Capt. Rogelio C. Morales – master mariner, educator, nationalist – came from a seafaring clan, with a father and several relatives holding various ranks and responsibilities in the seafaring industry. He was born, and grew up, in Manila’s Quiapo district.
Capt. Morales was a deep believer in human rights and social justice. Long before he was incarcerated in 1974 at Ipil Detention Center in Fort Bonifacio, he had, since the mid-1950s, actively promoted the rights of seafarers. He was president of the Philippine Marine Officers’ Guild (PMOG) in 1954 and of the Federation of Maritime Workers (FMW). Since then, Capt. Morales has led many, and oftentimes protracted, industrial actions in the ports of Cebu and Manila. His efforts won due benefits for underpaid seafarers, longshoremen, and lighterage crews. This earned him the ire of oppressive ship owners, shipping agents, and rice-and-fish union leaders in company payrolls. At tremendous personal sacrifice, he founded the Philippine Merchant Marine Society (PMMS) and the Philippine Merchant Marine Union (PMMU) in 1969.
Father to two sons and a daughter, manning the picket lines was no easy task. His wife “Mama Belen” (who recently passed away on August 30, 2012 from a prolonged illness) supported his ideals and principles through and through. Second son Nicasio (died November 1, 1999) grew up to become a staunch advocate for democracy and human rights even as an exile in the United States. Eldest son Rogelio Jr. and only daughter Leni also immersed themselves in the efforts for the restoration of democracy in the country. Capt. Morales also helped mentor the sons and in-laws of his siblings, making them reach the pinnacle of the maritime profession as ship masters or harbor pilots.
Capt. Morales was simply and fondly referred to by students and friends as “Cap”. As superintendent of the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), (the formerly historic Escuela Nautica de Manila or Philippine Nautical School), he was instrumental in its transformation as the country’s (and the region’s) premier marine deck and engine officer school. But in 1972, his vocal opposition to Marcos’ repressive policies caused him to be dislodged from PMMA with trumped up charges. Jobless and soon after, a marked man, he turned to his physics and mathematics to craft a method of ship magnetic compass compensation and adjustment to earn for his family’s keep. Time and cost-efficient, Capt. Morales’ system proved to be highly beneficial to the maritime industry, especially for vessels that caught in mid storms or were fresh from the dockyards. He became a certified compass adjuster in 1974, soon after his release from detention.
In 1983, Capt. Morales founded the Concerned Seamen of the Philippines (CSP). Aside from promoting the welfare of the Filipino seafarer, it put out a political message: that of the necessity and timeliness of severing the “long hand of the Marcos dictatorship” which sought to squeeze OFW dollar remittances to buoy up the sagging martial law economy via seamanpower export. CSP’s membership rose from a few to thousands in a short time. Under his indefatigable leadership, CSP won at the picket lines and in the courts.
Known for his fiery speeches, Capt. Morales delivered a scathing critique of the Marcos regime before the 5th International Christian Maritime Association (ICMS) conference in May 1985 in Baguio City. He said that “National policy has been unkind to the Filipino seafarer”. His international audience of religious personnel and seafarers knew what he meant. The CSP then became a vehicle for the international mobilization of anti-martial law forces in the global maritime industry.
Abroad, Capt. Morales also spoke before member institutions of the Seamen’s Church Institute – Center for Seafarers’ Rights to solicit international sympathies for the struggles of the Filipino seafarers and the people at large under authoritarian rule.
While at this, Capt. Morales, being an old hand in the pre-martial law opposition, sought to unite the various aboveground and clandestine groups in what was then the broadest anti-martial law unity before the EDSA 1986 uprising. He liaised between and among them, provided them venues for communication, as well as refuge and logistics. He tirelessly discussed and debated with them, among others, on the best ways to achieve understanding and united action.
Capt. Morales passed away one morning on February 19, 1994, in bed at his residence in White Plains, Quezon City. He had a stroke that caused his big heart to stop beating.
His long-time friendship with Dr. Dante Simbulan, Navy Capt. Dante Vizmanos and PUP President Nemesio Prudente, (Bantayog honoree) among others, all with maritime backgrounds and staunch nationalists, helped steer a lifetime of unwavering commitment to truth, reason and justice and against all forms of oppression and exploitation. Ms. Carolina S. Malay, a friend of the captain, attests thus: “Belonging to a generation that came of age just after World War II, Captain Morales was someone who took his principles seriously. He believed that fighting the Marcos dictatorship was a duty of all patriotic Filipinos, and he did his best to support the struggle in whatever way he could. “
True to his simplicity, he chose to have his remains kept in an unpainted wooden box at a morgue and simple eulogies said at the Manila Memorial Park, Paranaque, while his mortal body was being cremated.