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Bringing military discipline and leadership in the merchant marine

Bringing military discipline and leadership in the merchant marine
Yashika F. Torib March 31, 2021

Rene V. Medina’s entry into one of the most critical offices of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) is like a trial by fire.

The former naval officer was recently appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as the executive director of the STCW Office of Marina, a post that oversees the implementation of international Standards on Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) on Filipino seafarers.

Medina, who retired as a vice admiral, previously served as Commander of the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). He was also the former Commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, the largest naval operating force of the Philippine Navy. His military marine experience was rich with shipboard commands to include four naval vessels.

As a sea soldier and military leader, Medina was well-decorated and highly experienced. Upon retirement, he brought this soldierly discipline and honor to the critical position of STCW chief — a post that brings with it decades of difficulties, the occasional controversies, challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, and the seemingly unending strains to pass the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) audit.

It was like a baptism of fire for Medina. The flames ignited further when some of the old salts of the local maritime sector questioned the appointment of yet another soldier in a merchant marine position.

“I respect their opinions,” he simply said in the typical stability-under-pressure nature of soldiers.

Indeed, being a veteran soldier has its advantages. Limitations and challenges are for breakfast and they thrive in difficult situations where they often emerge victoriously.

“Being a retired Navy officer does not mean we are incapable of this position. It is one of my principles that knowledge is obtainable by those who seek it. Leadership and sound decision making are another thing; it is a product of hard work and lots of experience — all these are needed in running the STCW office,” he said.

Unbeknownst to many, Medina is more than just a Navy officer. His previous duties have prepared him for the demands of Marina’s StCW office. He served as Superintendent of the Navy’s top training institution, the Naval Enlisted Personnel School Center and Naval Officer School Center. He also became the commander of the Naval Education and Training Command.

Medina likewise handled Port State Control in South Harbor, Manila, and served as the Station Commander of Coast Guard Station Subic during his stint with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

“I have been with the military for more than 38 years, a job that is designed for government service. This honed my personal and professional growth in Good Governance and Public Service; I find it fulfilling to provide security and assistance to our people. Working in Marina requires this same vigor and enthusiasm as a public servant.”

“When Marina Administrator Robert Empedrad asked me to join the agency, he specifically mentioned the Emsa audit, the issues concerning our seafarers’ training and certification, and some related issues internal to Stcwo. I took it as a challenge to offer solutions based on my administrative and management experience,” he said.

Given the current circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, Medina’s priority is to ensure the unimpeded training of seafarers whilst adhering to health protocols. The same goes for graduating maritime students who will benefit from Stcwo’s plan of having mobile training teams from maritime training institutions to limit their movement and keep them safe from contracting the virus.

“We are also reviewing the training courses offered to our seafarers and we will remove the unnecessary ones. Our circulars and the system for processing and issuance of certificates are likewise under review and improvement to ensure the speedy delivery of services.
“Most of all, our focus and main efforts are poured in addressing the Emsa findings,” Medina explained.

A childhood love of the sea

Medina’s entry into the maritime profession was not spurred by chance or adversity. It was simply to heed a childhood love for the sea which all began in the coastline of his hometown in Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte.

“I could still vividly remember how the sea made me feel like a young boy, how it fed us, and how the arriving fishing boats excited me,” he recalled.

This passion for the sea grew stronger when he entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and learned that it was breeding officers to serve in the Navy. “I admired the discipline and toughness of the CAT cadets in our high school, I dreamt of becoming like them and so I did. I joined PMA”

Today, Medina continues to exude the firm and decisive naval officer that he is. He strides with the steady and commanding bearing of a soldier and speaks in the clear, strong voice of a leader. He welcomes and faces challenges head-on to emerge victoriously. He fires sniper rifles in the firing range to destress.

But behind this strong and daunting man is a character that is yet to be seen by many — funny, delightful, and tends to the brighter side of life.

“I find joy even in the simplest and smallest of things,” Medina said, a warm beam of smile lightening up his face.