Thursday, November 18, 2010

Commentary: Today we enter the first round of voting for the U.P. Presidency, and the results are anybody's guess

By Chanda Shahani

Comes the hour, comes the next president-elect of the University of the Philippines (U.P.), possibly after the first scheduled round of voting starting today at 9:00 a.m. at U.P. Diliman.

The Diliman Diary has expended a lot of pixels in the past arguing in favor of President Benigno S. Aquino III's replacing three Arroyo-era midnight appointees to the U.P. Board of Regents (BOR); essentially arguing that an uneven playing field was created for the majority of the eleven nominees, considering that the midnight regents had deep ties to the outgoing U.P. Administration, and no particular loyalty to the new Philippine President, considering that they were appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, hence the moniker "midnight regents." The midnight regents were therefore expected to exercise a kind of group think and vote along set lines, which flew in the face of the kind of intelligent independent-mindedness that U.P. graduates pride themselves on possessing.

We are glad that President Aquino has exercised his presidential prerogative to override the renominations by U.P. President Emerlinda R. Roman of former Regents Francis Chua and Nelia Gonzales. Former Associate Justice Abraham Sarmiento was also renominated by President Roman, but this was rendered moot and academic by the Justice Sarmiento's untimely death last October 3, 2010. It is immaterial if the two newly-appointed regents are also Roman nominees - that is - Former Supeme Chief Justice Renato Puno (who replaces former Associate Justice Sarmiento) and former U.P. College of Business Administration (CBA) Dean, Dr. Magdaleno Albarracin, Jr. The other newly-appointed regent is Elizabeth Orteza-Siguion Reyna. All three regents were appointed by President Aquino and took their oaths of office before him yesterday, on November 17, 2010.

As Aquino appointees, the three new regents can be expected to carry out the voting wishes of President Aquino, no matter who nominated them. As independent-minded U.P. graduates, the expectation is that they will also provide a kind of dynamic feedback to President Aquino about which nominee best serves the national interest and deserves their recommendation to him. At the end of the day, no matter how few or many rounds it takes to choose the next U.P. President however, the expectation is that he will commit to avoid choosing a mediocrity, so that the U.P. community will not experience six more years of the kind of failed policies by the current dispensation. It would be a national tragedy if President Aquino did not choose the very best among the candidates, and some of them are very well-qualified, indeed.

The net effect of the Presidential decision to intervene decisively and appoint new regents is that a new element of uncertainty has been injected into what had previously been seen as a foregone conclusion in favor of the personal choice of successor of outgoing U.P. President Emerlinda R. Roman, who used to have absolute control over the majority of the numbers in the BOR. With the insertion of President Aquino's regents and the presence of Commission of Higher Education Chairperson (another Aquino appointee) Patricia B. Licuanan, it is now possible now for President Aquino to influence the outcome of the elections with this many votes at his disposal. This is for the better, because it allows some or even all of the nominees for U.P. President to make their case directly to President Aquino, and allowing him to make up his own mind; degrading the fundamentally undemocratic and monopolistic status quo which relies on a tyranny of numbers to serve the interests of one voting bloc.

So, the Diliman Diary wishes the very best for not only the three new regents, but to all the regents as well, whose total number is eleven. We do not know what criteria the regents will employ in either directly choosing (or in the case of the new Malacanang regents, what criteria they and/or President Aquino will employ in implementing his executive decision as to whom to vote for). However, in our humble opinion, the following qualities would be at the top of the Diliman Diary's list for a good U.P. President:

Character, ethics, decisiveness, great intelligence wedded with intellectual humility, a commitment to speak Truth to Power, a willingness to defend the academic freedom of all, on the merits of an idea, and not on the strength of numbers or more powerful interests alone; a workable vision for the university, and a U.P. President must not only be the head of the Faculty, but also a real scholar, genuine educator, genuinely interested in students, young people and what drives them. Other criteria would be good people skills, some administrative experience and fund-raising capabilities, and financial transparency. The new U.P. President must also embrace and not disown the vision of maintaining the public character of the University; especially now that it is the only National University.

Improvement in other areas such as an improved faculty-to-student ratio, more graduate schools, strengthening U.P. to become a research university are desirable also, and we would expect the winning nominee to be able to possess a defensible action plan to realize this, complete with time line. But most of all, we seek character wedded with an independence of spirit, and an inquiring mind (with the brains to back it up), and a willingness not to favor cronies over the interests of the general good. Lastly, the U.P. President's style must be collegial in nature, and that person has to treat the different sectors as partners and not inconvenient interest groups to be thrown aside after the elections are over. Thus, he or she must not have done anything untoward to antagonize the sectors previously, because this risks him or her having a term as turbulent as U.P. President Emerlinda R. Roman's.

But at the end of the day, once chosen by the BOR, the new U.P. President deserves the critical collaboration of the different sectors (including the leadership of this community weblog). That person will find that history shows that the more successful U.P. Presidents were those who did not rule by edict, diktat, and legal acrobatics but by ethics, reason, true leadership and intelligent persuasion of an independent-minded community. And so as we enter this critical phase in the future of the National University, (and to paraphrase Bill Clinton, who once spoke about the troubles of America), we are confident that, "there is nothing that's wrong with U.P., that can't be fixed with what's right with U.P."

(Chanda Shahani is the Editor of the Diliman Diary)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive

The Diary Archive