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The Impossible Dream

Forty-nine years ago, a maritime school named Mariners Polytechnic School, opened its doors to the first batch of 35 young men and women whose enterprising founder wanted to train himself in downtown Manila. That was in 1974, when Jaime Chavez Jimenez, then a Dean of the Feati University’s College of Mechanical Engineering, wished for a shift of priorities in his life as a maritime professional and family man with seven growing children. Not contented with just teaching, he dreamt of building his school!

His dream came true. With his pension and earnings, he went home to Bicol. When he died in 1991, his own family and those who knew his roots and life struggles were initially in disbelief. How did he do it? Three campuses of the Mariners that he dreamt to build had come to reality. It all started with the Mariners Polytechnic College in Naga City, from whose womb came forth two other campuses, one in Canaman, Camarines Sur, and another in Legazpi City. Today, the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation (MPCF) in Canaman is the only accredited maritime school in the Bicol region. The MPCF in Legazpi City is an acknowledged leader in nationwide gender-and-development advocacy among maritime schools. From its humblest beginnings, Mariners has become a prime mover of the 90-school Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI), the Philippine Association of Maritime Training Centers (PAMTCI), the Philippine Marine Environment Protection Association, Inc and the Maritime Movement Philippines, and Women in Maritime (WiMA). The founder was Chairman of Philippine Commission on Government Reorganization (PCGR) during President Fidel Ramos’ term.

Persistence and Hard Work

Before founding the school, he was a highly skilled mechanical engineer whose expertise every engineering school would covet to hire. Feati U was a private collegiate school that trains pilots, mechanics, and maintenance professionals for the aeronautics industry. The university invited him, and the 50-year-old Jimmy joined the college to become its dean in just a few years. But he knew flying was not his passion. Instead, he loved to sail and teach more young people to embrace seafaring as a professional career.

Jimmy or Aming is my father. He is now gone. But his story refuses to die as long as this school, now known as the Mariners Polytechnic College, the forerunner of the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, which is celebrating its 49 years Foundation Day on March 4 this year, continues to dream big as its founder did.

From farm to the ocean

Let me call him Aming, the son of a poor landless farming family of Barangay Bigajo Sur, Libmanan, Camarines Sur, who founded the Mariners schools. This once poor boy who used to walk barefoot to school in elementary school wasted no time on trivialities. Or, of him selling pandesal, scrubbed floors, engaged in town-hall boxing, and buy-and-sell at the market to earn his baon for school. And, his all-too-consuming passion in watching every bangka that sailed by the Libmanan riverbank near their family’s nipa hut, to and from Naga City, imagining himself at the head of the navigator’s wheel as the “piloto.”

He was a Philippine Navy commander when he retired from service in 1969. As a seasoned US-trained deep-sea scuba rescue diver with the RPS Rajah Soliman Flagship and First Destroyer Escort known as Destroyer-66, his experience in a war ship reminded him of his guerilla days in Camarines Sur fighting the Japanese invaders with other Tangkong Vaca guerillas. Unfortunately, the Navy lost the D-66 Flagship in 1964, for which Jimmy was among those recognized for bravely struggling to save the ship from the fury of Typhoon Winnie.

Mariners, indeed is a dream come true. His wife, Eliza dela Torre Lazaro, who died in 2017, was Aming’s cheering supporter. Eliza was from a middle-class family whose members were easily drawn to the charm of the hard-working, ambitious, humble man like Aming from among her many ardent suitors. She was a long-time stenographer with the Department of Justice Undersecretaries from Atty. Ramon Fernandez to the human rights top legal mind, Atty. Jose W. Diokno. She decided to join Aming in his dream, impossible it may seem. But decades passed, and with their children, the dreaming continued.

The Pandemic, recession, wars, climate change, and all may seem more daunting challenges today. But like in the song “Impossible Dream,” from the 1965 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote stood vigil over his armor, striving against the most demanding challenges and winning. The success of the schools came without pain and heartache: after the founder’s loss came the loss of Boboy, a naval architect, who died from a heinous crime, then Eliza and Dante. Of course, every loss causes unimaginable sorrow for the family and the community. But what loss does not? Isn’t the after and the now that matters most as life continues?

I smile as I write about this same quest for a dream. The popular Mariners tagline, “Sarong Marinero sa kada pamilyang Bicolano,” is one of a kind. It is true. The success of a Marinero shows in every barangay. Sana all, one Marinero quipped.

In the new world of indoor ocean, ocean current-renewable energy, robotics, thermodynamics, satellites, and Blue economy, as Mariners approaches the golden year, what is the next dream? To become a university, the Board officials agree. And mold more responsible, resilient, and professional “Total” Marineros among the youth and the community who care for the world in the coming years. But, in the meantime, celebrate!


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