Reprinted from The Carillon – January, 2006
by Joy Limbo, Richie Dira, Andette Las Piñas & Cesar Torres
The first woman President of the University of the Philippines System, Dr. Emerlinda Roman, accompanied by Professor Erlinda Echanis, Dean of the UP College of Business Administration, paid a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area at the invitation of the UP Alumni Association of Berkeley and the UP Alumni Association of San Francisco last October 17 through the 21st.
The UP alumni in Northern California met with President Roman in two fellowship dinners, one organized by the UP alumni association of Berkeley which is headed by Romi Beza. The other dinner was hosted by the UP Alumni Association of San Francisco whose President, Ted Aquino, is also the newly-elected President of the UP Alumni Association of America.
The dinner organized by the UP alumni based in Berkeley was attended by about 40 alumni and their guests. It was held at the Goldilocks Restaurant in Concord, California, on the night of October 18. San Francisco Consul General, Maria Rowena Mendoza Sanchez, accompanied by Vice Consul Anthony Achilles Mandap, who is also an alumnus of the UP, attended the dinner.
In her talk, President Roman shared the following with the alumni and their guests:
The University System which has seven autonomous universities – Diliman, Manila, Los Banos, the Visayas, Mindanao, Baguio, and the Open University – has now a total enrollment of 52,000.
She admitted that the AsiaWeek survey which ranked the UP as No. 36 in 1995, and then No. 55 during the last survey, was discouraging. The joke was that the UP was following the peso-dollar exchange rate and the deteriorating Philippine economy.
Despite its low ranking in comparison with first class Asian universities, such as Tokyo, Singapore, and Chulalangkor in Thailand, President Roman emphasized that the University has an excellent science and technology program, particularly in UP Visayas where its marine sciences program and research facilities are the envy of other top universities in Asia.
Thousands of high school graduates still apply for admission to the University. But the rejection rate is very high at 96% at the UP in Manila where its College of Nursing and College of Medicine, among others, are situated.
President Roman vows that she will leave no stone unturned to elevate the academic quality of the regional autonomous universities to the level of Diliman and Manila. If accomplished, this will decongest the Metro Manila autonomous universities and assist in regional development, especially in the more depressed regions of the country, such as the Eastern Visayas Region.
Because of the “Normalization Standards” of the Philippine higher educational system, the compensation of UP faculty members are the same as those in other state universities and colleges, despite the admittedly very difficult process of earning a UP degree in addition to the more rigorous academic, research, community services, and other criteria necessary to be admitted to the faculty ranks of the University. The alumni who have been in America for a long time were horrified to learn that an Assistant Professor in the Ateneo de Manila University receives P30,000 monthly, while a Professor VIII in the UP, the highest faculty rank that one can achieve, receives the same amount. Moreover, salaries at the top professorial ranks in Ateneo do not have any caps at all unlike in the UP.
But despite the low salaries, thousands of UP faculty members continue to stick it out with the UP. President Roman explained that it is not only the members of religious orders who are missionaries. UP mentors are also missionaries.
President Roman also briefed her listeners with the preparation of the University for its Centennial Celebration. She paid tribute to the assistance being provided by the embattled President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is herself an alumnus of the University, to the Centennial preparation.
President Roman ended her speech with an appeal to the alumni to help their alma mater, especially in providing additional incentives to its deserving but underpaid faculty members by providing professorial chairs.
The sobering talk of President Roman was somehow dissipated with the performance of a chorale group. The two numbers that they sang captured the entire attention of the guests. Listening to them, you could literally hear a pin drop on the floor. They were so good. The singers are students of UPAA Berkeley Music Committee chair, Henry Torres. Some, if not all, of them also are members of the Tagintinig choral group which also counts Andette Las Piõas as one of its members.
After the musical performance, Romi Beza responded to the appeal of President Roman. He informed President Roman and the assembly that the association was pledging $30,000, the cost of one professorial chair. His announcement was followed by another announcement of a business administration alumna, a colleague of Dean Erlinda Echanis, Juliet Zarate-Hudson. She made a personal pledge of $3,000. Then all other past UPAA Berkeley president followed Ms. Hudson with their pledges of $3,000. Ms. Araceli Carbonell, an activist in Northern California, pledged $3,000. This was capped by a pledge of $5,000 by Dr. Isagani Sarmiento, CEO of Crumbs Engineering and President of Fish for Peace Foundation. Dr. Sarmiento and President Roman were associates at UP Los Baños years before Dr. Sarmiento emigrated to America.
In less than 30 minutes, $35,000 was raised by President Roman from the members of the UPAA in Berkeley. The list is shown below.
- Juliet Zarate Hudson, $3,000
- Araceli Carbonell, $3,000
- Manuel Utleg and Cherry Sideo-Utleg, $3,000
- Jess Zulueta and Alexis Alcantara Zulueta, $3,000
- Rafael Rey and Diosy del Rosario-Rey, $3,000
- Rene Figueroa and Letty Tempongco-Figueroa, $3,000
- Nestor Duldulao and Ceny Alfonso-Duldulao, $3,000
- Victor Salting and Libertad Sevandal-Salting, $3,000
- Romi Beza and Beng Beza, $3,000
- Hugo Zarate and Delia de Guzman-Zarate, $3,000
- Isagani Sarmiento and Dora Sarmiento, $5,000
In contrast to the excitement during the Berkeley dinner, the dinner in Boracay Grill, Milpitas in the Silicon Valley, was a bit subdued. But there were still a lot of guest, such as Dr. Rene Lacsina and wife, Tess Lacsina, who drove all the way from Salinas-Monterey, about 2 hours drive, to attend the dinner. Again, the Consul General, Maria Rowena Mendoza Sanchez attended the dinner. This time her companion was Vice Consul Raffy Hermoso, also an alumnus of the University. The young pair of Richie Dira and Joy Limbo took public transport to attend the dinner again.
There were some alumni who were attending a UPAA San Francisco gathering for the first time, such as Ma. Luisa Andrada-Yee. But Ms Yee is an active member of the UP Chemistry Alumni Association.
President Roman basically delivered the same speech to the Boracay Grill group. But this time, there were more questions and suggestions on how to improve the fiscal situation of the UP. A novel suggestion which was proposed by College of Engineering alumnus, Morgan Benedicto, was for the UP to actively request that the national government negotiate for a moratorium on the payment of the interests of the foreign debts of the Philippines. Echoing the proposal of UP past President Francisco Nemenzo, Jr., Mr. Benedicto proposed that a thorough foreign debt audit should be undertaken by the Philippine government. Then the government should negotiate for the cancellation of illegal debts and a modification of the terms of debts whose terms are onerous. The savings generated by a massive restructuring of Philippine foreign debts can then be added to the funds of the UP, thereby easing its fiscal difficulties.
Unlike in the Berkeley dinner, there was no “frenzy” of pledges for a professorial fund from those in attendance in the UPAA San Francisco dinner. But President Ted Aquino did present a check to the UP President for the rehabilitation of the UP Infirmary, a much-needed initiative which he and his association has taken on as its project. Ted Aquino’s guarded behavior could be understood in the context of his tremendous responsibilities associated with his Presidency of the UP Alumni Association of America. This is not something that he can take for granted, especially when his administration touches on the Centennial Celebration of the founding of the University System, which used to be the pinnacle of academic excellence in the Philippines and the bastion of academic freedom and social commitment to Philippine society.
The visit of President Roman elicited some comments from some alumni, such the lack of coverage by the Filipino print and TV media. After all she was not an ordinary visitor, i.e., a traditional politician on a junket. She could not even pay a visit to the San Francisco Consulate, the seat of the Republic of the Philippines in Northern California. Apparently her schedule was so hectic. And her organizers probably forgot all about it. But it is a tribute to the graciousness of the San Francisco Consul General that she and her assistants were present in both events, reminiscent of the saying that: “If Mahomet could not go to the mountain, then let the mountain go to Mahomet.”
Also notable in their absence were the UP lawyers such as Lourdes Santos-Tancinco and bar topnotcher husband Rey Tancinco, Mayanne Teodoro, Dennis Chua, and Dennis Mesina, among others. The nurses were also absent. Atty. Tancinco has been given all conceivable awards by the UP alumni in San Francisco and her colleagues from the Filipino-American Bar Association of Northern California.
President Roman’s visit to Northern California followed her visit to San Diego where she was the Guest of Honor and Speaker of the UP alumni association of America convention and reunion on October 7 to 9.