots pending at the Philippine Overseas and Employment Association.

From 2004 to 2005, more than 200 aircraft mechanics and aviation support staff have left the country according to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) figures. Philippine Airlines (PAL) has lost 75 pilots in the last three years to different airlines in the Middle East and Asia.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rest for the Visayan Sea

While politicians are talking about restiveness, restlessness and unrest in the political front, those concerned about the environment are talking rest.

A group that calls itself the Visayan Sea Squadron is asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to give the Visayan Sea a rest, declare a closed season and determine areas available only for certain types of fishing.

Mayors have also petitioned the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to declare the entire area closed to commercial fishing vessels (three tons and above). These local officials also asked the DENR to work for the declaration of the Visayan Sea as a Unesco World Heritage Site for marine biodiveristy.

According to the Visayan Sea Squadron, an outreach program of the Law of Nature Foundation, the Visayan Sea has an area of about one million hectares. It is ``at the apex of the fabled Visayan Marine Triangle which lies at the very heart of the Sulu-Sulawesi Eco-region.’’

The way this triangle is being described makes one imagine a fantastic water wonderland that exists only in tales of yore. But no, this region is still alive, even if now threatened by depletion and destruction.

The Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Triangle, which covers a wide swath from the Philippines to Indonesia, is supposed to be the richest marine eco-region in the world and is home to the largest variety of marine life—fishes, coral, sea grasses, etc., in the whole world.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

PCIJ under siege

At the senate hearing last Tuesday Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) executive director Sheila Coronel and Daily Tribune editor Ninez Cacho Olivarez gave testimonies on harassment and curtailment of media freedom that media organizations have experienced in the past days.

Sen. Arroyo, woefully paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, said, ``Those who want to destroy the freedom of nations will have to start with the freedom of the press.’’

Clashing with the generals during the martial law years wasn’t so bad after all, I said to Sheila and she agreed. At least we knew the enemy then, we knew their names and their faces. But tangling now with those who operate in the shadows is something else. You have to watch your back.

So many media practitioners have died in the hands of such elements in the past couple of years. The recent government attempts to threaten and harass the media serve to embolden those with shady intentions.

Excerpts from Sheila’s opening statement at the Senate illustrate this.

``Late (last Monday afternoon), three members of the Central Police District, accompanied by sound engineer Jonathan Tiongco, asked a Quezon City judge to issue a warrant that will allow the police to search the office of the PCIJ, apparently in connection with a charge of inciting to sedition.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

OFW: From belly of the ship to top deck

Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

FROM BOILER room to ballroom, from stage to spa, from poolside to pantry, from bar to fine dining. From the belly of the luxury ship to the topmost deck where one could see forever and behold the azure sea and sky of the Mediterranean.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) rule the roost, so to speak, aboard the cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas because of their sheer number and also because of their skills, talent, dependability and graciousness. Filipinos comprise about 60 percent of the 853-strong crew that is composed of 51 nationalities.

"Here I earn the combined salaries of four teachers and three security guards in the Philippines," reveals Jerry Dioneo, 36, who works in the dining section. Dioneo who hails from Silay City in Negros Occidental has been on the ship for about three years and is on his fourth contract. Only the Filipino nationals, Dioneo adds, are compelled to allot and remit 20 percent of their earnings to their folks back home. This is stipulated in their contracts.

And what is work like on cruise days? "Every day here is a Monday," Dioneo chirps as he replenishes the cornucopia of food for the guests.

Victoriano Camacho, 46, of Calamba, Laguna, has been with the cruise company for 16 years and is now the sous chef (assistant of the executive chef). He started out at the Nikko Hotel in Makati. Now he earns $2,600 a month.

$1.7 billion of the total $10.8 billion remitted by OFWs in 2005 came from the sea-based OFWs. The number of Filipino seafarers working abroad as of 2005, is about 250,000 or approximately 20 percent of the world's total.

White List

The rise in the number could be attributed to the inclusion of the Philippines in the International Maritime Organization?s ?White List? of 72 accredited countries. Being on the list means the country has continuously complied with the standards required for competent seafarers.

Being a Filipino seaman or seafarer does not necessarily mean working in cargo ships sailing drearily on a gray sea and being cooped up, fighting ennui until land appears on the horizon. A good number of the sea-based OFWs work in cruise ships. These luxury liners cater to vacation-bound, fun-loving, adventure-seeking humans, people who work hard and play hard, or who just want to be out of reach and listen to the music of the ocean, heeding the cruise logo catchphrase that says, "Get out there." One could also choose to get holed up in the ship?s library.

The three-year-old German-built Brilliance of the Seas belongs to a fleet of cruise ships of the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) that sails in Europe, North America and the Caribbean. It has a passenger capacity of 2,500.

The Filipino seamen and women working on board are there to help make good things happen. The job is demanding as cruises involve service, hospitality, food, fun, travel, safety and, most of all, people.

Earning from tips

Bar server Vergie Mompil, an education course graduate, has spent eight years working on several cruise ships. Her husband, Edwin Vicero also works in another cruise ship, Jewels of the Sea.

Those in food service are not paid the fixed salary rate that workers in other sections receive. Food and drink servers like Vergie receive only $50 per 12-day cruise but the tips (provided for in the bill) earn her about $1,000. Two cruises per month or more than ten cruises in a six-month contract mean a lot when remitted to the Philippines. ?After six months, we go on a two-month break,? Vergie adds.

Vergie is stationed at the bar in the main lobby ballroom at the foot of a luminous stairway where guests in formal wear linger to chat or dance to music provided mainly by?you guessed it?Filipino musicians.

Vergie and her husband have a three-year-old child who is being cared for by two aunts. The couple is building a home south of Manila and planning for a hardware store.

Not everyone is in the direct employ of RCI. Hoffman Roscano, 27, married, works as a photographer of a photo agency that operates aboard the ship. He and several photographers have their hands full during formal dinners and evening activities as well as land tours. During special occasions, they set up a mini studio where guests in their glittering ?Titanic? finery could go for a formal shoot. Guests snap up the photos the morning after. Roscano also receives commissions from the sales.

Better than 5-star salary

Karen del Carmen, in her 20s, works as a beauty therapist in the Brilliance Day Spa operated by an agency. A tourism graduate of a college in Bacolod, she had a work stint in a hotel in the Philippines after which she applied in a maritime agency. The spa company hired her and sent her to London for training.

"Better than a five-star salary," is how del Carmen describes what she earns. After every 12-day cruise she gets two days off. ?It?s fun working here,? she says as she looks up from her desk in the spa?s lavender-scented receiving area.

Nights are busy for the musicians who play in different venues aboard the ship. John Neri, 24, regales the night owls with violin music. As a child he studied music under a scholarship program for the musically gifted.

Neri met his wife in another cruise ship. Married for four years now, the couple is building a house in Kalookan City.

Oye como va

Although now US-based, Vicky Gallarde of Vicky and The Holding Company band still calls the Philippines home. It?s a rollicking night when the band plays for a crowd with itchy feet.

Vicky switches without a hitch from lusty "Amor, amor, amor" to a staccato "Oye como va" while husband Chris and the rest segue from rumba to disco beat. The band is a ship mainstay.

The couple has a room for two of their own at the crew quarters. The standard rooms for two for the crew have TVs and computers with e-mail capabilities. The Filipinos also have a daily two-page news digest called "Philippines Today." There is a bar as well as games and exercise facilities.

Edgardo Villarino, 42, studied music in the University of the Philippines and sang with the UP Concert Chorus. He is married with three kids. The Inquirer chanced upon Villarino playing soothing classic guitar music by the poolside.

He was in the Caribbean several months earlier and he remembers the day a hurricane blew around there. There are less "sea days" in the Mediterranean, he says, meaning, the ship docks often in tourist havens.

Selling the Philippines

On his fifth contract now, Villarino says their own families could enjoy cruise privileges when there is space available. And could the entertainers have some fun during the day? "If there are less than five guests using the pool, we could take a dip," Villarino says.

He dreams of cruises on Philippine waters that could rival those elsewhere. "We try to advertise the Philippines. Subic is so beautiful." He talks of an island in Haiti that Royal Caribbean had developed.

Great workers

Bill Brunkhorst, American cruise director who makes sure entertainment is at its peak, has only good words for the Filipinos. "They are so talented and they learn very quickly," he says. "They're great workers."

The Greek ship captain Michael Lachtaridis, a seasoned sea voyager who has been sailing the seas for 33 years says he has been working with Filipinos since the 1980s. "They get along well with other nationalities," he says. "They are very educated and they are a happy lot."

Whether it is instructing on wine tasting, giving beauty massages, serving at formal dinners, making omelets at the buffet breakfast, playing music, snapping photos amidst the Greek ruins, ensuring security and swiping cards at entry and exit points, disposing garbage or keeping staterooms clean, Filipino seamen and women are doing their best. And why not a Filipino guest chaplain or morgue attendant?

The least seen

The least seen but perhaps the most important because they make the ship sail the distances are those who work in the belly of the ship or the engine room. The lives of those on board are practically in the hands of these experts in ship engineering.

The Inquirer descended to the grime-free hard hat area and met some of the Filipinos there. Jessie Hervilla, Estefanio Joel, Steve Flores, Ramon Cerio, Percival Dilag and so many more. Chief Junior Engineer Rasmus Norling of Sweden has only high praises for the men who are seldom seen on deck.

But life for the OFWs on board these cruise ships is surely not problem-free, as life anywhere is not. Are the OFWs on these so-called floating four-star, five-star hotels better off than their counterparts in cargo ships and oil tankers? What lies beyond those glittering nights and sunny days at sea? What awaits them in their homeland? What awaits Edward Pampis, Joselito Benito, Cipertino Apil, Arlene Salon, Susan Gatmaitan, Arthur Pernia, Julius, Mijares, Juanito Embolori, Edwin Miranda, Enrico Sabido, Victor Amuyang, Ronaldo Carreon, Ernita Villanueva, George Tardo, Joselito Benito?

Don't they feel resentful when they see food and drink flowing endlessly, people having so much fun and spending so much money for this kind of voyage, while they work so hard to keep these people thrilled and while the pine for home?

"Oh no," says a food server without a tinge of resentment. "Many of them have worked hard too. And because of them we have our jobs. Someday we too could enjoy something like this."

This Inquirer reporter was a regular paying guest on this cruise. The ship sailed from Barcelona and back and stopped in several key places on the Mediterranean coasts of Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

The media fights back

Because of the recent political events the government has raised its iron hand and directed it toward the media as well. Are we the enemy?

As I write this, media groups and individuals are in court making a petition for certiorari, prohibition and declaratory relief. Time constraints prevented me from signing the petition but one of the media groups I am affiliated with signed as one of the petitioners.

The decision to file a petition was made after two meetings between the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and media practitioners. The contents of the petition were fully discussed with the parties concerned and substantial changes were made to ensure that the petition addressed the concerns of both print and broadcast journalists.

Rarely do journalists go to court for reasons connected with their work. Why did the media go to court? Here is a technical summary of the objectives. This could be very instructive for those who are not in the legal profession.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

When media women fought back

The present government that is tinkering with media freedom should learn a few lessons from the 1983 case of women journalists versus military officers filed before the Supreme Court.

The military’s dreaded and intimidating moves at that time against seven women journalists, including myself, may have created a temporary chilling effect but it did not prevent us from making bold moves to make sure it was not going to be done ever again to us or to anyone.

On Feb. 1, 1983, braving martial rule, 23 of us women writers and six male colleagues filed a ``petition for prohibition with preliminary injunction’’ with the Supreme Court. This was to stop the military’s National Intelligence Board (NIB) Special Committee No. 2 from harassing media practitioners and violating our right to freedom of expression and right to remain silent.

Named respondents were retired Brig. Gen. Wilfredo Estrada, Colonels Renato Ecarma, Balbino Diego, Galileo Kintanar, Hermogenes Peralta, Vicente Tigas, Maj. Eleanor Bernardino and NBI Asst. Director Ponciano Fernando—all of NIB No. 2.

A sudden creation of the dreaded Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver, the NIB was composed of high-ranking military officials tasked to ``invite’’ and interrogate the women journalists whom they thought had written unflattering and damaging articles against the Marcos dictatorship.