Balanghay voyage stirs marine consciousness


BalikBayani République | Tony Alabastro

Proclamation No. 316 declared September as Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month (MANA Mo) to raise awareness and consciousness of maritime and archipelagic issues and concerns.

Created October 7, 2014, Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office,, merged two former Department of Foreign Affairs offices, West Philippine Sea Center and Ocean Concerns Office, to arrive at more comprehensive approach to maritime issues vital to national interests.

A decade ago, three balanghays, wooden sailboat replicas early Southeast Asians used to ferry from island to island, landed in Brunei in a 14,000-kilometer journey to unite Southeast Asia.

Barangay, a Malay word meaning sailboat, originally meant a boats’ group of 50 to 100 families, led by a Datu, living coastal or near river banks.
A September 21, 1974 Presidential Decree declared as Barangay the pre-Spanish basic political unit that Americans occupying 19th century Philippines renamed as Barrios (Spanish for neighborhood).

Six Filipinos, including to women who had conquered Mt. Everest, moored at Royal Brunei Yacht Club Serasa, from Labuan, Malaysian federal territory.

“We want to stir up Filipinos’ marine consciousness and show our Southeast Asian brothers that the Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea, Java Seas, South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand are natural highways that unite our people,” said hatted, well-tanned team leader Art Valdez, 60.

The Everest Team in Brunei included Janet Belarmino-Sardena, Carina G. Dayondon, Erwin Emata , Dr. Ted Esguerra and Fred Jamili.

Tourism Director Sheik Jamaluddin led a hadrah-beating, royal Brunei welcome for the Philippine flotilla. Mabuhay! greeted Philippine Embassy Charge d’Affaires Celeste Vinzons-Balatbat, Filipino Association in Brunei President Edel Bartholomew, and ex-FAB president Lito Belizario.

“We identify ourselves as Philippine sailboats. Getting inside busy ports like Sandakan, Labuan and Brunei is taxing game of super tankers, VLCC (very large crude carrier), large ships plying our forefathers’s route.

“They give way. We use wind and sails. In Labuan and Sandakan channels, boat traffic is heavy. Balanghays may not make it in busy ports and narrow channels. They will be hit by those behemoths without modern communication,” said Valdez.

Modelled after a 1,600-year-old relic of a balanghay dug up in Butuan, Min danao in 1976 are the 215-meter-long Diwata ng Lahi ( Fairy of the Race), Masawa Hong Butuan (Radiance of Butuan), and Sama Tawi-Tawi, a 75-foot vinta with red, yellow and blue sails, named after Sama people of Sibuto, Masters of waves and winds, the last of Badjao boat builders use ancient tools and no blueprints to build boats.

“We’re mountaineers, not seafarers,” Valdez told a Philippine Embassy briefing.

“We climbed Mt. Kinabalu with nothing. We climbed with only the clothes on our back. No climbing gear, no change of clothes. Really very cold. Our mountain climbing gear was flown to China.

“People thought the Everest climb, the Asian boat voyage can’t be done. Our voyage of the balanghay and conquering Mt. Everest show to the world excellence of the Filipino. This venture can’t be done anymore.”

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