Concerns raised on EC audit of PH maritime schools

By Rainier Allan Ronda, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 20 2013 07:44 AM | Updated as of Feb 20 2013 03:50 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A ban on Filipino seamen in European vessels looms as the local maritime manning industry is likely to fail a make-or-break audit of the European Commission (EC) on Philippine maritime education and training institutions next month.

Industry sources told The STAR that they were concerned about the Commission on Higher Education (CHED)’s failure to close down maritime schools found to be underperforming in 2011.

“We’re very nervous about it. We don’t know how our government can explain when they ask why some schools they have found deficient are still operating, even remaining as one of the biggest in terms of student population,” a source said.

But CHED said it was prepared to face the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) audit on March 18-22.

The country must comply with the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW) for seafarers.

CHED has aired its helplessness in taking action against erring maritime schools, with such schools being able to secure temporary restraining orders (TROs) or injunctions from local courts against closure orders.

CHED chair Patricia Licuanan, in a recent interview, said that an immediate action they can take against maritime schools is to come out with a “white list”of legitimate schools that offer satisfactory maritime education.

The EU was set to impose a ban on the hiring of Filipino seamen by EU-registered vessels in 2011, but was dissuaded from doing so by the Philippine government.

The Philippines also held off an EU ban after President Aquino signed Executive Order No. 75 transferring the task of ensuring the country’s compliance with the 1978 International Convention on STCW for seafarers to the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) last April 30.

Before the issuance of EO 75, various government agencies such as CHED, the Professional Regulation Commission, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the Philippine Overseas Employment Authority exercised regulatory jurisdiction over education and training of Filipino seaman.

Seeing the issuance of EO 75 as proof of the Philippines’ commitment to implement reforms, the EC informed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) last year that it would not take any final action on deficiencies in maritime education until the “latter part of the year or early 2013.”

The coming audit will focus on assessing individual maritime schools’ and training institutions’ compliance with STCW standards.

CHED and DOLE had expressed concern over the possible blacklist of Filipino seamen on EU-registered vessels due to the issuance of a TRO by a Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) judge on a closure order on“non-compliant” BS Marine Transportation (BSMT) and BS Marine Engineering (BSMarE) courses of PMI Colleges.

CHED and DOLE stressed that the former’s closure order issued in October 2011 was a corrective measure taken by CHED to address issues raised by the EMSA in 2011.

According to the two agencies, the issuance of the injunction “could be looked upon as a nullification of one of the corrective actions submitted by the Philippines to the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG-MOVE) of the European Commission.”

Also ordered closed were BS Marine Transportation (BSMT) and BS Marine Engineering (BSMarE).

Filipino seafarers contributed around $4.3 billion of the $20-billion remittances in 2011.

An EC ban is expected to affect 80,000 Filipino seamen.

An estimated 350,000 Filipino seamen are manning foreign ships all over the world at any given time.