What made it truly historic was that they were exact replicas of the ancient boats used by the Sultan and no sophisticated navigational equipment aided them to traverse the treacherous South China Sea.
The team was then ushered to a rousing welcome prepared by the Philippine and Xiamen Filipino-Chinese groups at the spanking lobby of Xiamen International Cruise Center. While the celebration was going on, the festive mood grabbed the attention of onlookers and Xiamen city folks gamely joined in the momentous occasion.
Three traditional Philippine boats known as Balangay sailed from Manila to China last April 28, 2018 and arrived five days later in the port of Xiamen. A gem of a boat similar to those constructed by Filipinos in the olden days, the Balangay had none of the trappings of a modern maritime vessel. No nails. No nuts and bolts. No steel. It was solely made of Filipino ingenuity that braved through foreign waters and reached unprecedented distance, 1,000-kilometers to the eastern city of Xiamen on May 2, 2018.
The Balangay was declared the National Boat of the Philippines on November 2015, chosen so that the "future generations of Filipinos will recognize the invaluable contribution of their forefathers in shaping the country’s maritime tradition.
Valdez’ talent as a leader and manager caught the eye of then president Fidel Ramos, who appointed him undersecretary at the Department of Transportation and Communication in 1996. He stayed with the DOTC until 2004. In 2007, he was deployed to the Middle East as a special envoy, staying there for a year.
But all these difficulties were made up for by the beauty they encountered on their voyage. Dolphins swam alongside the boats. Spirits were lifted by the welcome they received when they landed. Hunger and fatigue would disappear when they saw the enthusiasm of school children wanting to learn more about the country’s maritime heritage.
By December 2010, the voyage of the balangay was about to come to an end. Valdez invited all former and current presidents to join them on the final leg of the journey from Cavite to the CCP. The message he wanted to send was that despite our leaders’ differences, they must never at any point endanger the country itself, but rather learn to work together and safely guide the country to the right port at the destination.
Former president Ramos agreed to join the final leg of the journey. Then newly elected President Benigno Aquino III sent executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. as his representative. On Dec. 13, the three vessels sailed into the breakwater behind the Manila Yacht Club and were greeted by a grand homecoming ceremony. The trip was supposed to coincide with President Duterte’s China visit last May.