Philippines: Where Maritime is a Way of Life

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That the Philippines is a maritime nation in the true sense of the word is obvious from the moment one steps on its soil.
The government and people of the country have so much embraced the maritime sector of the economy that one can count on one’s finger-tips those who do not know anything about the maritime industry.

The reasons for this are not far-fetched. Philippines is an archipelago. So many small islands make up the country. The archipelagos were the worst hit in the recent super typhoon, popularly called Yolanda that rocked the country. Many of these islands could be seen from the window as the aircraft commenced its descent to the airport.

Industry for All
In the Philippines, maritime is an industry for all. Indeed, it is an industry fully embraced by the citizenry. The old and the young, men and women are fully involved in the maritime industry in the country. Unlike Nigeria where only an infinitesimal number know about the maritime industry, the reverse is the case in the Asian country.
On billboards placed at strategic locations on the street of the state capital, Manila, seafarers who have become endangered species, according to the global maritime watchdog, International Maritime Organisation (IMO) findings, are openly and warmly welcomed back home. They are adored and respected. They are given priority in the scheme of things.

In the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila, Philippines seafarers travelling out of the country or arriving home are given very important person (VIP) treatment. While other travellers queue endlessly to pass through immigration and security checks, seafarers are given special attention. They have dedicated routes and counters for immigration and security checks.
As one gets to the airport, signs directing seafarers to these VIP counters and routes are boldly displayed. This is understandable. Documents exclusively obtained by THISDAY showed that seafarers remit not less than $19 billion into the Philippines economy annually.

Tagged “Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW)”, these seafarers are the pride of Philippines. This is against backdrop of the way they are treated by the government and people of Philippines. The strides made by the Filipinos are understandable from the way they run their educational system. Young Filipinos are encouraged by the government to take seafaring as a career.

One of the ways this is done is having a multi-disciplinary and multi-level education in one location. There are nursery, primary and secondary schools established besides tertiary institutions offering courses that will culminate in a career in seafaring.
By so doing, many Filipinos are attracted to study courses that will make them to be seafarers, as the alluring immaculate white uniform of the cadets besides their discipline occasioned by their paramilitary training and regimented lifestyle, stand out as a sore thumb in the mouth.

Those who spoke to THISDAY in Manila and other places the House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport visited said it was rare to find a child that will study in that kind of environment and will not end up as a seafarer as he or she is encouraged to learn from the word go, the lifestyle of the cadets; from the time the child is admitted in nursery, primary and secondary to the point of completing studies and seeking admission into the university.

This is not limited to the government. Individuals and private organisations also sponsor some Filipinos to pursue courses that will make them take careers in seafaring. Religious bodies such as the Catholic Church are also involved. Schools offering courses related to shipping and maritime are virtually everywhere in Philippines.
To ensure spread and easy access, these maritime training institutions are not restricted to the capital city, Manila and urban areas. Some of the schools are situated in the rural areas. Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU), Batangas and the University of Perpetual Help, Pamplona3, Las Pinas City are two typical examples.

It must be noted that Lyceum International Marine Academy (LIMA), and Institute of Advance Maritime Studies, Cuta Batangas, Philippines are integral parts of LPU. Nigerians are studying various maritime related courses in these two universities are under the auspices of the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) funded by Nigeria’s apex maritime authority, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

The cadets who are from various parts of the country are studying various maritime related courses up to degree level. They also have opportunity for sea time experience. Sea time is a must for the award of certificate of competency (CoC). Even universities offering maritime courses such as Marine Engineering, Naval Architecture, Port Management and Marine Transport at diploma and degree levels compete for space in Philippines.

This is a remarkable departure from what is obtainable in Nigeria. Besides the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, Akwa Ibom, recognised by IMO as Nigeria’s foremost maritime training institution, the remaining ones, especially the ones promoted by private investors, are yet to get the same recognition.
Even the federal government’s quest to have more MAN established in Badagry, Lagos; Lokoja, Kogi State; Makurdi, Benue State and other parts of the country remains a mere intention. Nothing concrete is on ground.

Word for the Cadets
One of the reasons why the Nigerian delegation, headed by the House Committee Chairman on Marine Transport, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, visited the Philippines was to find out how the cadets under the auspices of NSDP are faring in the Asian country.
Are they doing well? If not, why are they not doing well? What are the challenges they are facing in the course of their studies in the foreign land? How can these challenges be addressed in the short, medium and long term? Are there issues peculiar to each of the cadets from a particular state or general to all of them?

What can the National Assembly do by way of legislation or oversight to meet some of the basic needs of the cadets since NSDP started about four years ago? What are the quality of the schools and infrastructural facilities in each of the universities involved in training Nigerian cadets under the aegis of NSDP? Is NIMASA doing well in executing NSDP or does it need help in terms of funding or otherwise? What of the lecturers teaching the cadets?

Are they qualified in the true sense of the word? What are the facilities in these maritime training institutions? Are they at par with the ones in the developed world? Are these institutions giving Nigerians value for money paid in hard currencies for the programme? Since there is nothing perfect under the sun, in what ways can NSDP be improved upon to ensure that the main reasons why it was put together by NIMASA is not defeated in the years ahead?

Is there any need to increase the scope of the programme to accommodate more Nigerians, especially cadets of MAN, Oron? In what ways can the National Assembly intervene to straighten all the rough edges of the programme so that it can attain greater results in the years ago? These and many more questions were on the minds of the lawmakers and other members of the Nigerian delegation as they moved from one school to another to assess the Nigerian cadets on arrival in Philippines.

Coming at a time, a devastating super typhoon was ravaging the Filipinos, the delegation also wanted to know whether any of the Nigerian cadets was affected in any way. The situation was not helped by the concerns of parents and guardians who wanted to know the fate of their children and wards as the international print and electronic media continued to publish and broadcast stories and images of thousands of Filipinos ravaged by the super typhoon.

The gory images of the dead in body bags barely covering the corpses and thousands of people rendered homeless by the storm were better imagined than experienced.
In LPU and the University of Perpetual Help, the school authorities warmly welcomed the delegation with cultural dances and songs in esoteric language. Nigerian flags were waved at the delegation by school children dressed in smart uniforms. These school children with smiling innocent faces lined up all the routes passed by the delegation. It was a sight to behold.

The school authorities also gave an insight into how the Nigerian cadets are faring in their schools even as they solicited for the Nigerian government support and cooperation to ensure that the goals and objectives of NSDP are attained.

President, LPU, Mr. Peter P. Laurel, and the Vice Governor (as it is called in the Philippines), Province of Batangas, Hon. Mark Leviste, who represented the governor of the province, Governor Vilma Santos-Redo, lauded the Nigerian government, especially President Goodluck Jonathan, for initiating and implementing NSDP over the years.
The Executive Vice President, Academics and Research, Dr.  Esenia R. Javier, in his remarks said not less than 340 Nigerian cadets are in the LPU undertaking studies in maritime related courses. According to them, the Nigerian cadets are doing well and are looking forward to their Christmas vacation in Nigeria.

Representatives of the Nigerian cadets also hailed the federal government for sending them to Philippines to study. President, NSDP Cadets, University of Perpetual Help System DALTA, Mr. Raphael Evbaguehinha, and his counterpart in LPU, Mr. Charles Omamurhomu, expressed appreciation to NIMASA, especially the Director General, Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi, for the implementation of NSDP so far.
Evbaguehinha and Omamurhomu enumerated the strides the Nigerian cadets have made since their arrival in the Asian country. These include champions in tug of war; first runner up, Mr. Maritime; champions in swimming competition; first in badminton; first in table tennis; and the trophy in overall champions in Maritime Week 2013.

They used the occasion to solicit for the speedy normalisation of their travel documents so that they can get what they described as the “right visa” for their stay in Philippines. According to them, their inability to rectify their documentation since their arrival in the Asian country has denied them the issuance of student identity card by the schools authorities.

In spite of the strides made by the Nigerian cadets in Philippines, the leader of the Nigerian delegation, who later had a closed-door session with the cadets, had a word of advice and caution for them:

“Remember the son of whom you are. You should not allow yourself to be carried away. Let the primary purpose of your coming to Philippines always echo in your mind. Do not be carried away by what you see here; study hard so that you can come out in flying colours. Remember how many hours it took you to get to Philippines. Therefore, you should not indulge in any criminal activity.

“Respect constituted authority. Let good conduct, character and discipline be your watchword. If you do well, the National Assembly will continue to support you so that you can excel and after you have graduated, more opportunities would be created for other Nigerians back home to also participate in NSDP. However, if you do not do well, you have indirectly shut the door against other participants. This is because there is no way the National Assembly will continue to appropriate money for this programme if we are not seeing good results from those already participating in it”, he added.

Ugwuanyi, who represents Igboeze North/Udenu Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, enjoined the Nigerian cadets to avoid anything that would bring shame and dishonour to their parents and fatherland. He stressed the need for the cadets to see themselves as Nigerian ambassadors wherever they are. The legislator enjoined them to conduct themselves properly in and outside the school premises, and to shun anything that would rubbish Nigeria’s image in Philippines.

NIMASA Executive Director, Cabotage and Labour Services, Mr. Calistus Obi, who represented Akpobolokemi, also expressed appreciation to the National Assembly for the support it has given to the programme. He also gave an insight into the genesis of NSDP, even as he enjoined other stakeholders, particularly states who are yet to embrace it, to do so without further delay.

Akpobolokemi who has been pursuing the implementation of the programme with vigour since he was appointed over two years ago said NSDP was in line with its mandate as enshrined in the NIMASA Act 2007. The NIMASA helmsman said the agency would not relent in its capacity building drive until it achieve its set goals and objectives, especially in seafarer development so that a new crop of young ones can take over from the present aging ones in the country.

Movement in Style
Transportation in Philippines is something else. The Filipinos move from one place to another to eke out a living but they do so in style. Although several modes of transportation exist with the use of trains, buses and taxis, its land transport is unique. There are fast moving trains and tricycles popularly called Keke NAPEP in Nigeria.
However, the ‘jeepney’ is the star attraction. It is the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. It looks like the “molue” on the streets of Lagos before they were banned by Governor Raji Fashola, SAN. Nevertheless, the ‘jeepney’ is a different kettle of fish. Its driver does not horn ceaselessly or drive without adherence to traffic rules. It is beautiful as it painted in bright beautiful colours. Unlike ‘molue’, ‘jeepney’ is produced locally in Philippines thereby providing employment opportunities for Filipinos.

THISDAY checks revealed that the ‘jeepney’ was originally a USA product that was left behind after the Second World War. They were left behind by the combatants and were later converted by Filipinos to accommodate more passengers. The ‘jeepney’ does not ply anywhere the drivers choose to ply. No. Their routes are determined by the authorities.
Each ‘jeepney’ which is well decorated with hanging pendants and other accessories that swings to the wind as they move along the road. The ‘jeepney’ and the passengers who sit facing each other, often wave to passers bye, particularly foreigners. Between 15 and 20 passengers are carried in each ‘jeepney’. They are a delight to watch as they move effortlessly on the streets.

Vibrant Economy
The economy of Philippines is strong. Although it does not have crude oil on its soil but it has two working refineries. While one of the refineries is run by the Anglo Dutch oil giant, Shell, the other one is run by American oil major, Chevron.

The Filipinos get crude oil from other countries and refined it into petroleum products. Its economy is strong with the Philippines 400 Piso exchanging for one US dollar at the time THISDAY visited. Within the period under review, the naira was N162 to one dollar.
Again, unlike Nigerians who prefer foreign currencies like the Euro, Pounds Sterling and USA dollars to the naira, the Filipinos prefer their own currency for any transaction. Instead of accepting USA dollar or British pound sterling for transaction, the Filipinos insist you change it into their local currency, Piso, before they will agree to accept to sell any item to.

The story is not different in hotels in Manila as the receptionists insist one pays for accommodation and lodging in Piso. This is also the scenario in supermarkets and shopping malls in the capital city, especially in Makati, its central business district. Philippines, which was at two different times a colony of Spain and USA, has come a long way. They are friendly as they often smile and ready to assist foreigners in their specialised English language.

Nigeria, nay Nigerians, have a lot to learn from Philippines and the Filipinos if they are really desirous of maximising the huge potential in the maritime industry. If Philippines without a drop of crude oil in her soil, then Nigeria with her crude oil and gas deposits can do better if she is ready to put programmes and policies in place and implement them to the letter no matter what it takes.

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