Thirteen years after it was organized at the very site where Dr. Jose Rizal refused to be shot in the back and faced instead the volley of bullets from his executors, UFS can humbly claim that it has gone a long way from its days under the tree with its files in a carton box. Emulating the principled stubbornness of the national hero and maneuvering over the unsteady waters of the maritime industry, UFS has made a name for itself and survived every assault mounted by its detractors.
Steering clear with defined programs and deliberate objectives, all aimed at fighting for the welfare and benefits of seafarers, UFS has sailed through the incongruent waters and delivered where it mattered.
It caused the extension of the validity of the Seafarers Identification and Record Book from three to five years, thereby eliminating frequent renewals and the added cost such renewed entail. Subsequently, it mounted a series of mass actions to compel the Maritime Industry Authority to process SIRBs, expeditiously as it was taking them too long to issue the document to the detriment of seafarers about to board their vessels.
UFS’ social commitment also prompted it to wage an unwavering war against illegal recruitment. A number of illegal recruiters, who prey not only on seafarers but on other overseas-bound, Filipino workers are now languishing in jail after UFS filed cases against them and saw to it that justice is served to those they have victimized.
The UFS continues to be vigilant to this day, always waiting in the wings to break the backs of unscrupulous recruiters or other scalawags preying on the hapless seafarers and their families and milking the latter of their hard-earned money, and put the former behind bars, where these criminal elements truly belong.
In quality maritime education, UFS has taken the cudgels to review the curricula of marine schools and training institutions in relation with the standards imposed by the International Maritime Organization, through its Standard of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping, and the Norwegian classification-society Det Norske Veritas. Those who violate compliance even with the standards set by the Commission on Higher Education are given a whipping through Tinig ng Marino. And if that is not enough, he goes great lengths and takes to the streets to ventilate the unforgivable abuse on students and their parents by unscrupulous maritime schools and training institutes.
When the Maritime Training Council (MTC) and the Professional Regulations Commission started imposing the interim courses on Filipino seafarers, the UFS was among the first industry groups to air its grievance over the matter since it would be another burden on the part of the Filipino seafarers. The union was adamant that the courses were meant to benefit only maritime training centers and not the seafarers. Five years after the introduction of the interim courses, which UFS continues to fight for to this day, MTC and PRC come up again with the ridiculous Management Level Courses (MLC) and mandating them on operational level officers before they can assume management level positions onboard.
Since the issue of the MLC cropped up in 2005, UFS has been relentless in brandishing the course as another burden on the Filipino officers, whose numbers have dwindled over time as a result of the back-breaking interim courses previously imposed on their ranks. The union has initiated various fora and dialogues to air its disapproval on the MLC in 2006. Apart from drawing several other organizations opposing the MLC including the Crewing Managers Association of the Philippines and The Seamen’s Party, the efforts of the UFS also generated the positive support of the maritime industry’s silent majority.
Just recently, on May 8, 2007, UFS spearheaded a street protest action to oppose the implementation of the MLC to specifically coincide with the meeting of the PRC and other seafaring professional associations to discuss, among others, the implementation of the MLC.
UFS remains steadfast in its resolve to fight off MLC to be imposed on Filipino seafarers no matter what the cost, anchored on the strong notion that only in the Philippines where seafarers are being made to undergo such trainings, whereas the other seafarers of other counties in the world are not.
Cognizant of the dangers of sexually-transmitted diseases, like HIV and AIDS to the profession, UFS is at the forefront of an education and information campaign preaching safe sex and promoting abstention. It also participates actively in various fora that tackle the subject.
Following the Confucian principle on silence where one who doesn’t speak is not heard, UFS officials actively participate in every forum or meeting where the concern of the seafarer is on the table. This is not limited to local affairs but also to international conventions like the workshops and seminars on International Maritime Labor Standards, the 20th World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, the First International Conference of Seamen and Families, and other fora involving local and international maritime experts and personalities.
UFS has also made itself an integral part of the National Maritime Week activities held every September. Following the successful holding of its first ever UFS Summit in December 2004, the union has institutionalized the conduct of Maritime Week Exhibit and Trade Fair in September 2005 and September 2006 to help chart the future of Filipino seafarers and their families as the event offers them business opportunities and possible future land-based careers when they are through with their seaborne professions.
Over the years, as UFS actively takes part in every maritime undertaking and makes initiatives where there is none, the recognition for the union grew. Beyond that recognition, however, is the unwritten state of appreciation for UFS and what it stands for.
For the seafarer, the UFS is its knight in shining armor. But for those who oppress and take advantage of the seafarer, UFS is a dragon slayer, ready to spring its claws and blow its balls of fire.