PMI gears up for challenges in maritime education

Jovan Aliman Hebaya, the student council president of the Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI)'s Department of Marine Engineering, thought his dream was ending. The closure of PMI`s two programs - BS in Marine Engineering (BSME) and BS in Marine Transportation (BSMT) - was being ordered by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) last October. Hebaya, a Commerce graduate, is pursuing BSME to fulfill his childhood dream to become a seaman.

When Hebaya learned about the said closure order, he was on his way back from a vacation in Samar. He was aboard a bus en route to Manila when he received a deluge of text messages informing him about the closure. Right then and there, he felt helpless and thought that he wouldn't be able to graduate.

Hebaya shared this sentiment with about 7,000 other PMI students who felt at a loss, uncertain of their fate as a result of the closure of the programs in which they are currently enrolled.

PIONEERING PRIVATE SCHOOL

The PMI, the oldest private merchant marine institution in the country, has about 12 to 15,000 students spread in its three campuses in Manila, Quezon City and Tagbilaran, Bohol.

The institution, according to Rizabel Cloma-Santos, PMI president and chief executive officer, was established by her grandfather Tomas Cloma in September 1948 to give students a chance to study in a private maritime school. At that time, it was only the government that was running such a school. PMI started with only 25 students in a small location behind the Manila Post Office.

Tomas Cloma, a lawyer and businessman, was first and foremost, a fisherman from Panglao, Bohol. While establishing PMI, he was said to have discovered the Kalayaan group of islands and even named each island after his wife and children. His discovery has earned him the moniker Admiral, despite not having formal maritime education.

From then on, Cloma would always talk about his islands and the adventure that came with discovering it. Santos says the time came when her grandfather stopped talking about the Spratlys and was said to have given up his claim on the islands for the price of a peso.

Meanwhile, his school grew bigger and bigger and became popular for its faculty composed of marine officers.

"He was getting people fresh off the boat. He was hiring people from the Navy, Coast Guard, and government. He talked to captains and seafarers who just arrived from the ship. Kailan ka ulit sasakay? Do you want to teach? For him, who better else to teach these young cadets than those who just came from the ship," relates Santos.

PMI offers four-year courses in BS Marine Engineering, BS Marine Transportation, Customs Administration (undergraduate and masteral degrees), and the 12-month Seafarers Rating Course. The first two courses consist of three years of academic programs and 12 to 24 months of practicum onboard a ship. The training comes after they have completed their academic requirements and gone through the Ring Hop rites. After the practicum, the cadets will return to fix their documents for graduation and take the licensure examinations.

Santos says the demand for PMI cadets is so high that after they graduate about 1,000 each year, manning agencies or shipping companies would call in and request for them to send dozens of cadets to their ships right away. Most of their students would also consistently top the national licensure exams for seafarers, also giving the school a 100 institutional passing percentage.

THE AFTERMATH

After the closure order, Santos said student population dwindled to about 5,000 in the affected campuses. A fire that broke out shortly after the closure order also left the students homeless so to speak, without a school.

But school authorities quickly transferred the school to a temporary location in Binondo, Manila, while awaiting necessary permits for the rebuilding of the school on its old site in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

Most of the students, meanwhile, had no other choice but to transfer to schools endorsed by CHED to continue their studies. But they had to pay double the price of the tuition at PMI. Other students, meanwhile, went back to their provinces and waited until things returned to normal.

Tuition at PMI costs about R12,000 to R15,000 (R389 per unit) per semester but even as little as R500 can be accepted at the institution for as long as the student promises to pay when he is able.

PMI treasurer Atty. Angge Brown Cloma, says students who cannot pay just write promissory notes and are allowed to continue their education. Usually, she adds, the students pay when they return after their practicum and are able to save up from the stipend they receive during their training.

This is the reason why Hebaya, whose graduating batch has been allowed by CHED to finish their education at the PMI inspite of the closure order, fought for his school and was among those who risked his life during the violence that erupted at a rally at the CHED office in Quezon City at the height of the closure issue last year.

"Hangga't may estudyanteng naniniwala sa PMI at sa kalidad ng edukasyong ibinibigay nito, tutulong akong ipaglaban ang alma mater ko. Ito lang ang isang paraan para maisukli ko lahat ng naitutulong nila sa akin. Kasi hindi lang ako natutong maging marino pero naturuan din ako ng PMI maging tunay na lider na may tapang, magandang karakter at may paninindigan," stresses Hebaya, who is about to start his shipboard training.

GETTING FAIR TREATMENT

Atty. Cloma says all they were asking before and after the closure order was for CHED to do a re-audit of their programs and facilities because all minor deficiencies found were rectified. The minimal compliances, according to her, were insufficient tagging of facilities in the seamanship laboratory, a generator set that didn't start because the battery was dead, and one of the drums in the welding lab which was supposed to have water, but didn't have any at the time of the audit.

"Those were doable non-compliances, we could do it in a day. All we were fighting for is to have a re-audit because the building that was burned was actually our showcase building. We had all the labs there, with simulators which are worth P10 million each, and a training ship, the MV Tomas Cloma. We were improving our facilities. But they never saw the changes and they're saying that we didn't do anything," laments Atty. Cloma.

Santos, on the other hand, says they could also not understand why their courses are found to be substandard and faculty and performance of students are deemed deficient when most of their students are consistent topnotchers in board exams, and when there is continuous demand for their graduates. Some of the top officers in the maritime industry are alumni of PMI, she points out.

The institution, has also consistently, been passing and getting ISO certifications from international firms such as the Anglo Japanese American based in London and the Global Certification based in the UK.

With the court injunction ruling in favor of the PMI, Santos says they are determined to continue operating the school and serving the people whom the institution was built for.

She says the new PMI will be built, strictly adhering to the standards and requirements of CHED and TESDA.

"We will rebuild. It's a minor setback but we've never lost hope that we will recover. I will be forever grateful to the students, those that have been here with us for the longest time, from their fathers, brothers and uncles, those that have chosen to stay with us," ends Santos.

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