This 54-year old professional is typical of an Ilocano, Spartan in style but generous to his fellows. He holds office between two small stores at the Carriedo train station, unpretentious on the third floor of Capitan Luis Gonzaga building. Yet, this 1953 edifice is a major design of Pablo Antonio, a national artist.
Light-hearted, easy to laughter: Chief Engineer Gilbert Milana, president of Globe Maritime Training Center (GMTC) and Founder/President, Organization of Marine Chief Engine Officers.
Gilbert is fourth of seven siblings, all graduated with degree courses on routines with Mama selling used garments (ukay-ukay), harvesting snails (kuhol), raising chicken and pigs, peddling bread (pan de sal) at dawn on week-ends. At about 12nn, they reload with ice candy (buko). No sale, no allowance (baon) going to school.
He was born in Ilocos Norte, grew up in La Union of his father, a disciplinarian Army captain. He earned a BS-Mechanical Engineering from the Polytechnic University (PUP), a working student as hired killer of ipis (roaches) at the Manila Peninsula hotel and San Miguel Corporation.
While waiting for the results of the board exams, he took odd jobs as floor cleaner, dishwasher, errand boy, utility man, until he applied and boarded as a wiper. Unknowingly, this was his first step in a career on blue waters.
It was love at first sight, the engine room a world of machines. His officers saw his diligence and promoted him even to jobs he does not have yet the license. He persevered by taking courses and exams every shore leave, consistent with 75%, barely passing.
He accepted posts below his license, wages lower than his job. But this built well his career, becoming a Chief Engineer while a guy who looked down on him remained Second Engineer.
For Milana has steel nerves and the break, like running a vessel from Africa to Germany when the chief engineer got sick.
Milana changed to being conscious of his wages, seeking ITF rates that he deserves. He would demand from crewing agents to pay the proper rate or he will not board. In an incident, his seaman’s book and passport were thrown away but he stood on his right.
Thus, in 23 years on board, he served 18 companies; of these, barely three years with his family on land on quality time.
Milana has experienced the bad traits of Filipino and other nationals. A Pinoy belittled Milana’s self-worth, some sabotaged his work which he just fixed in silence to avoid enmity. Instead of assistance, they backbite against a kabayan (fellow Filipino).
There was also that hulking Austrian captain who barked to disembark Milana for unknown reasons. Milana called the bluff, gathered his gears and prepared to leave. The Austrian buckled and begged Milana to stay and run the engine.
Of nationals he had worked with, Milana thinks the Japanese are better partners as they acknowledge errors, rectify without fuss nor assault. There is no elbowing but teamwork.
Milana bats for reasonable fees in training services. While seafarers are better compensated now, service providers must control rates to fair and feasible level. Cutthroat rates benefit no one; instead, victimize everyone with unprofessional quality and results.
He continues to question impractical demands to obtain certification. Why must a seafarer fork out substantial sums to be officially certified even if he had worked untainted doing that job, and the principal satisfied with his competence?
Expectedly, Milana established a training center to reform the system. He started on borrowed funds, even parted ways with the original associate. His discounted fees irked some providers but he thinks of the seafarers more than his profit.
GMTC started at Escolta, then to Santa Cruz, both in Manila. The transfer to Carriedo is to accommodate the surge in enrollment. He considers staff brothers of his only child, him as the father who will always wish well for his children.
His firm parlays respect and discipline, an influence on Milana of his Army father. His staff of 82 (24 instructors, 14 at the Valenzuela site) are conscious of these values plus — very important to Milana — revenues are money of seafarers which must be used for their benefit, not just for faculty perks nor corporate profit.
There is a GMTC site in Antique of 1.2 hectares proposed to serve Panay Island which has many seafarers. His two partners there are both merchant mariners, just like the rest of GMTC.
When a shipping agency asked him to train a batch of 50, he prepared the fish capture course (NC1) for TESDA. This allowed takers to overseas jobs (mostly on Taiwanese boats) as fishermen are so poorly compensated locally.
Not many know Milana engages fishermen in a business. This partnership with fishermen bridged him over when business almost collapsed at the training center.
Next, he trained indigenous people (aeta and mangyan) from Zambales and Palawan. Milana advanced the expenses as they have not a penny. He sought reimbursement when they board — mind-boggling for the unschooled to travel and work in Australia and Japan.
Local government units (LGUs) have partnered on the program by providing the venue and TESDA an annual scholarship bursary of P200k, beginning with the first batch of 24 trainees. It would be a sight at the MARINA for a group on g-string, Milana included!
He discontinued offering the Management Level Course (MLC), turned off by persistent rumors of pay-offs, non-attendance with grease money. His peers were happy with his fortitude and triggered the organizing of Organization of Marine Chief Engine Officers. Members donated books and materials to keep improving the syllabus, each one pitching in the synergy of sharing, sharing and sharing.
His fervor to reform is not fueled by hatred but by genuine concern. His business economics is to ensure wages are secured for the teaching faculty and staff. Any profit is reinvested on improving facilities, on being a better training center. For Milana believes he is a conduit to help, not a predator to gorge on profit.
Some may snicker, unless one sees the spiritual Milana: offering self to what role God will on his mortal life. He considers as preparations all aggravations in youth, all flaws and pluses in his career, all the loneliness from his family … all these are OJTs for his ultimate job: serving his fellowmen with Christian virtues.
Milana’s equitable sharing may expand to the sustainable exploitation of national marine resources. Details are yet unavailable as the project is under wraps. But the certainty is that it will be for the common good, for those willing to toil with best effort — for those unafraid of challenges, resting not to dry the sweat but to seek Divine guidance.
For this is his story, played back for others.