At 75, Mary Lou Arcelo has learned to take things in stride. But the outcome of the July 2014 state licensure examinations for officer-in-charge of a navigational watch has hit the chairwoman of the Philippines’ John B Lacson Foundation Maritime University like a thunderbolt. Eleven JBLFMU cadets, all scholars of the Norwegian Shipowners Association (NSA), failed the written tests. Ironically, more than 40 regular cadets of the university passed. One of them even landed on 7th spot.

How could this happen? The scholars who flunked – said to be sponsored by Norwegian tanker operator Odjfell – had received more rigid training and, presumably, better classroom instruction than the regular students. Not less significantly, NSA auditors had been breathing down the necks of the JBLFMU administrators. Their constant tune: “Your school should meet our (that is to say European) standards”.

Dr Arcelo won’t dance to the music

Mary Lou is thinking the worst. “There’s a plot to put JBLFMU down,” says she. In any case, she’s exasperated with the system. Back in 1973, she tells us, she was approached by a visitor who requested a list of her students who were scheduled to take the examinations. The man assured her that they would pass and that she would receive her “share” under a certain arrangement. The offer was promptly turned down. Then as now, the woman will have nothing to do with that sort of chicanery.

What can anyone do? “The system,” she says, “will not change in 300 years”.

A friend of ours who’s familiar with the wheeling and dealing in Manila has some unsolicited advice for maritime educators such as Mary Lou Arcelo: “Dance to the music”. That sounds practical indeed. But woe to the Filipinos if everyone decides to tango on the dance floor and leave all idealism behind. ~Barista Uno



FOOTNOTE: All in all, it’s wonderful news for JBLFMU. Seven of its alumni hurdled the July 2014 marine deck exams with flying colours. Andro Federick Amaran Telesforo topped the Master Mariner exams with Cristito Celeste Cesumision Jr, Jun Subigca Solas, Rez Ivan Gepilano Eumag and Gerald Fred Magsipoc Alojipan placing 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th, respectively. Cliffrich Santander Duran took 3rd spot in the Chief Mate exams whilst Date Aljo Dalipe was 7th in the OIC for Navigational Watch tests.

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