Many would consider that a significant line of differences is drawn between the stringent and authoritarian rule of the military marine versus the flexible and widely encompassing world of merchant seafaring. In laying the foundations for the people who work for both however, Wenifredo Sola believes otherwise.
Sola, a consultant for the International Mariners Management Association of Japan-Philippine Japan Manning Consultative Council (IMMAJ-PJMCC) Foundation, sees a blur in the boundaries of training between the military and merchant marine, particularly in the values formation of the young cadets.
“Discipline is the common ground for both. You may not run a civilian ship using military tactics and methods but the working environment is pretty much the same — there is a central figure of authority that sets the rules to accomplish a mission. Once you apply the honor code of military schools to merchant marine training, you’ll see how shipboard operations become more effective due to the strong personal values and discipline of the people aboard a ship,” Sola explained.
Sola’s training expertise was sharpened by almost two decades of serving the Philippine Navy as an enlisted man and eventually climbing up the ladder of ranks until he established its Computer Center with the advent of computer technology in the Philippines. As the Navy’s computer programmer and systems analyst back in the late ‘70s, Sola witnessed the very first medium-sized teletype computers housed in air-conditioned and dust-free rooms and hard disks as big as wooden crates with maximum storage space of 20MB.
He also served as the radar man on RPS Rizal, a Navy frigate commandeered by Eduardo Ma. Santos to guard the Freedom Land, now known as Kalayaan Group of Islands. Santos, who retired as a vice admiral, now heads the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP), one of the prominent maritime institutions of the country.
Sola introduced computer-based management information systems to the Philippine Navy as well as to the Arab Port Managers in the latter part of his career until his skills and expertise caught the attention of Magsaysay Shipping, one of the country’s pioneers and leading names in manning and ship management.
Come 1980, Sola moved from the military marine to the private sector and established the Magsaysay Institute of Shipping (MIS).
“When I developed the training system for MIS, I applied the strategies and concepts of military training with some modifications. I’ve put in place the Honor Code that of which our cadets are taught not to lie, steal, cheat, and tolerate such acts. The level of discipline taught us in the military school could very well be applied in the merchant marine because the working environment at sea is the same, it calls for a certain amount of hard work and discipline to sailors,” he explained.
“There was not much difference with working for the Navy and for the private maritime sector because I’ve seen the common ground, albeit it came in different forms. I also came to apply the Navy’s best practices on office and personnel management to MIS especially the military discipline. While there are some who went up against me on it, many have seen how effective it was in forming the personal values and professionalism of our cadets, we just had to meet halfway and tweak the system to make it more acceptable and applicable to merchant marine,” he continued.
In an even and steady voice, Sola went on to explain that a seafarer’s integrity and honor is important in building a harmonious and professional relationship on board a vessel, something that MIS ascertained for its cadets.
“It is a parallel concept between the military and merchant marine. We develop discipline of the mind to sharpen their intellect, discipline of the body to prepare them from the tough working environment at sea, discipline of emotions to steel them from the challenges of isolation, and discipline of spirit to anchor their faith whilst battling the hardships at sea and the wrath of nature.”
While the veteran trainer acknowledges how technology has made the job easier for people at sea, he also pointed to the supplemental skills that come with new trends, a reality set into motion by international conventions.
“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to adapt with the changes of time. You only need to benchmark yourself with those who have already done it,” Bola explained. “Our maritime administration should look at the best practices of other maritime nations such as Panama, Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States. They’ve done all these revolutionary systems on safety, training, and certifications; we could simply adopt these things with a little situational adjustments instead of spending too much time developing our own systems. Bench-marking could hasten our own implementation of international standards,” he continued with a delicate exasperation on how a fellow Navy man could lead the country’s maritime industry without applying the modern management principles of the military.
With all his expertise and experience in maritime training, Sola remains an active leader and inspiration in the industry through his contributions to the IMMAJ-PJMCC Foundation. His quiet dignity, introspective nature, and adaptability with the changes of time make him one of the prominent figures in the ever-changing landscape of the Philippine maritime industry.