Engr. James Blanco 

The year was 1989.  AMOSUP Chairman Capt. Gregorio S. Oca was leading young James Blanco through overgrown grassy fields in Dasmariñas, Cavite. Suddenly, he stopped and fixed his steely gaze on the young man.

“James, there’s nothing here now, but this is where we’ll set up a new village – one just for seafarers. I need your help.”

The young engineer didn’t know exactly what old Kap wanted. Advice perhaps on how to build a house or two, he mused.

“Can you help build and administer this entire community?”

James couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Long had he dreamed of building not just houses, but communities. “Yes, of course,” he said.

“Excellent,” replied the old captain. “We start next week.”

Since that fateful day three decades past, James has dedicated his career to helping build and administer the AMOSUP Seaman’s Village in Cavite.

“That’s how Kap was. He frequently gave people – especially young ones – opportunities to grow and prove themselves,” recalls James.

From an initial community of 16 houses, the village has grown to over 530 homes, an island of seafarers tucked amidst the urban sprawl of Dasmariñas.

“Most people don’t know, but Kap always wanted to be an architect. When we were brainstorming for this village, it was he who designed the houses, though he also listened carefully to our ideas. He was very hands-on and regularly visited the village to make sure everything was being done right.” The old captain, who passed away in 2010, was clearly a man of vision.

A passion for building

James’ interest for electrical engineering was sparked at Don Bosco, which prepared him for a stint at Meralco. Always passionate about architecture, he took night classes and eventually started a small but thriving furniture business, which supplied AMOSUP with tables, chairs and office equipment.

One day Kap asked him to help set-up a series of booths around Metro Manila with just three days’ lead time. James rose to the occasion, earning the captain’s trust.

“Trust was everything and Kap trusted many people throughout his long career. His word was more than enough to seal a deal, greater even than a written contract. Once you earned his trust, hinding hindi ka niya papabayaan.”

Creating the Seaman’s Village however, wasn’t hitch-free.

“Building a residential community wasn’t our core line of work so we had to learn a lot from scratch,” recalls James. “We encountered speed bumps but learned along the way. Kap always said it was okay to make mistakes. Just don’t make them twice.”

Today James helps Marissa Oca in running the Seaman’s Village, where homes are highly coveted.

Homes range from 80 square meter duplex units which go for PHP1.6M to sprawling 200 square meter houses which go for PHP2.5M. “We only accept bids from active seafarers, then draw names randomly to give everyone on the waiting list a fair chance.” There’s no downpayment and lucky tenants enjoy a zero-interest scheme payable for up to 15 years.

“My advice for seafarers is to save money and invest in tangible purchases: businesses, real-estate – and of course, your own house.”

The Seaman’s Village is home to the Eight Anchors Cultural Centre, an impressive 500-seat multi-purpose auditorium and ballroom dedicated to the activities of union members, their families and industry partners.

The village also hosts the Eco Development Center and the Filipino Food Arts Development Center, which gives TESDA certifications for people who want to pick up cooking, bartending and hospitality management – all the better to prepare them to work aboard cruise ships and luxury liners.

Many mariners have retired in the Seaman’s Village. Once, during the awarding of homes, Kap glimpsed a familiar face – his old steward. Mr. Olvina eventually became a well-loved and respected community elder.

“So many people are grateful to have been given affordable and comfortable homes here. Though Kap has passed on, I still remember all that I learned from him. Keeping one’s word. Owning up to one’s actions. Learning to trust and to be trusted in return. All because I took a leap of faith to join the AMOSUP family long ago,” concludes James.

As he did with a barren, grassy field over 30 years ago, Capt. Gregorio S. Oca’s legacy extends far beyond the building of schools, hospitals and communities – he has built many people into who they are today.  

Know more about the AMOSUP Seaman’s Village through seamens_village@yahoo.com.

This story is part of a series of stories celebrating the 60 years of the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP). AMOSUP was founded by Capt. Gregorio Oca to help Filipino seafarers on board foreign ships. AMOSUP currently has welfare programs in place to help the Filipino seafarers and their families, including health benefits, housing, welfare and legal aid, and education and training. Visit the AMOSUP website for more information. 

Gregg Yan

Gregg Yan is an award-winning writer and photographer who covers marginalized groups and environmental conservation issues. His work has been featured by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, CNN plus over a dozen books – including Into the Wild, his first coffee table book. He also has a monthly magazine column on wildlife.