Monday, September 25, 2006


A FILIPINO sailor was feared to have fallen off a ship plying the waters off
Australia’s east coast.

According to wire reports, the 33-year-old sailor remained missing two days after he may have fallen off the Japanese-registered bulk carrier Hokuriku Maru.

Australian maritime authorities called off the search after medical experts ruled out the sailor’s chances of surviving two nights in the water.

The sailor is not the only thing missing in the report. There are story gaps I am even more curious about.

For instance, I do not know why the Australians launched a two-day air and sea search. The report said five planes, six boats and a helicopter were used. All this logistics for one seafarer, and a foreigner at that?

In contrast, our own labor officials launched efforts on a similar scale to keep out of reports the name of the missing sailor, “in deference to his family.”

When calamities befall overseas workers, official wells of deference are as bottomless as the treacherous seas Filipino sailors crisscross for the dream of a better life.

Perhaps some bureaucrat must have reasoned that keeping the missing sailor unnamed gives time for the Aussies to get over their disappointment in the fruitless search.

Cosmopolites probably think newspaper reading is beyond the families of the Filipino crewmen of Hokuriku Maru.

For example: if my husband were working there and I learned that a Filipino might have fallen overboard, I would be expected to: a) dismiss the story because the ship’s name could have been misspelled by the editor; b) dismiss the story because my husband knows I will kill him for killing himself before we got out of debt; or c) never even read the story because migrant families are so busy getting their life out of order.

Besides, what is one overboard Filipino when there are three million working now in over 200 overseas destinations?

To discover a mythical bottom in official depths of deference is admittedly less difficult than to imagine our officials mounting sincere searches for overseas Filipinos, who are well known for their affinity to go missing.

According to Rev. Fr. Jack Serate, a Franciscan missionary who has worked with Filipinos in the Saitama Diocese of Japan, Filipinos can always be relied on to do the unexpected: enter without papers, exist without records.

Serate says there is only one thing a Pinoy will never learn in a land where suicide forms cults as devoted as those arranging flowers or growing stunted trees: that is to escape by destroying the self.

Perhaps I was too harsh on our own officials, too lenient on the Aussies. Their maritime officials may just have spared no effort and expense to track down the sailor because our nation is notorious for staging disappearances.

I would not put it past a Pinoy to jump off a ship and swim about 250 nautical miles to enter Queensland state.

Compared to this, suicide just seems lazy. Serate says that many Filipinos work in Japan without knowledge of kanji, the ideograms in all public signs.

This has resulted in too much mangling in factories. But families back home exist, too, because Filipinos are fools enough to swim against a tide of kanji.

A minimum vocabulary of 1,945 kanji is required for a junior high school graduate. If you want to read Yukio Mishima in original Japanese, you need upwards of 5,000 kanji.

But a former Bulacan bar girl bore her Japanese boy friend three “double children.” Forced to stay home, she still hardly spoke a word to them because all she had mastered was a smattering of kana for entertaining salary men.

I now think the Aussies should have searched for one more day, even a year. A Filipino is in his element just staying alive.

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