Today, Agapito “Pete” Lubaton, 47, is more than just a teacher. He is also co-owner and administrator of the Marbel Institute of Technical College (MITC), one of the fastest-growing and most promising technical-vocational institutions in Southwestern Mindanao.
A decade after opening its first driving class, MITC now offers 12 formal technical-vocational and nine other non-formal or short-term courses to more than 800 students from various parts of South Cotabato and the neighboring towns.
The school has grown beyond expectations, thanks mainly to Lubaton’s resilience and management savvy.
Although MITC was opened only in 1996, the journey to what it is now started as early as 1985 when the young Lubaton, fresh out of the then Notre Dame of Marbel College (now University), plunged into the academic world.
Armed with an AB Economics degree, he took the challenge to join the King's College of Marbel as one its instructors. No less than the school director, Felipe Fernandez invited the young Lubaton to join the faculty.
It was an invitation he could not resist. After all, he and Fernandez were good friends and had worked together for the Young Men's Christian Association in the area.
At King's College, he was a Social Science instructor, canteen manager and eventually the high school department's Citizen's Army Training (CAT) commandant.
"I embraced many roles then. It was quite difficult for a starter like me then but I took them as a challenge. I eventually realized that I was getting more than a job then – my preparation had started," he said.
After two years at King's College, he quit his job to join the administrative team of the Koronadal-based Southern Institute Technical Education (SITE), one of the pioneering technical-vocational institutions in the area.
His initial work was as guidance and program coordinator for SITE's branch in Surallah town. After a while, the school's owner invited him to head its main branch in Koronadal.
"Under my watch, the student population of the Surallah branch increased to 200 so I was asked by the owner to help out in the main branch, which had a little over 100 students then," Lubaton said.
The challenge for him by the owner of SITE, Romeo Rioja, was to make the population grow to 400. If he achieved that, a seat at the school board would be opened for him.
He took the challenge like his life were at stake. Traveling alone most of the time, Lubaton made rounds of various high schools in South Cotabato and as far as North Cotabato to introduce the school and invite the students to enrol with them.
In June 1999, Lubaton's resilience and hard work ultimately paid off. When the school opened its classes, their total enrollees had reached 425.
He took his achievement to the school's owner only to find out that the earlier promise was no longer there.
“It was frustrating,” he admitted. But Lubaton used the opportunity to explore other opportunities for him.
"I asked myself: what's next? What will I do until I grow old? I have to do what is right for me," he said.
Then already holding a Masters degree in Business Administration from Notre Dame, Lubaton and two other local businessmen agreed to pool their resources together to establish MITC.
He and his partners, Felix Estrabon and Cornelio Aloot, shelled out P180,000 each to finance the initial operations of the new school.
"I was very hesitant at the start because I don't know where I will get my capital share. But the Lord opened the Palarong Pambansa in 1996 as an instrument. I earned enough money then from catering food for the athletes," he said.
In June that year, MITC (then known as Marbel Institute of Technology or MIT) opened its doors to at least 125 students with Lubaton as the administrator.
And the rest is history.
Lubaton's hard work and determination to make MITC one of the best technical-vocational institutions in the region did not go unnoticed.
Lubaton is so far a recipient of the prestigious Kabalikat Award from the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority for the individual category. MITC also received a Kabalikat Award in 2006 for the institutional category.
That same year, Lubaton also received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Young Entrepreneur's Award and another from the Notre Dame of Marbel University's Alumni Association.
MITC presently offers two four-year ladderized courses: BS in Information Technology and BS in Hospitality Management.
Their two-year formal courses are: Information Technology, Mechanical Technology, Electricity Technology, Electronics Technology and Hotel and Restaurant Management. They also offer one year courses for Information Technology, Mechanical Technology, Electrical Technology, Electronic Technology and Electric Arc Welding.
Students may also explore their non-formal courses such as the five-month Modular Computer, Driving Mechanic, Consumer Electronics and Building Wiring as well as short courses on Baking/Food Processing, Dressmaking/Tailoring, Welding Training, Call Center Agent Training and 15 days Special Driving.
"Right now we are trying to align our programs with the needs of the industries locally and the job market in general," said Lubaton, who is currently the chair of the Technical Education Skills Development Committee in Region 12.
MITC, whose tuition fees are still among the lowest in the area, has been also working closely with several employment agencies and companies based locally and abroad to help provide ready employment for their students.
The school's highly competitive graduates have so far reached as far as the Middle East and Australia, earning big salaries.
Now on its 11th year, Lubaton said they envision MITC to become a full-fledged technical-vocation college within the next nine years.
After achieving that, he said they are determined to make MITC the next technical-vocational university in the region similar to Metro Manila's Technological University of the Philippines and Technological Institute of the Philippines.
"We have updated our mission and vision to help us meet these goals. There is one thing that we can assure for now, we are determined to achieve that," he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)