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Universiteit van Amsterdam

Of kilatis, women and Filipino seafarers:
perceptions of Filipino seafarers on sexually transmitted disease,

its prevention and treatment

A Master’s Thesis

Submitted by

Heinrich B. Dulay
The Philippines

Amsterdam Master’s in Medical Anthropology
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Universiteit van Amsterdam

In fulfilment of the requirements of the course

Master’s in Medical Anthropology
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Universiteit van Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Prof. Pieter Streefland, Ph.D.

August 2004

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Table of contents

Acknowledgement iii
Executive summary 1
1. Introduction 6
Tony 6
Previous studies on sexually transmitted diseases among Filipino seafarers 9
Methodology 11
Theoretical framework 15
The research site 18
Ethical considerations 20
2. The tour of duty 21
Willy 21
The voyage: a microcosm of multi-ethnic society 22
At the port: the need for a social interaction 27
“You can’t get away from women!” 31
3. Back at home 36
Manny 36
After end of contract 37
The families of Filipino seamen 40
4. Somewhere between the voyage and at home 45
Art 45
Sexually transmitted diseases according to Filipino seamen 45
Filipino seafarers’ (lay) recognition of sexually transmitted diseases 50
On prevention 54
On treatment 57
HIV/AIDS according to Filipino seamen 62
5. Conclusion 67
Notes 71
Glossary of terms 73
References 74
Annex 1a: In-depth interview guide (English) 80
Annex 1b: In-depth interview guide (Filipino) 82
Annex 2a: Photovoice guide (English) 84
Annex 2b: Photovoice guide (Filipino) 85
Annex 3a: Participant observation guide while working with the seafarers (English) 86
Annex 3b: Participant observation guide while working with the seafarers (Filipino) 87
Annex 4a: Interview guide for the interview of the wives of seafarers (English) 88
Annex 4b: Interview guide for the interview of the wives of seafarers (Filipino) 89
Annex 5a: Participant observation guidelines while at the seafarer’s home village

(English) 90
Annex 5b: Participant observation guidelines while at the seafarer’s home village

(Filipino) 91
Annex 6: Interview guide for the interview of a medical doctor 92
Annex 7: Interview guide for the interview of a priest 93
Annex 8a: Informed consent form (English) 94
Annex 8b: Informed consent form (Filipino) 96
Annex 9: Photovoice samples 98


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might contract herpes, there is a chance that he might report it as syphilis because of genital

inflammation and cold sores similar to the symptoms of early stage syphilis.

Pubic lice on the other hand is described as it is: having lice in the pubic area and it is

itchy. A person infected with pubic lice always scratches his pubic area (kamot ng kamot sa

kuwan…). One seafarer refers to pubic lice as garapata which is the Filipino term for a tick.

Another explains:

Ang babae pag nag-shave, may kuto ‘yan. ‘Pag inilabas ko na babae makita
kong shaved s’ya, stop na ako. ‘Di na. Bayaran ko na lang s’ya…alis na ako
kahit na hot na hot na ako…mag-alibi na lang. ‘Wag na baka may iba pang sakit
‘yun. (If a woman shaved her pubic hair, she must have pubic lice. If I see that
the woman I dated out [from the bar] has shaved her pubic hair, I’ll stop. I will
not [have sex with her] anymore. I’ll just pay her…and I will just go away even
if I was aggressive earlier…I’ll give any reason. I won’t anymore, she might also
have other [sexually transmitted] diseases.)

Aside from these two discussions on herpes and pubic lice, all references to sexually

transmitted diseases by Filipino seafarers are about syphilis and especially gonorrhea.

Filipino seafarers refer to sexually transmitted diseases as diseases of women (sakit sa

babae). This entails the fact that they contract sexually transmitted diseases when they have

sex with infected women (nakuha sa babae). On the other hand, Filipino seafarers will never

call it as sakit sa lalaki (disease of men) when men acquire sexually transmitted diseases or

refer to it as nakuha sa lalaki (contracted a sexually transmitted disease from infected men)

when men were the ones who transmitted it to their partners. They recognize nonetheless that

they can unwittingly facilitate the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the general

population especially to their wives or partners:

Tapos minsan affected ‘yung asawa nila sa nakuha nila sa babae. Tapos hindi
man lang nagpapa-doctor [pagbaba galing ng barko]. Diretso kaagad kay misis,
di si misis nagkaroon din na sa contact. (Sometimes their wife gets affected with
[sexually transmitted disease] they got from women. Then they do not go to a
doctor for a check-up [when they go ashore for their shore leave]. They go
straight to their wife, and then the wife will also be infected because of their
[sexual] contact.)

Ikuwento ko talaga [kay second mate]. ‘Pag tinago mo ‘yun delikado ka, lumala
ba. Tapos makuha ko STD pala…hindi ko alam may simtomas na pala,
magkasakit lahat. Kawawa naman. (I will really tell [the truth to our second
mate]. If you conceal it, you will be in great danger, it could get worse. Then
what I have is STD…I do not know I already have the symptoms…everyone
[that I had sexual contact with] will be infected. It would be pitiful.)

The Filipino seafarers know that the mode of transmission of sexually transmitted

diseases is through sexual intercourse. They point out that that is the reason why it is called

sexually transmitted disease:


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Kaya nga tinawag na STD, eh, kasi sexually transmitted. (That’s why it is called
STD because it is sexually transmitted.)

Lahat naman ‘yun nakukuha sa sexual intercourse, eh. (All of that is acquired
through sexual intercourse.)

Then they look at me dubiously with a confused look seeming to say, “Isn’t that obvious?”

But one seafarer has mixed up the mode of transmission of venereal diseases and that of HIV:

As far as I know, kasi kahit papaano nagbabasa ako, makukuha mo din daw ‘yan
sa mga infected na syringe. Tapos, ‘yung bang blood transfusion sa pasiyente.
Tapos, ‘yun, pagtatalik. Hindi mo naman makukuha ‘yan sa mga pinggan lang o
pinagkainan o toiletries na ginamit ng mga may STD, maliban lang ‘pag may
dugo na natira doon tapos may open wounds ka. Puwedeng makapasok. (As far
as I know, because I also read in whatever way, you can also get those from
infected syringe. Then blood transfusion. Of course, sexual intercourse. You
could not get those from the plates or toiletries used by those who have STD,
except if there is a blood left there, then you have open wounds. The virus can
penetrate [your body].)

The seafarer’s recalling of the modes of transmission of HIV may have been due to the

intensive HIV campaign and studies going on in the maritime industry. The International

Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF 2003a, 2003b) for example launched its HIV/AIDS

campaign recognizing the vulnerability of road transport workers, seafarers and flight crew to

HIV. ITF (2003a, Parris 2003) elevates HIV/AIDS as an urgent issue among transport

workers. In the Philippines, studies on HIV/AIDS among Filipino seafarers cropped up in the

past decade (see Simbulan et al 1996, Tan et al 2000, Ybañez 2000, Velas 2001, Estrella-Gust

et al 2003, and Suñas 2003). The current wave of studies and campaign on HIV/AIDS among

seafarers eclipse the campaign and studies on venereal disease among seafarers that have been

established since the Brussels Agreement of 1924 (League of Nations 1956 [1924]). As many

of the studies cited in this study illustrate, studies on venereal diseases among seafarers

seemed to stop during the dawn of HIV/AIDS in 1980s. HIV/AIDS dominated the study on

sexually transmitted diseases among seafarers since then.

Filipino seafarers’ (lay) recognition of sexually transmitted diseases

Fricke (1973:1) in his edited volume that explores seafaring as an occupational community

expresses that

The romanticists and modern cruise publicists dwell on the exotic places and
personages which can only be seen by going to sea. The bravery and adventures
of seafarers are also sung by popular poets and writers.


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