MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines still fails to meet European Union (EU) standards on maritime education, training and competency certificates, according to the results of a recent performance audit, prompting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to raise the matter to President Aquino.
With the jobs of an estimated 80,000 Filipino seamen on EU-flagged vessels at stake, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has ordered the phaseout and closure of 123 out of 157 maritime training programs nationwide.
The move aims to avert an EU ban on the hiring of Filipino seamen.
CHED officials said 44 BS Marine Transportation and 34 BS Marine Engineering programs were issued closure orders while 21 other BSMT and 24 BSMarE programs were ordered phased out for failure to meet quality standards.
There are 91 marine higher education institutions (MHEIs) in the country, of which 11 are state universities and colleges. The 91 offer 82 BS Maritime Transportation and 75 Maritime Engineering programs.
A CHED official said the commission would not yet release the list of schools with “delinquent” programs “since we have to give them time to respond to the closure orders.”
“If they do not follow us, that’s when CHED will release their names,” the official said.
Documents obtained by The STAR showed that the European Maritime Safety Administration (EMSA) sent a team to audit the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) and the CHED from April 16 to 19.
The audit was in line with the Philippines’ commitment to the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Convention).
The different agencies are involved in regulating maritime education, training and certification.
EMSA auditors were dissatisfied with the progress the Philippines has made since a previous audit in March 2012.
According to the documents, the EMSA auditors identified three deficiencies in the audit conducted last month.
One is the unworkable plan for monitoring maritime schools.
A second deficiency is the apparent conflict of interest among assessors and evaluators of maritime schools and students.
The third is that not all maritime regulatory agencies are aligned with the National Quality Standards System (NQSS), a manual that provides the framework for uniform quality standards for agencies involved in maritime education, training and certification.
The PRC and CHED admitted that the alignment is still a work in progress. The auditors’ concern is how quickly the agencies can align and implement their respective Quality Standard Manuals (QSMs) with the NQSS before the final audit in October, which will include an actual inspection of certain maritime schools.
In another audit in March last year, the EMSA mission had noted that some maritime assessors and evaluators were connected by blood or marriage with owners of schools whose services were being assessed.
The team also pointed out that members of CHED’s technical panel should not be affiliated in any way with the institutions being regulated.
The EMSA team stressed that the burden of proving the independence of the assessors rests with the PRC board members rather than the seamen undergoing assessment.
As in its first audit mission in 2006, the EMSA noted the inability of CHED to effectively monitor the performance of maritime schools and the country’s commitment to the STCW Convention.
There are only six persons handling the CHED maritime unit and monitoring 93 maritime schools nationwide.
Another EMSA inspection of maritime schools is set this October, but there are fears that the outcome will remain unfavorable to the Philippines.
“The continued employment of Filipino seafarers by EU-flagged merchant vessels may consequently be terminated,” Del Rosario said in his letter to the President.
‘Certify Seafarers Act’
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) wants the primacy and competence of Marina as a regulatory agency to be established.
The President was urged to certify as urgent the “Seafarers Act of 2013,” which was prepared by Marina, with the PRC and CHED deputizing Marina as the agency tasked to oversee Philippine compliance with the STCW.
This can be discussed by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)-Marina with the PRC, CHEd and DFA.
“All relevant agencies have been tasked by the President to undertake what is necessary towards addressing the expressed concerns of the EMSA audit team in preparation for its October scheduled audit,” Del Rosario said in a text message to The STAR.
The Philippines is bent on preventing any withdrawal of certification rights for Filipino seafarers from vessels registered in any EU member state.
The country is a leading supplier of seafarers, accounting for about 25 percent of the global total. Their remittances contribute significantly to the growth of the Philippine economy.
From 2006 to 2009, 234,267 Filipino seafarers were deployed on EU-flagged ships, with 79,111 deployed in 2009 alone, or 24 percent of the total for that year.
Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that from January to April 2011, Filipino seafarers remitted $1.3 billion, a six percent increase from the same period in the previous year.
Seamen remitted $3.8 billion in 2010, accounting for 20 percent of the total sent by overseas Filipino workers for that year. The amount reached $4 billion in 2011, with annual growth projected at an average of 12 percent.
Licuanan slams TROs
CHED chair Patricia Licuanan earlier appealed to defiant schools to stop challenging orders to phase out their substandard programs for the sake of national interest.
Some of the affected schools resort to obtaining temporary restraining orders (TRO) from courts in order to keep operating, Licuanan said.
In the 2010 audit, the EMSA team noted deficiencies related to the monitoring of maritime education and training institutions, the quality standards system, requirements for seafarers certification for on-board training, implementation of management-level courses, and the equipment of maritime training institutions.
The EMSA audit in 2012 saw the need for a unified administration of STCW as against the collegial oversight body through the then Maritime Transportation Council, CHED said.
Malacañang has designated the Marina as the central implementing body of the STCW for seafarers.
Licuanan said a “catch-up plan” has been drawn up, including technical assistance, to ensure that MHEIs are ready for the EMSA audit in October.