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Before Costa Concordia, a tragedy portrayed the Filipino as humane seafarer

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SAN FRANCISCO—Media coverage of the Costa Concordia tragedy has been focused mainly on the clueless captain accused of having a romantic dinner as his ship was sinking and then abandoning his crew and passengers to save himself.

Fortunately, however, the spotlight has also turned to the doomed ship’s Filipino crew members.

When calamity struck in the middle of the night, the Filipinos were disciplined and calm. Most important of all, they thought of the welfare of the most defenseless people caught in the disaster—the passengers, especially  children.

“It felt like the Titanic as we were rescuing the passengers,” ship steward Eugen Pusyo told the Manila Bulletin. “We just threw some of children into lifeboats just so they would be saved.”

A French passenger quoted in media reports recalled how the people who helped them “were cooks and stewardesses, all Filipinos. They roped themselves together to help us get down to the lifeboats.”

Who wouldn’t be moved by these accounts of bravery and selflessness?

It reminded me of another maritime tragedy in which the portrait of the Filipino as courageous, humane seafarers also came into sharp focus.

The so-called Maersk Dubai incident was recalled in a stirring January 1997 article in the New Yorker by Scott Malcomson.

In 1996, a group of Filipino merchant seamen on the Maersk Dubai, a Taiwanese cargo ship, found themselves in a bind.

When one of them, Rodolfo Miguel, discovered two Romanian stowaways in the ship which was headed for Port of Halifax in Canada, he did his duty: he reported the incident to his Taiwanese superiors.

To the shock of the Filipino seamen, the officers put the Romanians in an improvised raft and threw them out of the ship to certain death. Miguel and his fellow Filipinos were stunned.

Then came an unexpected twist in an already horrifying situation.

While Miguel was walking on the deck of the ship one day, another Romanian, Nicolae Pasca, suddenly approached him. Looking weak from days of hiding without food, Pasca wanted to surrender to the Filipino. In the Romanian’s hand was a Bible.

Knowing that Pasca was in danger, Miguel quickly guided the Romanian to a new hiding place.

Though they could not understand one another, Miguel struggled to tell the Romanian that he should consider the Filipinos his allies, the New Yorker piece related. “Filipino, no problema.”

He then pointed to a verse in the Bible the Romanian had with him. The verse was Psalm 91 part of which goes: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

“Read this every time when you sleep,” Miguel told the Romanian, according to the New Yorker account.

Miguel then secretly rallied his fellow Filipinos.

They were not able to protect the two other Romanian stowaways, and many of them had struggled with guilt and helplessness because of what happened.

But now they were going to do everything they could to protect another Romanian stowaway.

It could mean losing their jobs, and maybe even their lives — but it was the right thing to do. They were not going to let another human being die!

They came up with a code for the Romanian, according to the New Yorker account. They called him “ibon”  — bird. And they would ask whoever was assigned to bring food to their secret friend, “O pinakain mo na ba ‘yong ibon?” (Have you fed the bird)?

When the ship finally reached Halifax, the Filipinos jumped ship and reported the incident to authorities. The Romanian survived. The ship’s Taiwanese officers were arrested. (They were later extradited to Taiwan, according to Wikipedia.)

During a hearing in Canada, according to the New Yorker, Miguel struggled in broken English to declare in the courtroom, “I’m not here to lie. I’m here to stand and to stop the things that happened.”

But he and the other Filipinos struggled with the consequences of saving the Romanian’s life. According to the New Yorker, their families reported receiving threatening anonymous phone calls warning that the stranded Filipino seamen should not testify in the case.

Miguel’s wife reported to the police that two men tried to abduct her, the New Yorker said. Miguel himself told Malcomson how, as he remembered the families of the Romanians and their own families, he felt that “we are in a trap, between the families of the living and the families of the dead.”

It’s a tragic, yet inspiring, story of courage and human decency — one that should be remembered as we honor yet another group of professional, honorable and humane seafarers from the Philippines.

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel


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Tags: Costa Concordia , Filipino , heroism , OFW , Overseas Filipino workers , seafarer

  • Anonymous

    If the ones who did the good deeds were either white or Americans, then this story would have overshadowed the terrible things the captain had done. It would have been celebrated as a triumph of human sacrifice and commitment in the face of danger.

    But because it was the Filipino cooks and waiters who did it, so in their eyes, that didn’t really matter.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H36WFOK26NT5DTCBQPOVZBMXR4 lee

    Filipino are like dog. They willing to do anything for food and money.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J7CZYPZWNB37S6GTPBJQF6Y7BM Fight D Bigots

      And what about your race? Selling anything, even food laced with poison, for money, money and money!

    • http://twitter.com/whipnsaddle Bastonero

      You are more than like us, Lee, aroung the world, you can see people like you like a rat hiding under the table with a cup of bowl with chopstick who don’t even know how to speak english, everywhere!!!!! You Rotten Rat!!!!!

    • Anonymous

      i know u r korean..koreans r best compared to dogs…

    • Anonymous

      Are you a Korean? If so, my Korean friends will surely disown, moreso punch you, for being rude, bigot.

    • http://twitter.com/fantABDULicious յհɑìʍɑɾìҽ ɾìղօղ✔

       yes we do that w/ dignity and love for our family….if you’re experiencing poverty you’re going to do everything for the sake of your family it’s not what you called “Dog” act it’s called  SACRIFICES w/ love….

  • http://joboni96.myopenid.com/ joboni96

    the best in the pilipino
    pili – chosen
    pino – fine, good mannered

  • Anonymous

    Wow. I had to wipe tears. This is one truly remarkable story of Filipino seafarers that we should be proud of.

    • Anonymous

      I know how you feel.These Filipinos did a heroic act but barely mentioned of their deeds in the Western media.But the TV coverage showed they were Filipinos.One network was
      showing a Filipina ship’s crew being interviewed but the question was about the whereabouts of the Captain before the impact of the tragedy.But in that same report,i had seen the cooks and stewards were the one’s helping the passengers to safety.
      But alas! If those people helping the passengers are from other countries,i bet you they will stretch the stories and annoint them as saviours and Supermen.
      We are by nature passive people and we are not overt exhibitionists,not even attention getter.But when the tough gets going,we deliver.When lost fishermen from other countries
      strayed to our waters,we help them.When Vietnam and Cambodia fell to the Communists
      in 75′ we opened our arms to them at Morong.When some American soldiers escaped from the dreaded Bataan Death March in World War 2,rural Filipinos hid and feed them until they were able to rejoin their comrades.
      In 71′ while waiting for a hop at Hickam Air Force base in Hawaii for Clark AFB in the Philippines,couple of old white guys came to me and without hesitation thank me,being Filipino,for the help that the Filipino people gave them while they were in the  boondocks after they escaped from that Death March.They said they could not forget the care,the food(bananas and sweet potato) and the hospitality that were showed to them.The Filipinos hid them from the Japanese,they said.They will never forget that episode,they added.
      That’s our sterling character and we are proud of that.We are soft hearted people.
      A couple of weeks ago, this country was mentioned as the #8 friendliest country in the world.It speaks volume.When people are friendly most of them have that deep and ingrained feeling of courage.But they don’t flaunt it.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/P4MNSIMJCMO43N4XTZGTQSK2LU Takipsilim

    That is why most merchant seafarers in the world are Filipinos, generally speaking, the best in their field and the most dependable. I am a Filipino chief engineer and i have european ratings but you cannot compare them to Filipino ratings. I would always go for a Filipino ratings. Taiwanese and Koreans are worst.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZUPI47EV6XQTS7PBPF5QXXESP4 Anonymous

    we can’t blame if Lee here don’t have any manners….co’z in China they don’t have a subject of “Good manners and right conduct”………….pity U Lee, Ur pathetic………….



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