Joint statement of MTC-DOLE and CHED on the closure of non-compliant maritime education programs of the PMI, March 7, 2012

Joint press statement of the Maritime Training Council-Department of Labor and Employment and the Commission on Higher Education:
On the closure of non-compliant maritime education programs of the Philippine Maritime Institute
[Released on March 7, 2012]

The Philippines, a signatory to the Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), is in the spotlight of the international maritime community in view of the adverse findings of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) regarding the country’s compliance with the requirements of the STCW Convention.

The EMSA had conducted its validation of the country’s maritime education, training, and certification system from April 12 to 23, 2010.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) enforces and implements the requirements of the STCW Convention for the education and training of Filipino seafarers who will be employed as officers on board seagoing vessels.

Hence, higher education institutions (HEIs) offering maritime education programs such as Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation (BSMT) and Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering (BSMarE) are subject to recognition and regular monitoring by CHED, pursuant to Regulation I/6 of the STCW Convention and Republic Act No. 7722 otherwise known as the “Higher Education Act of 1994.”

In the CHED monitoring conducted from the year 2006 up to 2010, the BSMT and BSMarE programs of the Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI) Manila and Quezon City (QC) were among those monitored and found to have been deficient in several areas of the standards set by CHED for maritime education.

Under existing laws, rules, and regulations concerning higher education, the failure of an HEI to maintain compliance with the requirements for the offering of a higher education program is punishable by closure through a phase out process of the program.

In 2006, the EMSA conducted an audit of the Philippine Maritime Training Council-Department of Labor and Employment (MTC-DOLE) member agencies composed of the Professional Regulation Commission, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and CHED, together with 15 maritime HEIs selected by EMSA in the year 2006, one of which was the PMI.

A follow-up audit was made in 2010 where 6 out of the 15 maritime HEIs, including PMI, were previously audited and visited.

After being apprised by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on the possible adverse effects to the country’s Filipino seafarers and maritime workers, President Benigno S. Aquino III directed the above-concerned agencies to undertake all the necessary measures to correct the deficiencies discovered by the EMSA.

The Philippines is obligated to comply with the mandatory provisions of the STCW. Otherwise, it stands to be delisted from the roster of compliant states and face adverse consequences to its economy as a result of the European Union’s (EU) blacklisting of Filipino seamen. Such blacklisting would prevent Filipino seafarers from boarding EU member flagged vessels, which could adversely affect their employment. In 2011, Filipino seafarers employed by EU member flagged vessels remitted approximately $700 million based on Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data.

Aware of the gravity of the situation, the Philippine government submitted before the deadline on August 26, 2011 its Compliance Report on the deficiencies noted by EMSA to the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG-MOVE) of the European Commission. The report contained the corrective measures undertaken by the government to eliminate the remaining deficiencies relating to monitoring of maritime education and training institutions, quality standards system, requirements for on-board training, implementation of the management level course, and improvement of the maritime training institutions’ equipment and facilities that the EMSA noted.

Among the corrective actions reported was the closure of the BSMT and BSMarE programs of PMI Manila and QC. Other Philippine maritime schools complied with the corrective actions on their deficiencies, leaving only three that have remained non-compliant as of May 2011.

As a member-agency of MTC-DOLE, CHED took as its last recourse the closure of deficient maritime programs of maritime schools that, after having been given ample time and opportunity, still failed to rectify the deficiencies noted by CHED and EMSA on their BSMT and BSMarE programs.

Records of the CHED show that PMI had been operating with several gross deficiencies, particularly on program administration, faculty, laboratory equipment, library, and research and development, as found likewise by the EMSA, and PMI had not been able to correct these despite several opportunities given to it from SY 2006 to 2007 even until the second semester of SY 2010–2011. Incidentally, it was one of three maritime schools that received closure orders on their deficient maritime programs.

The closure orders issued by the CHED prompted the PMI to file a civil case before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of QC to secure a temporary restraining order (TRO) and writ of injunction to prevent its implementation. First Vice Executive Judge Fernando T. Sagun Jr. denied the 72-hour TRO request because there was no compelling reason to grant the same:

After circumspect examination of the facts alleged in the instant Petition, the Office finds that Petitioner was not able to sufficiently show that an extreme urgency exists as to warrant the issuance of a 72-hour Temporary Restraining Order under paragraph 2, Section 5, Rule 58 of the Rules of Court, considering that the Closure Order through phase out of the subject matter of this case is still to take effect on the Second Semester of school year 2011-2012.

When the PMI’s case was raffled off to RTC QC Branch 87 presided by Judge Aurora Hernandez-Calledo, she likewise refused to issue a TRO, in an order dated October 28, 2011, ruling categorically that:

The Court, cannot at this time, convinced that indeed the plaintiff has a clear and unmistakable right to seek the relief prayed for. Petitioner failed to establish a clear right to the entitlement of the temporary restraining order because apparently there were deficiencies discovered during the investigation and inspection which was the basis of the issuance of the subject resolution ordering the phase out of Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation (BSMT) and Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering (BSMarE) programs of the PMI Colleges. It likewise failed to substantiate that it will suffer an irreparable damage than the damage that it will bring to the international reputation of graduates and the eventual withdrawal of European Union recognition of Philippine Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) training and certification system.

PMI immediately moved for the reconsideration of the ruling of Judge Hernandez-Calledo while at the same time asking her to recuse. The case was subsequently raffled off to Judge Rosa Samson of RTC QC Branch 105.

In the meantime, the CHED National Capital Region Office assisted former PMI students in their transfer to other recognized maritime schools in the NCR and other regions. These recognized schools accepted PMI students due to the circumstances surrounding their plight. The CHED also requested PMI officials to expedite release of their transfer credentials in order to not further cause prejudice to the students.

On February 1, 2012, despite the evidence presented by the CHED, Judge Rosa Samson issued a “writ of preliminary injunction” enjoining the CHED from further implementing the closure orders on PMI’s BSMT and BSMarE programs until further orders of the court.

As a result of this court order, the MTC-DOLE and the CHED hereby jointly express and manifest the following serious concerns:

1. The EMSA audit conducted on Philippine maritime education, training, and certification system is a matter of national interest considering that any action or decision rendered by the European Commission based on the EMSA findings will determine the fate of Filipino seafarers as far as employment of these seafarers on European flag vessels is concerned.

2. The failure of the Philippines to rectify the deficiencies noted by the EMSA will trigger the European Commission proceedings on the withdrawal of European Union’s (EU) recognition of certificates issued by the Philippine government to Filipino seafarers, which may result to non-hiring of such seafarers on board EU member flagged vessels, as well as pre-termination of contracts of those on board.

3. The withdrawal of EU’s recognition could threaten the position of the Philippines in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) “White List” of countries that are compliant with the requirements of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Convention) and will definitely have a detrimental effect not only on the country’s reputation in the international maritime community but also on the nation’s economy.

4. The imposition of the closure order on PMI’s BSMT and BSMarE programs is in accordance with CHED’s mandate under the law considering that PMI, after having been given a series of extension of deadlines to rectify the deficiencies noted by both the EMSA and the CHED, still failed to do so. Under the conditions expressly stated in the government recognition granted by the CHED, the authority of PMI to offer the two courses subject of the closure order was without prejudice to withdrawal of the permit, in the event that PMI is found to be non-compliant with the CHED and STCW Convention minimum requirements. In the RTC proceedings, PMI did not even deny the noted deficiencies which are indicated in the CHED Reports bearing the signatures of PMI officials.

5. The closure orders issued against the two PMI courses are the last corrective measures that could be undertaken by the MTC-DOLE through the CHED to eliminate the deficiencies noted by EMSA on PMI’s BSMT and BSMarE programs, in view of the PMI’s failure to demonstrate and show proof that such deficiencies have been corrected before the deadline of August 31, 2011 given by EU to the Philippines.

6.That the issuance of a “writ of preliminary injunction” by the RTC Quezon City enjoining the CHED from further implementing the Closure Order on PMI’s BSMT and BSMarE programs 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.

7.Therefore, pursuant to the constitutional mandate to protect and promote the right of all Filipino citizens to quality education, and in consonance with the international obligation of the Philippines as signatory to the STCW Convention which forms part of the law of the land, the MTC-DOLE and CHED shall continue to undertake appropriate measures to ensure that Philippine maritime education complies with if not surpasses the minimum local and international standards.

The MTC-DOLE and the CHED served notice that they will continue to combine their efforts in maintaining the standards of the STCW Convention to ensure the competence, efficiency, and integrity of the country’s labor force; to protect the Philippines’ preeminence in the world market for seafarers; and, ultimately, to prevent the Philippine economy from suffering a major setback as a result of non-recognition of Filipino certificates by the EU.

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