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High school students from John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University carry on a tradition of excellence in maritime education, rooted in the institution’s culture of equality in opportunity.

Training and education

On a grey afternoon in October, some hundred plus youngsters in Iloilo embark on a ship bound for Cebu. To an outsider, the teenagers look as if they’re about to go on a fieldtrip of their lives: somewhere far away from home, with only teachers and their own consciences to regulate, well, what teenagers tend to do.

Things couldn’t be further from the truth, however. These teens are students of John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University (JBLFMU) High School from Molo, Iloilo. They’re not boarding the ship for a holiday, but as part of their curriculum’s requirements: to apply what they’ve learned for the past several months about navigation, plotting, and parts of a ship.

A tradition of excellence

JBLFMU began as a mere review center for seafarers more than 50 years ago. Its natural evolution, of course, fuelled by the passion of its founder, master mariner John B. Lacson and his daughter, Mary Lou Lacson-Arcelo, was a series of firsts in maritime education: the first maritime university in the country that has been constantly recognized as a major provider of outstanding seafarers here and abroad; the first to be granted world-class accreditation and certification levels for its programs; and the first and only maritime high school in the country.

One can confidently say JBLFMU is a trailblazer, well ahead of its time.

While not pressuring its students to enter the maritime industry, the boys and girls at John B. Lacson Maritime High School nevertheless benefit from its unique approach to education.

“We’re considered to be different from other high schools because we introduce basic seamanship as early as high school,” says Principal Ma. Elena Eleperia.

The school follows the basic Department of Education curriculum, but enhances it with courses unique to the maritime profession.

“We offer separate courses,” informs Eleperia. “For first year, it’s Basic Safety, Firefighting, then Swimming. In second year, its different parts of the ship, Navigation, and Plotting, and so on,” she shares.

The students, as mentioned earlier, are exposed to navigational trips, where they can apply their lessons on board.

Sophomores go to Bacolod, juniors go to Cebu, and seniors go to Manila. The trips take up a total of three days (Manila trips take four days) on training ships supplied by JBLFMU’s linkages. Parents aren’t allowed on board.

Seafaring—especially in the Western Visayas—appears to be the default vocation of most young men (and a growing number of women), and the Maritime High School helps them “really determine if they want to go on board by college, so they won’t regret it later on if they’re not meant for it,” says Eleperia matter-of-factly.

In a recent treasurer’s study, she adds, “fifty percent of JB Maritime High School go on to higher-level maritime school.”

High school life, oh high school life

Rachel Querimit, 15, a senior at the school, says “it’s fun” even though she has no plans of entering the maritime industry later on. Her love for math and the challenge she finds in the school’s advanced math classes are enough for her. “I don’t find math hard,” she says. “What boys can do, girls can do, too. I want to be an accountant after graduation,” she says, beaming.

That, and the chance to make a bigger impact in her community.

Rachel was one of the few students handpicked from schools all over Iloilo City to sit as City Councilor for a week. “We passed resolutions, held mock sessions,” she shares. “My resolution was putting up CCTV cameras along the main streets of Iloilo City, and regulating the use of plastic bags.”

Another star student, Joven Tabuhara, 15, also a senior, has his sights set on becoming a marine engineer in the future. “I think studying here would enhance my skills,” he says. “They offer all the basic courses in seamanship. In all of Iloilo and the Philippines, there are no secondary schools that offer this training in the maritime industry.”

He says several of his relatives recommended he go to JB Maritime High School. “My sister said their classmates went on to become very successful and they earned a lot in their career,” he says.

Equal opportunities

Both Joven and Rachel would want more girls, though, in “John B,” as they call it. “We encourage girls to enroll; it’s a connotation that maritime is only for boys but for me, we offer equal opportunity for girls and boys…we also have college courses (in JBLFM University) that are suited for girls, like tourism and cruise ship (management).”

(Other comprehensive courses include Customs Administration and Business Administration with Maritime Management.)

Currently, there are 449 students in John B. High School—only 125 of them are females.“

In the star section,” says Eleperio, “there are a lot of girls. Otherwise, there are only five girls in the other classes.”

She says the Maritime High School has also become a sort of mining ground for scholars for shipping companies. “Some graduates also get scholarships from MAAP (Marine Academy of Asia and the Pacific), and PMMA (Philippine Merchant Marine Academy).”

All this proves not only the excellence with which JBLFMU ingrains in its institutions and people, but the culture of equality and opportunity propagated by its founders.

“Like what our principal always says,” remarks Rachel, “what you know now isn’t a basis for your success in the future.”

“We are all given equal opportunities, even if you’re in the higher or lower sections,” adds Joven. “It’s up to the student kung pano n’ya i-grab yung opportunity or magamit mga pinag-aralan nya sa kanyang buhay  (if he or she will grab the opportunity or apply what he’s learned in his own life).


Written by Regina Abuyuan. Photographs by Jose Enrique Soriano. Training and Education. Previously published January-February 2013.