Why do so many Filipinos emigrate?

Why the Filipinos are conquering the world's oceans

Many Filipinos dream of hiring a ship: the earnings are good, life on the road is delightful. But the way there requires perseverance and many sacrifices. Not everyone can hold out.

Tadz Arnaiz wants to leave Manila. That's why he stands every day at a noisy, dusty intersection in the west of the city and holds an A4 sheet of paper in the air. For the time being, it's his job to recruit others. Every now and then he takes a few steps to the left or right, but most of all he waits. Sometimes he is approached by men who have taken a look at his note in passing. Tadz Arnaiz has a friendly look, but his answer is monosyllabic. Most go on. It would be good if one of the men stopped every now and then. On behalf of his boss, a Greek shipowner, the 28-year-old is looking for seafarers: engineers, helmsmen, sailors - men who are willing to live on a ship for months.

"Why should I stay here?"

Arnaiz would like that too, but there is still a long way to go. With his job as a broker, he earns his first officer training. If he's lucky, his boss will let him do his first training on board next year; if he's unlucky, he'll have to stand around on Kalaw Avenue every day for another year with dozens of other young men pursuing the same goal.

The intersection of the multi-lane roads is not a nice place; there is almost always a traffic jam. Yet hundreds of people come here every day: it is the meeting place for the Philippines' seafaring scene. A very special marketplace has emerged in the shade of large trees. Everything a seafarer needs is available here: specialist books and training documents, waterproof clothing and sturdy shoes, doctors, hairdressers, fortune tellers, telephone cards, travel agencies and masseurs - as well as lots of food stalls. Men of all ages sit together at low tables, smoke, laugh, play cards or board games. Experienced and yearning people meet, old acquaintances and the curious, serious trainers and rascals. Except in the food stalls, there are almost no women.

Tadz Arnaiz came to Manila eight years ago from a small island in the Visayas. At first he worked as a salesman in a shopping center, but then he heard about the opportunity to go abroad. His family is poor and "this here" is his chance, he says. And adds: "If it were good here, would I want to leave?"

Many young men in the Philippines think like Arnaiz. No country has more seafarers, according to the authorities there were around 400,000 in 2014. Around a fifth of the almost two million Filipinos who earn their living as guest workers abroad work on a ship.

Apuada's plan for life

Noel Apuada admits that everyday life is tough, both physically and mentally - but one that is not only worthwhile for him. When he is on holiday at home, as he is now, he can invite his wife and two children to an American restaurant. Or he drives his own car to the center of Manila to spend the afternoon in a cool shopping center. Apuada, always a happy smile on the mischievous face, comes from a simple background. But at the age of 34 he helped his family to live in the upper middle class in a country where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

Apuada has been working on large tankers since he was 20, first as a cadet and now as chief engineer. His aunt had given him the idea of ​​training at a university for seafarers. The work struck him as interesting. And the promised salary was many times better than what he could calculate with a technical training in the Philippines. The path soon led him from university to his long-standing employer, a Japanese shipping company.

If Noel Apuada and his wife had met 13 years ago rather than 9 years ago, she would have done anything to dissuade him from his plans. The daughter of a former seafarer knows what it means for a family when the father logs out for months. She barely knew her father, she says. He also had a second family that her mother hadn't known about for a long time.

A lot has changed since her father went to sea. The assignments no longer last for years, but a few months. And instead of letters that are often on the move for months, Noel Apuada can have almost daily contact with his family thanks to the Internet. He is allowed to speak on Skype for a maximum of three hours a day. If the connection is stable, even with video. At least that way he gets a little bit of something from his children, he says thoughtfully. He only sees his three-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter twice a year.

His everyday life at sea is tight. He only heard from older colleagues about drinking bouts and wild parties or orgies with prostitutes on the rare shore leave - and he's not just saying that because his wife is sitting there, he laughs. The guidelines on board have become stricter in the past few years: There are fixed rest periods, disregard of which can result in pay cuts. Alcohol and gambling are forbidden, the tasks are distributed along clear chains of command. And yet it doesn't always work out well when the multicultural crews work together. The Indians, says Apuada, are opinionated, the Russians loud. And the Chinese speak English very badly. “I admire the colleagues who say they do this job out of passion,” he says. "For me it is a means to an end."

Apuada and his wife have a plan: At 45, Noel will stop going to sea. Then they have earned and saved enough to be able to lead a good life with the family. The house in the suburbs of Manila will be paid off and the children's education financed, and enough will be on the high edge. According to a law from the 1980s, overseas Filipino workers on the high seas are obliged to transfer 80 percent of their salary to an account in the Philippines. In the case of Apuada, that's around $ 6,000 a month - a lot of money in a country where the minimum monthly income is just under $ 200. "My wife is my chief financial officer," says Apuada with a laugh. Not without pride, he says that she too contributes to the family income. The 30-year-old works part-time as a teacher. During this time, her mother looks to the children. When Noel Apuada quits his seafaring job in eleven years from now, his children will be of legal age.

Better trainer than adventurer

Marlon Glenn Glorino doesn't want to wait so long to have family life again. His daughter is only three years old and the engineer finds it increasingly difficult to leave his family for months at a time. The 32-year-old engineer therefore started to develop an alternative during his home vacation. He teaches as an instructor in one of the countless training centers for seafarers.

Instead of recovering, he now stands in a classroom at seven in the morning every week. Or, as on this day, in rubber boots and orange overalls at the edge of a swimming pool. That morning, two buses brought the roughly seventy men and women from Kalaw Avenue to the site on the edge of a large freshwater lake south of the city. You complete the last of eight days of a so-called basic course. Everyone who wants to get on a deep-sea ship has to do this course once a year, including hotel and kitchen staff. Behavior in emergency situations is practiced: extinguishing fire, recovering the injured, evacuating the ship, sending emergency signals.

Glorino stands with his legs apart on a step at the edge of the pool and looks grimly at his charges, who are still a bit sleepy in the shade. Then he puts on his sunglasses, puts his hands on his hips and orders the morning roll call in a harsh tone: stand in a row and answer loudly and clearly with "present" when the name is called. Glorino thinks it is important that there is military discipline on the training grounds. That is often the case on the ship. Accidents can only be avoided with clear announcements, he says; after all, the fire is also hot during the exercise. And he adds with a grin: “Besides, I'm still pretty young for a coach. I think I'm more serious when I'm strict. "

Glorino chases his students in helmets and protective suits across the site for four hours; these move in the already oppressive heat of the morning as if in slow motion. "Come on, faster, your victim died a long time ago!" Shouts Glorino. Even if some participants have to repeat exercises: As a rule, all of them pass the course. The seafarers have to bear the costs of almost one hundred francs themselves.

Glorino later points with a concerned look at a group of young men and women who are sitting in the shade after the course and eating: "Most of them have never been on a ship," he says. "And I'm sure that many of them will never find a job." For newcomers, entry into seafaring has become more difficult - unless you have graduated from one of the good universities. 20,000 complete an apprenticeship every year, only around 5,000 find a job. Indonesia, for example, has caught up as a seafaring nation because the Indonesians are satisfied with lower salaries. However, they still have one major disadvantage compared to the Filipinos: They speak less English. Glorino hopes to be able to switch entirely to the coaching profession in two to three years. Then he will have to get by with less money. But to forge all the plans with the family only to realize that he couldn't implement them because he was simply not there - he couldn't take it anymore.