Producing leaders

As the first maritime school in the Philippines, the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy laid the foundation for a strong maritime industry and more.

Originally published by Seafarer Asia Nationalism Issue on November 2015

The Father of Filipino Seafarers Capt. Gregorio Oca

We’ve all heard their names: Captain Gregorio Oca, the father of Filipino seafarers and founder of AMOSUP, the biggest maritime union for the welfare of Filipino merchant mariners; Admiral Tomas Cloma, the father of Philippine maritime education and founder of PMI Colleges that created the new trend in maritime learning; and Capt. Benjamin Mata, the epitome of Filipino maritime entrepreneurship. These maritime industry movers laid the foundation for the currently glorious seafaring years enjoyed by today’s generation of Filipino merchant mariners.

Beyond their insurmountable contributions and steadfast advocacies for seafarers and the maritime community, another common thread binds these extraordinary leaders: they were all once cadets of the Philippine Nautical School (PNS), now known as the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), the institution that opened the doors for the Philippines to the world of maritime.

“PMMA is one of the pillars of the maritime industry. Without it, it would have been harder to achieve where the industry is right now,” asserts C/E Guilbert Llamado, president of the PMMA Alumni Association, Inc.

PMMA in maritime manpower

The first maritime school in the country, founded on April 5, 1820 as the Escuela Nautica de Manila, the institution has been shut down, reopened, and even renamed several times, until it finally became the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy by virtue of Republic Act 3680 in 1963.

The Academy currently offers two courses: Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation, and Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering. Both are four-year residency courses that included one year of shipboard training onboard sea-going vessels. The PMMA takes pride in the incomparable discipline it instills in its cadets, guided by their core values Kawastuhan, Kababaang Loob, at Kagitingan (Righteousness, Humility, and Courage).

“We continuously uphold our core values because they are what make the PMMA different from other maritime schools,” explains Llamado, adding that the Academy follows a rigid seniority system, wherein every year level is classified according to hierarchy. First year students or fourth class rank the lowest—denominated as plebes or the lowest mammals—while seniors or first class rank the highest.

According to Llamado the hierarchy intensifies discipline and leadership skills among its cadets. The PMMA was the first one to implement this system, setting the standards for maritime cadets. “You learn to follow and give orders, and you also learn to value time—all of which are applicable to sea,” he shares.

Llamado asserts that the PMMA continues to produce cadets who are as discipline as the graduates of the older generation. “I believe [it’s because] the system remains the same. The curriculum may have been changed, as it adapts to different elements influencing each batch and generation, but when it comes to the basic principles of training cadets in term of discipline and character, these did not change,” he says.

PMMA in the armed forces

The PNS era saw many graduates serving in the military as there were only few Filipino vessels to board and work on. This was before the Philippines became globally known for providing quality seafarers and before foreign principles came in.

Back then, PMMA graduate were commissioned as ensigns (second lieutenant) in the Philippine Navy reserved force and had the option to serve in the navy or coast guard. However, in times of need, active service could be required of them, as the Academy was subsidized by the government.

Today, given its facilities to provide regimental training, the Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Navy partnered with the Academy to train dedicated cadets to serve the armed forces. While all would acquire the same baccalaureate, PMMA-PCG and PMMA-PNS cadets undergo specialized training fit for military service upon graduation. According to Llamado, the growing need for local military officers initiated this agreement, which is more cost-efficient than building a separate academy.

“It was surprising to discover (at first) that some students preferred to join as military cadets; majority [of enrollees] would often have the mindset to go into seafaring since it is a higher paying profession,” shares Llamado, “but given the opportunity to assist their families while studying, a lot are attracted to the military program.” Llamado adds further that after admission, military cadets start earning as sergeants.

“During the earlier years of the PMMA, hindi mo makikita ang growth mo sa (cadets wouldn’t see their growth in the) military since hindi naman talaga iyon ang forte natin (this wasn’t our forte). But now that they have military orientation, [some cadets make it] their goal to be successful in this field,” says Llamado. 

PMMA in the maritime industry

Throughout maritime history, the institution has groomed the cadets we now regard as the maritime legends who laid the foundation for a thriving national maritime community.

“The PMMA definitely opened a lot of doors for seafarers. If you look at the people in the industry, a big percentage are products of the Academy. PMMA graduates are in government maritime offices, manning agencies, training centers, and even other well-known educational institutions as instructors,” Llamado shares, adding that the PMMA Graduate School, established in 1996, is the first graduate school catering to the industry’s needs for local maritime experts. It offers master courses in ship management and maritime education and training.

“The maritime community today would have been different without the PMMA,” surmises Llamado. “PMMA is a strong force that holds many things in the industry together.”

“Being a leader is innate in PMMA graduates,” Llamado says, “which is why ship owners prefer hiring our cadets. Even if a cadet is not yet an officer on board, he already has good decision making capabilities because he was groomed by the academy to make the right decisions, even under pressure.”

The PMMA graduate

As a cadet of PMMA class 1986, C/E Llamado often asked himself this question: “Why did I have to undergo military training when all I wanted to become was a seafarer?”

PMMA’s system comprises 75 percent academics and 25 percent regimented training. Since the Academy fosters its cadets, they are subjected to more hours of training compared to the hours spent in academics. This intensifies the inculcation of discipline and time management, as they follow a strict schedule of calls and allocated hours for every activity, including eating and sleeping.

Though it took him years as a cadet to understand the essence of regimentation, C/E Llamado is certain that the things he learned inside the Academy guided each step he took toward the success he enjoys now. “[Regimentation] prepares you for your life at sea, and your life after sea,” he states.

“There are many requirements to comply inside the academy and its regimental system teaches cadets to balance all those things—to prioritize. We would often make mistakes and be reprimanded, but it helped us become better decision-maker; we all wanted to achieve the same goal in the end—to graduate,” he says.

When it comes to leadership, the PMMA class system hones the ability of cadets to follow and give command. As a fourth class or plebe, cadets are inspired to only obey and comply with honorable instructions, making them good followers. On their second year or as third class men, cadets are given the responsibility to both lead and follow. “During this year, a cadet should always property himself as properly as he can—even when he’s the lousiest in his class—because there are now underclassmen looking up to him,” explains Llamado.

The highest in rank are the fourth years or first class men coming back to the academy after a year of shipboard. During this year, cadets are expected to present themselves as good leaders as they lead the entire corps. “Being a leader is innate in PMMA graduates,” Llamado says, “which is why ship-owners prefer hiring our cadets. Even if a cadet is not yet an officer on board, he already has good decision making capabilities because he was groomed by the academy to make the right decisions, even under pressure.”

Looking back on his 18 years of seafaring, Llamado shares that despite the opportunities graduating in PMMA bring, success is still defined by the individual and not the institution. “If you just go with the flow, it’ll lead you to become a captain or a chief engineer someday because that is where you are going. But if you don’t find yourself in that position, then it means that at some point in your life you made the decision to go with another path, and during that time, it may have been the best option you had. It is never the academy or the institution that dictates where you are going—it is yourself,” he says.



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