The Board of Civil Engineers had warned the chair of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) that the reformatted licensure examination they were sending to overseas testing centers needed fine-tuning. As it was, it seemed near impossible to pass.
Apollo Enriquez, chair of the Civil Engineering (CE) Board, had written PRC chair Teresita Manzala last November, saying he was “deeply worried” that the sudden increase in the number of questions from 30 to 100 per set—without any adjustment in the time given for solving complex problems—was “extremely difficult” and may only encourage guessing. This would only decrease the effectiveness of the tests aimed at judging professional proficiency, he added in his letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer.
He urged the PRC to reconsider its decision, warning that if it pushed through with the controversial examination, initially in the Middle East, it “will result in a drastic drop in passing the percentage, and may even result in a zero passing” rate.
Enriquez, together with CE Board members Praxedes Bernardo and Nigel Paul Villarete, urged the commissioners to allow them to first “fine-tune the CE professional board examinations” so as not to disenfranchise the overseas examinees.
The appeal of the Board was denied by the PRC.
True enough, out of 151 engineering examinees who took the reformatted special OFW exam administered last December 9 to 11, 2011, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emitates; Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; and Doha in Qatar, only one passed—a drop from an average passing rate over the years of about 30 percent to less than one percent (0.66 percent to be exact).
The results, a member of the CE Board later reflected, were a “glaring anomaly.”
As early as Dec. 21, the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (PICE-EPSA chapter) wrote to Manzala crying: “This is unfair!”
The overseas engineers noted that examinees in the Philippines were given the standard 30-question per set test.
In behalf of the examinees in his area, PICE-EPSA president Feleo Gines requested an explanation from the PRC. This has been followed by similar protests from other overseas Filipino engineers groups.
“We consider this so-called adjustment, unreasonable and unfair to the examinees here in the Middle East,” said PICE-Qatar president Delfino de Leon in his letter, also demanding an explanation from the PRC chair.
Manzala, a former labor attaché and official of the Department of Labor, was appointed chair of the PRC in January 2010.
So far she has not formally replied to the letters of the overseas engineer associations.
When earlier sought for comment, PRC spokesperson and chief of staff Louis Valera defended PRC’s move. He said: “It is within the discretion of the PRC board to give 100-item questionnaires because it is in the table of specifications.”
As for the lack of an advisory on the changes, Valera said: “The PRC does not need to advise them (licensure examination takers) because they are supposed to be well aware of this.”
The board’s discretion, Valera claimed, was based on “the responsiveness of the examinations to current trends to ensure the competitiveness of takers in their respective fields.”
Status quo call
Villarete, who has since resigned from the CE Board to become general manager and CEO of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority, confirmed that the board had sought reconsideration of the PRC decision to reformat the exam.
Contacted by the Inquirer, Villarete urged the PRC to return to its old format in the meantime as the Commission has yet to address the concerns raised over the recent examinations in the Middle East.
If the PRC really wanted to upgrade licensure examinations, he suggested that board work first be done for the amendment of the Civil Engineering syllabus, format and time schedule.
Villarete also confirmed he sent a follow-up letter to the PRC last January that contained these suggestions.
In that letter, he had described the Middle East exam as “unfortunate.”
“It is highly improbable that we suddenly have a batch of examinees so incompetent that their passing percentage is less than 1 percent.
“The near-to-zero passing is attributed to the examination format and administration,” he had concluded.
“Increasing the number of questions to 100 is not the problem—it is the limited time allocated per subject which is the problem. If the number of questions is increased as desired by the commission, then the time duration for the subject should be increased accordingly,” he added in an e-mailed message to the Inquirer.
He reiterated that it would be extremely difficult for examinees to pass with only three minutes allotted per question.
“If we need to give 100 problems, well and good. I can agree with that. But give them enough time to solve the 100 problems,” he said.
Villarete said it all depended on the discretion of the commission, which had “the full authority to make the decision.”
Regarding the rejection of the board’s appeal for reconsideration last November, Villarete said, “The board is always cognizant of the administrative power of the PRC … and so we complied.”