The Maritime Industry Authority or what is known to many as MARINA was created on June 01, 1974 as an attached agency of the Office of the President (OP) with the issuance of Presidential Decree No. 474, otherwise known as the Maritime Industry Decree of 1974. With the creation of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) by virtue of Executive Order No. 546, the MARINA became an attached agency of the former DOTC on July 23, 1979. However, former President Benigno S. Aquino III signed Executive Order No. 75 designating DOTC through MARINA as the country's Single Administration responsible for oversight in the implementation of the 1978 International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, as amended. But by virtue of Republic Act No. 10635 or the Manalo law, it designated DOTC through MARINA as the single maritime administration in the Philippines responsible for oversight in the implementation of the 1978 International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, as amended.

But what’s with MARINA that made it as a controversial agency? What's with the post of an Administrator that makes it more sought-after from the different organizations, individuals and other less-known people dying for the post? Why is the government agency is considered one of the "most corrupt" bureaus?

Back in time, a MARINA chief is almost unheard. But when Filipino seafarers become the "most preferred of choice" by the international shipping community, they became so discordant and by far, the 'sinful seafaring street' of T. M. Kalaw in Manila, just a few blocks away from MARINA HQ, where Filipino seafarers converge, became notorious - due to the so-called illegal peddling of seafarers' certificates, unlawful recruitment of seafarers, illegal seafarers-related trades,pirated navigational programs and the likes.

So much was heard then from MARINA's controversial issues. From the time of former administrator Vic Suazo, the issue on dilapidated domestic vessels was hurled against him allowing them to ply the domestic route. This became a contentious issue with the sinking of the MV Princess of the Orient in Sept. 1998, MV Princess of the Stars in June 2008 and even traced the history back with the sinking MV Doña Paz on Dec. 20, 1997, more than 30 years ago.

When the MARINA allowed shipping companies to purchase 20-year old ships, it has never been questioned or the subject of an intense investigation by Congress. But whenever a vessel sinks or burns, this issue surfaces and resurfaces and eventually forgotten despite all the high-profile investigations on all ships disasters. It has also failed to come up with any laws that would have helped our maritime industry. (Avila, 2008)

It says, MARINA is one of the many government offices that is graft-ridden. It’s probably why some of the maritime sectors or groups are ready to exhaust every means in an attempt to topple whoever is appointed in the top post who fails to deliver what their (disgruntled group of individuals) caprices desires. Say for instance, during the leadership of then Emerson Lorenzo in 2011, he ordered the investigation of a ship classification society official who called the attention to the alleged rampant graft and corruption in the agency.

According to Rene Viloria, president of the Filipino Vessels Classification System Association, Inc. (FVCSA), he was investigated by the MARINA over his society's rules in surveying and classing ships and the last five ship surveys conducted by his group. The order issued by Lorenzo caught him by surprise. He said he expected Lorenzo to look at "dubious" local ships class societies that do not employ even a single ship surveyor certificate by the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS). He alleged that these societies are favored by MARINA officials. Viloria added that graft and corruption in the MARINA is to blame for the string of sea mishaps that took place during this administration. (Ronda, 2011)

Now you might be able to draw and visualize how the alleged corruption in the agency is taking place. This is presumably just a segment of the many services of the MARINA.

On the issue of franchises, former administrator Atty. Maria Elena Bautista (now Horn), warned the members of the inter-island shipping operators' group planning a maritime holiday on March 1, 2010 could lose their franchises to operate if they continue to defy the order to raise safety standards on sea travel. Bautista reiterated that public safety is the agency's utmost consideration in giving franchises. She added that public interest is always the supreme deciding factor for MARINA in issuing a franchise. (Lapeña, 2010)

The planned strike back then was in reaction to the memorandum circular issued by the agency that demanded higher safety standards from shipping operators. The Coalition of Shipping Organizations (CSO) argued that they were not consulted on the reforms in the rules of shipping operations, and that the proposed improvements in ships' safety features are costly. But Bautista denied the allegations and a shipping association president confirmed to her that there was a consultation with them.

The controversial memorandum circular requires the change of life vests with new ones, citing the need for quicker and more user-friendly vests. But CSO members have complained that these vests are costly, especially the ones with night capability.

Have you noticed that when an order entails cost, there is resistance? The players seem to have difficulty in complying with the rules, thus resulting to issues particularly the concerns on SAFETY.

It seems that Bautista learned her lessons back in 2009 when MV Catalyn B and FV Natalia collided while MV Baleno 9 sank in waters off Verde Islands in Batangas on Dec. 27, 2009. As a maritime nation, with MARINA that formulates the policies and standards for domestic shipping, we are also bound by the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) functions and policies, particularly that of the foreign-seagoing seafarers to ensure safety and security of ships, its people, and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

With the mandatory retirement of Lorenzo in 2013, Atty. Nicasio Ponti, Deputy Administrator for Planning was appointed as OIC. He instituted several changes in the STCW. The most significant of which is the proper system for monitoring the country’s MET (maritime education and training) institutions. State inspectors, according to Conti, will use a quality-monitoring instrument to check the compliance of maritime schools and training institutions with the STCW. He pinpointed that there will be no more 'grocery lists' to tick of the number of blackboards, simulators, etc. The new instrument, developed by MARINA with Dutch technical assistance, has been pilot-tested in the Palompon Institute of Technology in Leyte. But hey, what happened to the system? The problem with our government is the 'discontinuity' of the reforms and installation of new ones with the entry of new leaders in any government agency.

With the problem of the MARINA in addressing the major deficiencies discovered by the European Union attached agency, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), Conti instituted changes with their audit and assessment programs for maritime higher education institutions (MHEIs) and maritime training institutes (MTIs) their maritime programs and training courses.

During his term, and with the appointment of Dr. Maximo Mejia, Jr., MARINA took over the functions of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) in the conduct of the theoretical examination and assessment. MARINA, through RA 10635, implemented changes in the theoretical examination with the development of new test questionnaires which was initially devised by then STCW Office Executive Director Atty. Alvin Tormon, a master mariner himself. But as fate would have it, the issue on the conduct of theoretical exam was plagued with controversy. Allegedly, the new set of test questionnaires leaked to several review centers and other newly established review institutions, and as alleged, including his newly founded review center. These services for many Filipino seafarers is said to be the most lucrative segment of seafaring with each reviewee allegedly paying as high as P40,000 to ensure passing the licensure examination. Again, with the changes in administration, prominent maritime individuals bade goodbye while new 'entrepreneur-seafarers' bankrolled their capital in the same scheme, including the same practices in training providers. A sad truth indeed.

Now, under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's administration, he chose leaders whom he has personal knowledge and the rest were referred and/or endorsed by common acquaintances. The maritime industry has been longing to have a president who can pick a leader to lead MARINA who is capable to implement reforms and well-versed in international shipping, technically-armed in navigation, and internationally aware of the standards, policies, Conventions and Codes. The industry needs a leader, who can actually lead with integrity and political will. With the appointment of CE Marcial Quirico Amaro III, PhD - the shipping, manning and crewing sectors (perhaps not everyone in the industry) rejoiced, with his wide exposures to navigation, who actually sailed the foreign seas, having par excellence know-how in shipping, his extraordinary credentials in the academe and IMO expertise, and Quality Management experience.

But his supposed co-terminus appointment on being a presidential appointee was cut short to a 18-months stint as MARINA administrator. The tongue-lashing chief executive sacked him for his foreign junkets, a practice in several government offices that the former Davao City mayor despises under his administration. President Duterte ordered an investigation and was approved by the Department of Transportation (DOTr). The probe revealed that in his 6-months in office in 2016, Amaro has recorded 6 foreign travels while 18 foreign trips were posted in 2017. Of the numbers, only 3 were sponsored and the rest were shouldered by the national government. He even received honorariums and cash incentives from most of his foreign junkets, the Office of the President's probe revealed.

That action of the embattled administrator, as the Malacañang said, is tantamount to corruption - something that the Duterte administration wants to eradicate. With Amaro's leadership, he set his vision towards a strategic maritime nation. He started his campaign to realize the 10-year Maritime Industry Development Program (MIDP), and with his departure from the MARINA, the entire sector started to ask, "What's going to happen with MARINA now?", "What's with the top post of MARINA that whoever sits on it becomes controversial?", "Is there a power struggle inside MARINA?", and "Is MARINA the new 'milking cow' of corrupt public officials?" The people inside MARINA should know better while its stakeholders know exactly who profits from their businesses. This MUST be STOPPED!

The LOSERS in this long-time graft and corrupt practices in MARINA is the FILIPINO SEAFARERS. These disgruntled individuals should know the repercussions of their actions to the entire seafaring community. We have to remember, the Philippines has FAILED to address several deficiencies in the areas of education, training and certification as noted by the EMSA representatives since their last visit in March 2017. The European Union shipping association, back then, has threatened to ban Filipino seafarers in any of the EU-flagged vessels if these deficiencies aren't corrected, and is set to lose their international sea-going employment if the problem persists. Let's pray that it DOESN’T HAPPEN and help the industry prosper to ensure the continuous employment of Filipino seafarers in the global shipping trade. ED

Buhay Marino Dyaryo is published monthly by SEAFARERS MARITIME MEDIA, INC.

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