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A view of Diliman from the heights of Loyola

(Article published in the Nov 11,2004 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

The academic path I had envisioned for myself, half a century ago, as I ran in the dusty grounds of Lakan Dula Elementary School, in Solis, Tondo, Manila, was to someday walk in the corridors of University of the Philippines, tracing the footsteps of elder cousin, Angelito De Jesus.  The stars, however, altered my course after freshman year at the Torres High School in Juan Luna Street,  Gagalangin and I wound up being graduated, from high school all the way to law school, by the Ateneo University, south of Diliman.

Until now though, despite marching under a different banner, I continue to look with reverence at the sprawling campus north of Loyola Heights.  I do not at all wish to bring to back the clock and undo the work of the fates.  But, simply because UP is there (and, by the way, not an insignificant beneficiary of taxes filtered from the sweat of my brow) I follow with interest the major developments in the university not gone to.

Next week, on the 17th to be precise, is very crucial to the University of the Philippines.  The Board of Regents votes on who will succeed President, Dr. Francisco Nemenzo who reaches the age of 70 on 9 February 2005.  Dr. Nemenzo’s six year term does not end until August, 2005; but he has to step down in less than that on account of Board of Regent’s rule, in place since 1961, that fixes the term of the President to “six years from the date of his election, without prejudice to subsequent reelections for like terms, and until his successor shall have been elected, or until he shall have reached the age of seventy years.”

A current regent, a retired justice respected by the profession, who was initially nominated for president, gallantly withdrew from the race when informed of the 70 age limit.  An aspirant, better known to many for the failed business that he had headed than for his academic credentials, continues to remain in the list of candidates even if, should he be elected, he would be holding office for only three months and twenty eight days.  This same aspirant, I was told, not once joined the venerated part of search process that required the nominees to make the rounds of the campuses, in Diliman, Manila, Baguio, Iloilo, Cebu, Davao and Los Baños and, by presenting their respective visions of the UP, convince the stakeholders that they deserve to wear the mantle of leadership for the next six years.

A pedigreed candidate, daughter of Virgilio Reyes, Sr., Press Secretary to the then President Diodado Macapagal and Erlinda Alcantara-Reyes, former chair of UP’s department of Speech and Communication and Theater Arts, appears to stand out, among those who made the campus visits.  Dr. Georgina R. Encanto, from the College of Mass Communications, appears to be the candidate of choice both of the often, and naturally, fractious academic community as well as of the large body of UP alumni, now embedded in the public and private sectors.

It is not difficult to see why.   Her vision paper resonates with years spent on both sides of the rostrum.  On the one hand, UP graduate, English and Comparative Literature in 1967, magna cum laude;  M.A. in English and American literature from Brandeis University as a Wien Scholar and Fullbright Travel Grantee three years later; and Ph. D in Philipppine Studies in 1966.  On the other, teaching assistant in 1967, right after college graduation; substitute instructor for the next two years; and subsequently, with her doctorate, holder of various professorial chairs, such as those put up in the honor of Carlos P. Romulo and of Hernando Abaya as well as the San Miguel Professorial Chair. 

At the same time, she brings to the table the administrative acumen needed by the university presidency.  She was only 39 when she became dean of the Institute of Mass Communications in 1985.  During her term, the institute was elevated into a college and its four programs, namely, Journalism, Broadcast Communication, Communication Research and Film, became departments headed by chairs.

Dr. Encanto’s vision taps from main vein of the university’s charter.  Section 2 of Act No. 1870, unchanged despite the many amendments since 1908, mandates the institution “to provide advanced instruction in literature, philosophy, the sciences, and arts and to give professional and technical training.” In the more living terms of Henry Newman: “raising the intellectual tone of society”, “cultivating the public mind”, “purifying the national taste”, “giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age”, and “refining the intercourse of private life”.

To operationalize the university’s aims, Dr. Encanto vows to update and make relevant the academic programs and the curriculum (the last comprehensive review as in 1983), confront the issues of concern of the faculty and staff, such uncompetitive compensation and benefits, and address the needs of the students, like security and decent physical facilities.

To generate the needed funding, Dr. Encanto will  not call on persons of philanthrophy with a begging bowl, but instead elicit support through mutually beneficial linkages with business and industry consistent with the enhancement of UP’s educational goals as well as society’s pressing needs.  Her dream, for instance, is to enable the PGH become the model of a public hospital, the UPLB the model for agricultural and forestry conservation, and the UP Integrated School as a model laboratory school. 

What is most striking in Dr. Encanto’s vision, though, is a refreshing call to the university community to service, already a dominant theme in the university next door, my Ateneo, that seeks to “form persons who, following the teachings and example of Christ, will devote their lives to the service of others and, through the promotion of justice, serve especially those who are most in need of help, the poor and the powerless.” Under that common banner, the narrow road from Loyola Heights to Diliman will have to be widened to accommodate the increased traffic of ideas and ideals, of dreamers and workers, to and fro, between the naked man stretching his arms in oblation to the sky and the soldier, on bended knee, offering his sword to ruler of the heavens.