Penman No. 214: Soon, Another Presidential Race


Penman for Monday, August 29, 2016



NO, NOT for President of the Republic of the Philippines, but, for some Filipinos, an almost equally significant post—that of President of the University of the Philippines System, who will be chosen by the UP Board of Regents in a meeting in mid-November. Standing at the forefront of Philippine higher education, UP—recognized by its new Charter as “the national university”—very often sets the standards and the tone for other Philippine universities, especially State-funded ones, to follow. Thus, the position is much more than honorific or ceremonial; the UP President is expected to be a visionary, an executive, a manager, a motivator, a mentor, a democrat, a disciplinarian, a nationalist, and an internationalist all at once.

UP Presidents have been known to surprise their constituencies. The very first one, Dr. Murray Simpson Bartlett, was an American and, of all things, a Protestant pastor—and yet he envisaged the new institution as a “University for Filipinos.”

Edgardo J. Angara was a successful lawyer and a budding politician, having served as a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, when he was asked by outgoing UP President Onofre D. Corpuz to consider taking over in 1981. The reluctant nominee and non-academic turned out to be one of UP’s best presidents, restructuring the university’s organization, boosting faculty salaries, and reforming its curricula.

Francisco Nemenzo was a professed Marxist who modernized the university’s facilities and mindset, revitalizing UP’s core General Education program, and making better commercial use of UP’s vast landholdings. Emerlinda R. Roman broke barriers as UP’s first woman president, after having served twice as Chancellor of UP Diliman. A management expert, she was able to harness considerable resources on the crest of UP’s centennial in 2008 and to employ those to the UP community’s benefit.

Incumbent President Alfredo E. Pascual’s ascendancy to the presidency came as a surprise to nearly everyone—perhaps including Pascual himself—when the BOR elected him in 2010 on the first ballot, reportedly by a one-vote margin (by tradition, the BOR members agree on a unanimous vote after the fact). A Chemistry and MBA graduate who later spent many years in the private sector and with the Asian Development Bank, Pascual was seen to be an outsider and went off to a rocky start. But he proved to be a quick study, and has worked hard to raise UP’s international profile and its connections, to raise performance incentives for UP’s professors and researchers, and to expand the UP System’s reach.

Their successor, according to search guidelines recently released by the BOR, must meet the following basic standards: (1) hold a master’s degree, with a doctorate preferred; (2) have substantial academic experience at the tertiary level; (3) be able to serve the full term of six years before reaching the age of 70; and (4) have no conviction for administrative and criminal offenses.

Additionally, and just as importantly, they should demonstrate (1) a commitment to academic excellence and national development; (2) the political will and the skills to defend and promote academic freedom and the University’s institutional autonomy; (3) a commitment to democratic governance in the University based on collegiality, representation, accountability, transparency, and active participation of constituents; and (4) a commitment to preserve the public and secular character of the University. (There are more requirements, which you can check out in the guidelines here:

This early, several prominent academics and personalities have been heard or rumored to be interested in running for the presidency. They include UP Law Dean and popular radio host Danilo Concepcion; former UP Diliman Chancellor and physicist Caesar Saloma; current UP Diliman Chancellor, anthropologist, and newspaper columnist Michael Tan; current Vice President for Academic Affairs and marine biologist Gisela Concepcion; and former Senator and now Representative and UP Law alumna Pia Cayetano. The names of former Vice President for Academic Affairs and now National Historical Commission chief Maris Diokno and of former CSSP Dean Cynthia Bautista have also been mentioned. (My information, mind you, is based on coffeeshop chatter, and could very well be denied by any of these eminent persons tomorrow.)

In practical terms, and despite and away from all the spirited rhetoric we can expect of the campaign process, it will all come down to a matter of securing six votes among the 11 members of the BOR. The composition of that board is provided for by the new UP Charter, RA 9500 (which, as Dodong Nemenzo’s Vice President for Public Affairs, I among others had the privilege of lobbying for in the Senate before it passed under Emer Roman in 2008, perhaps the government’s greatest gift to UP on its centennial).

The BOR comprises the chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education, who also serves as the BOR’s chair; the incumbent UP President, who serves as co-chair; the chairs of the Senate and House committees on education; the president of the UP Alumni Association; the elected representatives of the UP faculty, staff, and student sectors; and three regents appointed at large by the President of the Philippines (the BOR will recommend a shortlist of persons chosen for their academic and professional accomplishments—at least two of them have to be UP alumni—but the President can technically make other selections). Effectively, therefore—considering that the two representatives from the Senate and the House will likely be Malacañang allies—the Philippine President can exercise tremendous influence in selecting the UP President.

Before the new Charter defined an odd-numbered BOR, a tie was possible. In 2004, the then 12-person BOR was deadlocked 6-6 between Emer Roman and the Palace candidate, then Ambassador to the UK Edgardo Espiritu. The tie was broken 7-5 in a second vote a week later.

It’s a critical choice for both the Palace and the University because UP’s history is replete with instances when the two presidents have clashed bitterly, with sometimes brutal consequences. Rafael Palma fought Manuel L. Quezon over political issues, including free speech at UP, as a result of which the government cut UP’s budget and denied Palma a gratuity upon his retirement in 1933 after a decade of service. (Upon Palma’s death in 1939, however, Quezon praised him as “a patriot, a scholar, and one of the noblest characters that ever lived,” and even had Palma’s interment delayed so he could personally attend.) Bienvenido Gonzalez and Elpidio Quirino also warred over academic freedom. Salvador Lopez stood up to his fraternity brother Ferdinand Marcos in defense of civil liberties.

Bearing these presidents and precedents in mind, if you have a candidate whom you feel should lead UP onward, take note that nominations will close on September 23; the BOR election will be held November 15; and the incoming UP President will take office on February 10, 2017.

I myself will be retiring from full-time teaching in three years and so will see only half of the next President’s term through, but whoever gets chosen should have an impact less on the outgoing profs like me than on the incoming freshmen of Batch 2017. Admittedly, UP could always do better at basketball, but choosing the next coach of the UP System could prove just as important to the shaping of the Filipino mind as the one that 16 million of us made just a few months ago.





Penman No. 149: Advice to Freshmen

Penman for Monday, May 18, 2015

AFTER LAST week’s piece on “Why I’m not on Facebook,” I thought I should add or clarify that I’m not entirely off the grid, Web-wise. I do choose the websites or forums I frequent (and in case you’re wondering, I’ll explain the difference between forums and fora one of these days), to make sure that I deal only with things and people I’m truly interested in. For over a decade now, I’ve moderated the Philippine Macintosh Users Group (, and more recently the Fountain Pen Network-Philippines (; now and then you’ll also find me at the Philippine Watch Club ( I keep a blog at, and send out an occasional tweet, usually about my poker fortunes and misfortunes, from @penmanila.

It was on one of these sites—Philmug, which has grown to become one of the world’s most active Apple user groups—that I came across a thread I’m tapping for my topic today. While Philmug is the place to talk about anything and everything Apple, it’s also a community that can spark very lively discussions about such motley topics as Manny Pacquiao, Manila traffic, where to stay in Hanoi, and what SIM cards to get in Europe. One such “offline” thread that perked my interest last week was one titled “College freshman tips,” started by a young member about to enter college. Was there anything, he asked, that his elders could tell him about college life?

It’s a thread that’s grown to ten pages long the last time I looked, and predictably, many Muggers (as Philmug members call themselves) recited that age-old mantra that all college freshmen know by heart (and sophomores even better): “Party hard, study harder!”

Other suggestions were more specific:

  1. Join student organizations and socialize, but choose which ones you’ll be joining wisely. These “orgs” could become networks for life, for both friendships and professional contacts.
  2. Avoid fraternities and such groups that employ physical initiation and advocate violence. You’re in college to study—not to maim or be maimed by other people.
  3. Get out of your comfort zone, and be a little more adventurous. Make friends with people who may be totally unlike you. That’s where a lot of learning happens—in knowing about how other people live and think.
  4. Manage your resources well—your budget and time, most especially. Learn how to take care of yourself, and consider taking a student job, both to earn and to learn some professional working habits.
  5. Master the freshman basics: the campus map, how to take notes, who the best (not necessarily the easiest) teachers are.
  6. Don’t confuse a college diploma with education. A lot of learning takes place outside the classroom.
  7. Don’t believe everything you hear, even from your professors. Learn how to argue, and argue well.
  8. Never plagiarize. It’ll never be worth it.
  9. Don’t be afraid to fail. Go ask a girl out if you really like her. Failure is part of learning.
  10. Don’t try to do everything in your freshman year. You’ll find yourself being pulled in so many directions that it’s easy to lose focus. Map out a clear and unimpeded path to your sophomore year.

Some other suggestions were a bit more unusual, although no less practical. “Always sit beside a female classmate and you will never regret college life, because they are lifesavers (and your immediate supply of pens, paper, books, assignments, and exams),” proposed one member (who now just happens to be one of our smartest cops in the PNP). “They smell better than boys,” another member, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, agreed.

And what did I say? Quite a bit, but among them was, “Don’t bother playing mind games with your professor (as in ‘I’m smarter than this guy, and I’m going to prove it’). You will lose; even if you are smarter than your prof, you will lose… Learn how to argue and come across as being smart without being snarky. I’m a very gentle prof myself, but nothing makes me happier some days than to give some smartypants a dose of his own medicine.”

Now, of course, like many 16- and 17-year-olds, I didn’t follow all this sound and sage advice I’m giving and hearing.

In my freshman year in UP in 1970-71, I (1) joined a frat and got beaten black and blue; (2) joined a militant student organization and went to dozens of rallies, many of them violent; (3) joined the staff of the Philippine Collegian, the student newspaper; (3) met (and lost) my first girlfriend, and did what boys and girls do; (4) got a 1.0 in English and a 5.0 in Math (for absenteeism—I was a Philippine Science high grad and arrogantly thought that Math 17 was beneath me); (5) shifted courses, from Industrial Engineering to Journalism, I think; and (6) went up to the mountains of Quezon and Bulacan to do “mass work.” It was, to say the least, an interesting year.

Within another year or so, I would drop out and divide my time between my activism and a job as a newspaper reporter (I may have been the youngest regularly-employed newspaper reporter of my time, at 18); also at 18, I was in martial law prison; by my 20th birthday, I was married, and became a father before I turned 21.

Not surprisingly, it took me forever to get back to school and finish. I resumed my undergrad studies at age 27, and graduated with my AB in English, cum laude (you could still get honors then even with a failing mark if it wasn’t in your major—I had shifted to English by then—and if your GWA could sustain it) at age 30. I made up for lost time by finishing my Master’s by 34, and my PhD by 37. Some of us like to hurry… and then to take our time… and then to hurry again.

I suppose my ultimate advice to freshmen is just to hang in there and don’t do anything stupid like get killed before turning 20, unless you’re doing it for God and country. But don’t stay too safe, either, because the best things you’ll be learning from will be your most grievous mistakes. One of the wisest things I ever heard came from a friend, now departed, spoken over beer and stale cigarettes at 2 in the morning: “Everyone should be entitled to one big mistake.” Or, as my professor in German once put it, “Ein Fehler ist kein Fehler”—one mistake is no mistake.

We made a few, and have survived and maybe even prospered despite and because of them. For a Thursday throwback, I posted a picture in that thread of myself as a lanky freshman, beside activist leader and fellow PSHSer Rey Vea (now president of Mapua University), on a boat to a CEGP convention in Dumaguete ca. 1970. My only question was, where did all that hair and leanness go?


Penman No. 10: Laurels for the Lyceum

Penman for Monday, August 27, 2012

LAST JULY, a school that has done more for Philippine education and public leadership than most Filipinos realize quietly celebrated its 60th anniversary. Tucked away in a corner of old Intramuros, the Lyceum of the Philippines University—known to generations of Manileños simply as the Lyceum—may seem to outsiders to be just one of the many private colleges and universities that sprang up in the metropolis in the 20th century and managed to stagger into the 21st, dazed and confused by the challenges of globalization and the daunting economics of higher education.

Not quite. Today, the LPU is a progressive six-campus university system, with full-grown offshoots in Batangas, Laguna, and Cavite, and a law school in Makati. Its original and main campus in Manila is home to 13,500 students who are enjoying the benefit of an education anchored squarely on one foot in the classical tradition and, on the other, in new, responsive programs designed to give them an advantage in today’s economy.

I rediscovered the Lyceum in the course of writing the biography of the Lyceum’s longtime president and moving spirit, the late Sen. Sotero H. “Teroy” Laurel, the son of the school’s founder, former President Jose P. Laurel.

There’s no question that the bigger, better-known schools—UP, Ateneo, La Salle, and UST, in particular—dominate Philippine higher education and the preferences of Filipino parents and their wards. These are universities that have produced most of our presidents and heroes, big-name artists and athletes, cutting-edge scientists, business tycoons, and government leaders. They have traditionally catered to, and have also helped to form and strengthen, the Philippines’ intellectual and economic elite. And need we add that these schools, their titanic rivalries, and their alumni (both illustrious and otherwise) hog the media’s attention.

But what we don’t appreciate as much is the fact that so many more of us went to smaller schools that have also offered a good and (importantly to many) an affordable, accessible education that prepared our young people well for productive and gainful lives.

This was the vision of former President Laurel when, close to retiring from a long career in government and politics, he thought of setting up what he called “an Alexandria for the masses,” drawing its name from Aristotle’s school, the lykeion. In a book that he wrote around the same time, Laurel lamented: “How can our schools develop moral character among the young, when the schools themselves have become the centers of shocking scandals in such matters as the procurement of supplies, the selection of textbooks, or in the case of private education, the diploma mills? And where will both teachers and pupils get the inspiration for developing moral character, when they see all around them high officials who have been involved in all sorts of irregularities?

“… The truth is, the wonderful institution established by mankind, known as education, can have only one function and this is the pursuit, in the words of our Mabini, of truth, honor and justice. It can have only one sublime and overriding purpose: the recognition and dignification of the human personality.”

The “old man” Laurel, as was often called, was well positioned and prepared to assume the academic mission that his fellow Tanaueño, Mabini, had effectively bequeathed to him. He himself had a prodigious intellect, capped by a doctorate in law from Yale and honed in service with all three branches of the government—as senator, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and Justice Secretary—before his service as wartime president.

The Lyceum opened in July 1952 on a 1.3-hectare lot that used to be the site of the old San Juan de Dios Hospital in Intramuros, acquired for the family by Laurel’s indefatigable wife Paciencia. Teroy Laurel, who had returned from his studies in the US and who was running a law practice with his good friend and compadre Jovito “Jovy” Salonga, joined the school as his father’s executive secretary, perhaps little knowing then that the Lyceum would be the great labor and crowning glory of his own life, apart from his work in the 1971 Constitutional Convention and the Cory-era Senate.

“Jovy used to tell me that he and Teroy would go to Intramuros in the evenings to watch the construction of the school. Jovito was, I believe, the one who drew up the corporation papers, as his line was corporate law,” says Teroy’s widow Lorna.

The new Lyceum may have been a tiny school compared to its well-established neighbors, but it had one thing going for it, something that the Laurel name (the wartime charges of collaboration—eloquently disputed by Salonga, who had suffered torture under the Japanese—notwithstanding) was able to invite: prestige. As I note in my forthcoming book, “The new school had assembled the most formidable array of legal luminaries that one could put together in the Philippines at that time. These were men who would lend their names to Manila’s major streets after their time. Jose P. Laurel was the school president, the dean of the law school was Claro M. Recto, and on the Lyceum faculty were such men as Law Vice-Dean Ambrosio Padilla, Sen. Pedro Sabido, Jorge Vargas, Leon Guinto, Eusebio Lopez, Ramon Avanceña, Aguedo Agbayani, Justo Albert, Isagani Cruz, Marcos Herras, Neptali Gonzales, Roberto Concepcion, Arturo Tolentino, and Gil Puyat—men who had been or would become senators, congressmen, mayors, Cabinet secretaries, and Justices of the Supreme Court.”

Not surprisingly, the law school became one of the Lyceum’s bastions. This was accompanied by very strong programs in Journalism, Foreign Service, and Political Science, with the likes of Jose Lansang Sr., Francisco Lava, Emmanuel Yap, and Jose Ma. Sison on the faculty roster. They instructed and inspired a generation of young nationalists who included Journalism majors Satur Ocampo and Tony Zumel.

The Lyceum would go on to produce a veritable rainbow of luminaries including at least 17 ambassadors and eight Justices, three generals, three senators (Jinggoy Estrada, Ernesto Herrera, Panfilo Lacson), Speaker Sonny Belmonte, Gov. Grace Padaca and three other governors, media men Isagani Yambot, Fred Gabot, Gus Abelgas, Gerry Baja, and Deo Macalma, actor Cesar Montano, film director Joel Lamangan, Philamlife president Rodrigo de los Reyes, and education advocate Milwida Guevara, among many others.

New offerings in such areas as Hotel and Restaurant Management, Computer Science, and (in its Batangas campus) Robotics and Digital Animation and Marine Transportation keep revitalizing the traditional curriculum and assure the Lyceum’s continuing responsiveness to the times.Today, Teroy’s eldest son Bobby is on top of LPU-Manila as its president, assisted by his sister Sallie. Under the watchful eye of their mother Lorna, most of the other Laurel siblings—notably Peter, who serves as president of LPU-Batangas—are also involved in this unique family enterprise, proving themselves worthy of their father’s and grandfather’s name, and giving thousands of young Filipinos a fighting chance for a better future.