Last February, President Duterte signed the appointment papers of Atty. Vera Joy Sadlan Ban-eg as Deputy Executive Director of Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Office. I admit that when I read about the appointment at that time, the first thing that came to my mind was that she was not a seafarer. I asked whether she would be able to fulfill the roles and functions that such position will require. And who can blame me? After the tragic joke that Mejia made of his term, I was firmly convinced that mere textbook learning and academic credentials cannot take the place of authentic maritime experience and knowhow. However, I was somewhat willing to give Atty. Ban-eg the benefit of the doubt.
And I’m glad I did. During the past few months when she had virtually taken over the STCWO after Capt. Diaz left his post for “family-related reasons”, Atty. Ban-eg has capably stepped into her role with admirable aplomb. I hope I don’t sound patronizing because that is very far from my intention, but it has to be recognized that the maritime industry is primarily male-dominated, so for a female to be able to do what Atty. Ban-eg has done is doubly worthy of note.
In just a few short months, this lawyer has been able to muster the political willpower to approve the publication of test questions – not a small feat by any means. It’s not for nothing that the UFS has been fighting for this to happen for the last 20 years. By publishing the test questions on the MARINA website, the newly-appointed STCWO deputy director has taken a major stride in dismantling a corrupt system that has been throwing a shadow on the integrity of the board examinations. I have no doubt that she has clashed with some powerful officials who now stand to lose a great deal of money in bribes and payoffs from leakages.
And then there is the upgrading of CoCs from C/M and 2/E to to Master or C/E respectively without anymore the need to take Theoretical Exams and Practical Assessment, as long as you have an aggregate 12 months of sea service as C/M or 2/E in the last five years at the time of your application. Again, I am immensely thankful for this initiative because the Filipino seafarer is already way too beaten down by long years of mandatory schooling and test-taking. This initiative has actually been in place when the PRC was still the one implementing the issuance of the CoCs, but this was recanted when Meija was chief, upon the ridiculous advice of Capt. Tormon. Of course, as the owner of a review center, it was obvious that Tormon had a personal agenda. But then again, that is past and I am just glad that the current leaders at MARINA is displaying more sense.
There are more changes that Atty. Ban-eg has led, or is in the process of implementing. At the recent Maritime Week speech that she made upon the invitation of the UFS, she mentioned pushing for more government-funded training centers in Manila, as well as in Visayas and Mindanao. At a prior occasion, she also mentioned the establishment of regional board testing centers in Cebu and Davao so that candidates from these regions will no longer have to travel to Metro Manila. Her office has also been conducting regular consultations with stakeholders from various sectors that constitute the maritime industry, so that their perspectives can be incorporated in a maritime agenda that truly reflects relevant strategies, goals, and targets for the industry.
Atty. Ban-eg may not be a seafarer, but she seems to have a knack for knowing which policies would be beneficial for this industry. Although she is a lawyer by profession, she seems to get it. Maybe it’s because she has two brothers who are seafarers themselves; or maybe it could be because she also has the spirit of an activist – a person who has trained herself to look at hegemony and how it ought to be redefined.
I guess she is proof that leaders do not necessarily need to be technically trained. After all, hospitals are not necessarily run by doctors; the same logic might be applied to MARINA. In hindsight, I suppose this makes sense because, after all, the MARINA is an administrative body and not a vessel. It can be argued that unlike the latter, running the former is more dependent on management skills and political power as opposed to technical maritime expertise. Technical advice can always be sourced, but political willpower – now that takes someone with the right heart for it. I just hope she can fully appreciate the value and necessity of recruiting the right advicers to provide their perspectives, so that she can sustain the momentum. ©