Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 15 October 2016


This topic may seem like small potatoes compared to current issues: For example, is Du30 veering away from the United States and toward China? (My take: No, he isn’t.) Or is Sen. Leila de Lima the “mother of all drug lords”? (When she doesn’t even own the house she is living in? Please!)

But the presidency of the University of the Philippines is important, 1) because of UP’s large role in the shaping of the country (x number of presidents, y number of Senate presidents, z number of speakers of the House, w number of chief justices, to mention just a few), and 2) because UP Diliman has been rated the top university in the Philippines, ranking 127 slots over Ateneo de Manila University and 327 slots over De La Salle University and the University of Santo Tomas.

On second thought, the number of leaders that the university has produced, including members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, may not be a good reason for thinking the UP presidency important, considering that these leaders have not exactly performed well—the Philippines was categorized among the slow growers of the world, and among the most corrupt, from 1960 to 2009. Unless, of course, we think that if our leaders had come from other academic institutions, the result may have even been worse.

So perhaps we should stick to reason No. 2. UP is the top ranking university in the Philippines, and we want to keep it that way. In fact, it should be improved because as of now, it ranks only 70th in the top 100 universities in Asia (by the same Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings). Thus, the quality of its leadership is of prime importance.

Furthermore, the university’s quest for excellence must be matched, at the very least, by its quest for honor. The motto is, after all, “Honor and Excellence.” The lack of emphasis on “honor” is arguably the cause of the poor quality (read: “corrupt”) of the leaders it has produced.

So now, UP is looking for its next president. And if the list of candidates is rather thin, it is because of a recent rule adopted by its Board of Regents, to the effect that all nominees should have the ability to serve the full term of six years before reaching the age of 70 (that is, they must be younger than 64 to qualify).

That rule effectively barred from the running a whole lot of otherwise qualified candidates. It disqualified former senator Orly Mercado, UP Diliman Chancellor Mike Tan, and former chancellor Roger Posadas, among others. I don’t know how many others were discouraged from putting up their names because of this age requirement.

Why should that age requirement be rescinded? Faculty members of the UP School of Economics sent a letter to the UP Board of Regents listing the reasons, among which are:

  • The addition of this age requirement violates the university’s fundamental merit-based values, which qualities bear no necessary relationship to chronological age.
  • The imposed requirement of “being able to serve the full term of six (6) years before reaching the age of 70” is a new requirement, and more importantly, is not in accord with the university’s values and traditions as reflected in its Code and Charter (citing chapter and verse).
  • This requirement violates the spirit and letter of Sections 2 and 5 of Republic Act No. 10911 (the Anti-Age Discrimination in Employment Act).

“In short, there is nothing in the law, the Charter, the Code, or the University’s cherished traditions to suggest that advanced age must be a factor in the administration of the University’s affairs,” say my colleagues.

I hope the UP Board of Regents listens. My colleagues in the UP School of Economics rarely take a common stand, except in periods of crisis or near-crisis (for example, the economic crisis under Ferdinand Marcos, the fiscal crisis under Gloria Arroyo, the population problem). And their track record is impressive.