Investiture Speech of Chancellor Larry N. Digal, Ph.D.

Written by Rene Estremera. Posted in Alumni

I.The Journey
I remember when I was standing in the same shoes as you are now, the graduating class of 2019. It was 1985. Many of you weren’t even born yet. I just graduated from the University of the Philippines Los Baños with a degree in Agriculture, major in Agricultural Economics and Agri-Finance. 
My dream then was simple. I wanted to teach in UP, to join the faculty of the College of Development Economics and Management in UP Los Baños. And so the first step was straightforward enough. The day after my graduation, I started work as a research assistant for a project of my thesis supervisor Dr Generoso Octavio in the Department of Agricultural Economics. And that day, I had one foot in the door, and I believed I made one small step towards my dream.   
A year later, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University in the United States through a research assistantship and a scholarship from Rotary International. The College of Development Economics and Management offered me a teaching position after earning the degree. Naturally, I was ecstatic, flattered that I was being considered for the position. And so I accepted the offer. I was getting ready to take two steps inside the door and towards my dream. 
But after I got the degree, things took a turn. As they say, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Instead of following my dream and teach in UP Los Baños, I chose instead to work in Davao to be closer to my family. I walked out of the door and it closed with a bang. After that, I devoted five years of my life working in the private sector and four years at the Department of Trade and Industry. Life was good. I taught part-time at another university, and I slowly forgot my desire to teach in UP. 
But in 1997, I was given an opportunity, through a scholarship, to study for a PhD in Agricultural Economics at the University of Sydney in Australia. But life was tough after finishing my PhD degree and returning to Davao. I had to raise three small kids on my own. I had to seek help from my parents and siblings. To me, this underscored the importance of finding a job that had flexible hours, so that I could devote some of my time for my children. And that year, I got an offer to teach in UP Mindanao. Finally, after 13 years of wandering, another door has opened, another chance at making my dream come true. 
But a few weeks after I joined UP Mindanao, I was told that the BS Economics program of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences was going to be abolished. I was offered to teach at the School of Economics in UP Diliman, but this posed a big problem: I did not want to uproot my kids and bring them to Manila. So I remained in Davao. I resigned from UP Mindanao and got another job in the private sector.  Another door closed. 
However, a few months later, the former chancellor, Dr. Sylvia Concepcion, who was dean of the School of Management that time, opened a window for me to climb into. She offered me a position to teach under the Master in Management program. When I eventually became dean of the School of Management in 2003, we revised the former BS Economics program to the BS Agribusiness Economics program, transferring it from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences to the School of Management, shaping it based on our expertise and making it more relevant to the needs of Mindanao.
As I reflect on the journey that led to me assuming this responsibility as the fifth chancellor of UP Mindanao, I realize two things: first, the importance of dreams; and second, the power of timing. 
I remember when I was in Purdue, one of my closest friends asked me about my plans after getting my masters. I said, “I’m going to teach in UP.” I was very sure then. And he said, “Ayaw mong maging dean?” Back then, I could not fathom being dean. Ano pa kaya ang maging chancellor? Like I said, my dream was simple. But having that simple dream has led me to where I am now. 
After missing two opportunities to teach in UP, I never thought that a third chance was possible. But I happened to be at the right place and the right time. I had grown, and I was ready for it. I had a doctorate degree and rich industry exposure. Though the dream took 13 years in the making, it was worth the wait. God prepared me so that UP Min could be the place for me to share my talents, and to be surrounded by my family and those who are important to me. God was actually preparing me for a bigger role beyond my imagination.
II.The Dream
Mindanao is known as “the Land of Promise.” A land rich in natural resources. The food basket of the country. A land diverse in cultures. Home to the tri-people of Mindanao: the Lumads or indigenous peoples, the Muslims, and the various Christian settlers who have trickled slowly into these frontier lands, lured by the promise of prosperity. But over the years, Mindanao has been beset with various challenges―high poverty incidences, armed conflict and violence, just to name a few. 
But how does one bring this so-called promise into fulfillment? It is perhaps this same question that weighed heavily in the minds of UP alumni in 1949, when they first voiced their desire to bring UP’s brand of excellence to Mindanao. This was their dream. Forty years later, they scored a major victory when a resolution for the establishment of UP in Mindanao emanated from the 12th UP Alumni Institute Assembly hosted by the UP Alumni Association–Davao Chapter. The many years of lobbying by UP’s alumni and the hard work of our Mindanawon lawmakers led to President Fidel V. Ramos signing into law Republic Act 7889, “An Act Creating the University of the Philippines in Mindanao,” on the 20th of February 1995. 
By virtue of this law, UP Mindanao, the sixth constituent university of the UP System, was mandated to offer academic programs “on science, technology and agricultural education,” “provide a special scholarship program and other affirmative action programs to assist poor but deserving Muslims and other members of cultural communities to qualify for admission to the University,” and “network and collaborate with other state college and universities in such areas which shall contribute to the development of Mindanao.”
And even with the passing of RA 7500 or “The UP Charter of 2008,” which elevated UP as the national university and mandated it to become “a graduate university,” “a research university,” “a public service university,” and “a regional and global university,” our initial mandates have not been erased. It is the interweaving of both these laws, these various mandates, that gives UP Mindanao its uniqueness and a greater purpose not only in the Philippine south, but also in the ASEAN region, particularly in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area or the BIMP-EAGA.
Given this mandate, what is our dream for UP Mindanao? 
First, the dream is for UP Mindanao to contribute more to Mindanao development. UP Mindanao is committed to becoming Mindanao-focused but adopting an international outlook. What does this mean? It means that as a UP constituent university in Mindanao, the university shall focus its intellectual resources to provide quality education, research and development, and public service that can contribute to the sustainable development of Mindanao. However, it shall orient itself using an international outlook with the university bringing the best of the world to Mindanao and the best of Mindanao to the rest of the world.
Guided by the principle of strengthening the teaching-research-extension-production continuum, UP Mindanao shall focus on three priority programs: 
a)Sustainable Agri- and Biosystems for Mindanao to promote responsible use of bioresources with an eye towards improving agricultural productivity balanced with environmental nurturance and inclusive and equitable socio-economic growth; 
b)Mindanao Arts and Cultures to tap into the colorful tapestry of arts and cultures among the tri-people of Mindanao as a means of exploring Mindanawon identity; and
c)Mindanao Sports Development Program to complement the Davao City-UP Sports Complex and develop world-class athletes from Mindanao, with the goal of establishing a College of Human Kinetics in the future.  
Under these programs, we will expand our academic offerings by instituting and developing new undergraduate and graduate programs, including a PhD by Research and Dual PhD degrees through partnership agreements with foreign universities.  
UP Mindanao has started establishing the Center for the Advancement of Research, development, and engagement in Mindanao or CARIM, which will effectively connect the university’s R&D with its public service and serve as a hub for RDE collaboration and networking with local and international partners. The Center will also promote the university’s knowledge products to generate intellectual property for industries and policies for government, which can contribute towards addressing the gaps in the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of Mindanao. 
To support this dream, we will need budget for infrastructure development. We need more classrooms, laboratories, and facilities. Of the 203-hectare land allotted for the campus, approximately 20 percent are built up at present. We need a Comprehensive Campus Development Program in order to complete the Davao City-UP Sports Complex, the RDE complex with the CARIM facility (with the proposed Mindanao International Convention Center), and the various academic complexes for CSM, CHSS, and SOM; as well as establish a world-class Botanical Garden in partnership with the Davao City government. 
On top of infrastructure, we will need more people to support our programs. We need more plantilla items for additional faculty members to teach courses in new academic programs and for support staff to handle an increase in instruction, research, and public service activities. Furthermore, we will need funding for human resource development of existing academic and support staff so that they can effectively respond to the demands of our envisioned expansion.
Second, the dream is for UP Mindanao to provide equitable access to quality education for all. With the passing of RA 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, undergraduate students may now avail of free tuition and exemption from other fees in a state university such as UP. However, other barriers to education still exist, such as poor quality of secondary education, geographical challenges, and lack of resources for daily living, just to name a few.
To address these barriers, we are currently studying our enrollment data to get baseline information on the number of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and those belonging to Muslim and Lumad cultural communities. Based on the data, we will be coming up with appropriate strategies to address these barriers through our recently revived Pahinungod volunteer program and currently existing scholarship grants. 
We are also looking for ways to use digital technologies to promote self-learning among students and adult professionals and encourage life-long learning. With the wealth of intellectual resources in the university, UP Mindanao aims to use the Internet to widen the reach of the university beyond the walls of the classroom and the perimeter of the campus.
Third, the dream is for UP Mindanao to become a hub for collaboration in various levels. UP Mindanao has the distinct advantage of being part of the University of the Philippines System, which means that we can tap the knowledge base in other constituent universities to supplement our own. For example, when the Philippine Genome Center established its Mindanao Satellite Office here in UP Mindanao, it opened various opportunities for researchers not only in UP Mindanao but also other institutions in the island. The establishment of the UP Professional Schools in Agriculture and the Environment in Panabo by the UP Los Baños Graduate School has has opened doors for potential synergistic partnerships that UP Mindanao can enter into with other UP constituent universities wishing to expand their services and offerings here in Mindanao.
We will also be strengthening our partnerships with other higher education institutions, industries, and government institutions in terms of instruction, research, and public service. For we believe that it is through concerted efforts with our partners that we can bring about positive change in Mindanao and the rest of the country. 
About 17 years ago, I raised the issue of absorptive capacity to our UP System officials, where demand for our services exceed supply of resources and, hence, limits our ability to respond to these opportunities. Given the limited resources of UP Mindanao, it is important to focus on strategic areas where we have the capacity and the best chance to make a difference in carrying out our mandate and maximizing our impact to our stakeholders.
But while we will continue to ask support from the UP System and the Department of Budget and Management for our much-needed resources such as plantilla items for academic and administrative staff and budget for our expansion plans, we would also like to explore a different strategy—that is, mobilizing our alumni group to partner with us to advocate for the support of UP Mindanao expansion programs to help accelerate the development and growth of Mindanao. In October this year, we will present our expansion plans in the Regional Alumni Institute Assembly to be organized by the UP Mindanao Foundation Inc. and the UP Alumni Association (Davao Chapter) in partnership with UP Mindanao. Yes, this is the same assembly that first sparked the dream of having a UP here in Mindanao.
We plan to invite members of Senate and Congress who can be our champion in the legislative halls and create a bill to fund our expansion programs. We will also invite key heads of agencies, particularly from the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Tourism, just to name a few, who can support aspects of our expansion program. We hope that through this Regional Alumni Institute Assembly, the UP alumni can come up with resolutions that we can present to President Rodrigo Duterte, or his representative, for action.
Our message in the Regional Alumni Institute Assembly this October should be clear: that investing in UP Mindanao is necessary so that it will have the critical mass to successfully respond to opportunities, help attain inclusive and sustainable development in Mindanao, and contribute to nation building.
IV.Open Door
As UP Mindanao prepares to celebrate its 25th Founding Anniversary next year, in February 2020, let us all remember the humble beginnings of this university. A university dreamed into existence through the lobbying of fervent UP alumni and the work of Mindanawon lawmakers. They had a dream, and with the right timing and hard work, they were able to turn their dream into a reality. 
When the university first began in 1995, UP Mindanao had 3 employees occupying rented office spaces in the downtown area of Davao City. Now, the university has expanded with 173 faculty and staff holding offices in 8 buildings on a 203-hectare campus in Mintal. 
Before, we had to travel through the boulder-strewn access road formerly known as the “abortion road.” Now, the road has since been concreted and an internal road network constructed. 
When it first opened its doors in 1996, UP Mindanao welcomed its first 167 students. Since then, the university has graduated more than 3,000 students across various degree programs in the three colleges of the university. And these graduates are now serving as public officials and civil servants, writers and communicators, lawyers, doctors, educators, entrepreneurs, and professionals, making a mark in government, industry, and civil societies. 
You, too, the graduating class of 2019, will join their ranks. Ang mga isko at iska ng bayan. When you leave the university, I hope you, too, will continue the tradition of honor and excellence and service to the country and Mindanao as many have done before you. Always make us proud.
But I have one request: wherever you may find yourself years from now, remember to reconnect with UP Mindanao―physically, digitally, spiritually. The doors of this university will always remain open to physically welcome you back. And we will strengthen our online presence so that you will always have a direct line to the university wherever you are in the world.  Remember that this place will always be a part of you, and you will always be a part of this place.  For no matter the various differences that might divide us―such is the case in a university that promotes critical thinking, where passionate individuals cultivate strong opinions and deep learning―one thing connects us all: lahat tayo mahal ang bayan at ang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas!     
Daghang salamat ug madayaw na buntag kanatong tanan!

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