‘Balangay’ and the Filipino seafaring heritage

TEN YEARS ago this month, the very first balangay boat replica, Diwata ng Lahi (Spirit of Lineage), sailed on her maiden voyage from the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ grounds.

The balangay is a plank boat adjoined by a carved-out plank edged through pins and dowels. It is known as the oldest watercraft in the Philippines.

It is the evidence of early Filipino craftsmanship and their seamanship skills during pre-colonial times.

The balangays navigated without the use of modern instruments, and only through the skills and traditional methods of the Filipino Sea Badjao people, one of the ancient mariners – steering by the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns and bird migrations. It is in the Filipinos’ DNA – we are naturally attuned to the waters.

Diwata was later joined by two more balangay boats, namely Masawa Hong Butuan (Bright Light of Butuan) and Sama Tawi Tawi (original inhabitants of Tawi-Tawi).

The balangay boats initially journeyed from Manila Bay to the southern tip of Sulu, stopping at numerous Philippine cities along the way. They covered a distance of 2,108 nautical miles or 3,908 kilometers.

On their second major voyage, the balangay boats sailed to trace our ancestors’ trade and migration routes throughout Southeast Asia in 2010. It then sailed to Micronesia and Madagascar the following year then across the Pacific to the Atlantic and all the way around the world, returning to the Philippines in 2012 to 2013.

The journey of the balangay boats had proven the seafaring prowess of the Filipino.

Last year’s National Seafarers Day, with the theme “Marinong Filipino: Kayamanan ng Lahi!” placed emphasis on the voyages of the balangays that epitomize the strong-willed Filipino mariners.

The Philippines is considered as one of the major suppliers of maritime labor globally. It is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five complements on board a vessel at any time.

The deployed seafarers in 2018 brought in $6.14 billion (or around P318.55 billion) in remittances. The sea-based sector’s remittance comprises at least 20 percent of the total dollar remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). These remittances help spur domestic consumption in the Philippines and a key ingredient in the country’s drive to achieve higher but sustainable growth.

However, away from his family and working on board vessels sailing non-stop for weeks or months the world’s oceans, the Filipino seafarer is physically, mentally and emotionally stressed.

Constantly exposed to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant weather changes of extreme hot and cold as the ships cross ocean boundaries, the risks of his getting killed, injured or ill are high.

Former president Fidel V. Ramos issued on July 9, 1996 Proclamation No. 828 declaring August 18 as National Seafarers’ Day aimed to give due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers towards the development of the Philippines as a maritime country.

Later, Proclamation No.1094 was issued in 1997 by President Ramos which moved NSD to every last Sunday of September every year.

The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) Philippines was tasked to coordinate with the public and private sector in activities related to the celebration of said event.

The Sunday masses all over the country are offered to the Filipino seafarers.

Other weeklong NSD activities nationwide led by AOS include the novenas, Memorial at Sea, oratorical / art / photo contest, Harana by the Bay, balangay ride, boodlefight, karaoke challenge, and the Search for Ten Outstanding Maritime Students.

One of the highlights is the Grand Parade participated in by stakeholders from maritime schools, government agencies, manning agencies, training centers, maritime organizations, unions, families and private institutions.

This year’s NSD theme is “Marinong Filipino-Kababaihan: Palakasin sa Industriya!”

The NSD coincides with the National Maritime Week celebrated every last week of September spearheaded alternatively by the government agencies Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).


 Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)./PN


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