Corte Real started out as an idle space until Illac Diaz, a man with great entrepreneurial spirit turned it into the Philippine’s first dormitory for seafarers. From a 20-bed dormitory in Intramuros (Manila), Illac strived to make it 600-bed strong. The first months since its opening in Jun e 2001 were bad but it picked up quickly.
Illac recalls with fondness the very first tenants his dormitory had. “I was sitting inside my room then, planning for the dormitory. I was very worried. I mean, I had more than 600 vacant beds and what would I do with that? It was such a low point for me. Then all of a sudden someone knocked in and asked if he can stay. What is interesting is that his name was Amen. He was my very first tenant. So it was like an answer from the heavens since I was praying hard for my business.”
Illac considers Amen, who stayed for one night, as his angel, a heavenly sign for his business. True enough, after Amen left, more tenants knocked in to his dormitory.
“I knew I had the intentions. Mine was for social development, using industry for a better society. I mean, it’s how you change the lifestyle of your seafarers by using a business model.”
Corte Real strives to change the lifestyle of seafarers, which Diaz describes as one of the abused sectors of our society. Along with keeping his rates affordable for seafarers, he makes it a point that the dormitory will not just be a space to stay but a community as well.
“We offer more than the space. We are not all about business. They pay much more for the services than the space.” Illac contends. Apart from the recreation, the dormitory offers free use of game materials such as chessboards, television, a nearby basketball court and billiards hall; they also hold self-defense lessons for seafarers every Saturday. Add to that the weekly religious activities they hold.
Corte Real also gives assistance to seafarers with legal problems and assist them in finding a job. Just outside the dormitory premises are job listings for seafarer-tenants. They also have 24-hour security, and comprehensive record of their tenants including the manning agency they belong to.
Illac has high regard for the country’s seafarers which probably explains his commitment to elevate their status. “Our seafarers are well-trained, very calculated as regards to their movements. I only encountered a few problems with regards to the seaman, perhaps 1 or 2 among the 3,000 that have been here. They have a high level of accountability to their family and company.”
He also tries to accommodate then in every way he can. The dormitory for instance offers credit facilities and accepts delayed payments for seafarers. Aside from this, a new dormitory will be opened in nearby Ermita where a plan of accepting women seafarers is being considered.