Building UP in Mindanao,
Stone by Stone
PROF. LARRY N. DIGAL, PHD
University of the Philippines Mindanao
Maayong hapon sa atong tanan!
That video that you just saw just earlier, that is meant to stimulate your interest for what I’m going to talk about. But before that, let me greet Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, our Deputy Consul-General Tang of the Chinese government, MinDA director Rey Tan, Davao City Planning and Development Office engineer Ivan Cortez who’s also the representative of our mayor, University of the Philippines president, sir, Atty. Danilo Concepcion, my former boss ma’am Beng, former chancellor Rey Velasco of UPLB, UP Alumni Association president Regent Reynaldo Laserna, Regent Atty. Angelo Jimenez, my very hardworking partners in the UP Mindanao Foundation Inc, that’s a very long list of names headed by Atty. Dinah, sir Anggie, UP alumni, friends, guests, ladies and gentlemen, madayaw na adlaw!
Mindanao, “the land of promise.” A land rich in natural resources. The food basket of the country. A land diverse in cultures. Home to the Lumad or indigenous peoples, the Muslims who established sultanates in Maguindanao and Sulu, 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, low productivity in some areas, armed conflict and violence, just to name a few.
So how does one bring this promise into fulfillment? It is perhaps this same question that weighed heavily in the minds of UP alumni. Since the establishment of the UP Alumni Association–Davao Chapter on December 1949, the alumni have voiced their desire to bring UP’s brand of honor and excellence to Mindanao. 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 UPAA Davao. On the 20th of February 1995, after many years of lobbying by alumni and the efforts of Mindanawon lawmakers, then president Fidel V. Ramos signed into law Republic Act 7889 or “An Act Creating the University of the Philippines in Mindanao.”
To this day, UP Mindanao is still the only UP constituent university established by law. And what did RA 7889 mandate UP Mindanao to do?
• First, offer academic programs on science, technology, agriculture, and medical education;
• Second, 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
• Third, network and collaborate with other state college and universities in such areas which shall contribute to the development of Mindanao.
In a way, the creation of UP Mindanao is prescient. Twenty-five years ago, the alumni who pushed for the creation of UP Mindanao perhaps had an inkling at the very big role that Mindanao will come to play in the politics and economy of the nation today. Perhaps the greatest gift the UP Alumni has given the University of the Philippines through the establishment of UP Mindanao is giving it “the first-mover advantage.” Today, various universities from the National Capital Region and Luzon are opening campuses here in Mindanao, perhaps lured by the promise of vast opportunities: Mapúa University opened the Malayan Colleges Mindanao, Enderun Colleges, Lyceum of the Philippines, University of Asia and Pacific, University of Santo Tomas, and De La Salle University, just to name a few. The landscape of education in Mindanao today is vastly different from what it was twenty-five years ago. Hence, UP has been afforded a twenty-five-year head start to establish itself in Mindanao, and we need to take advantage of this opportunity.
But unlike profit-driven, private institutions with the financial resources to set up shop in our shores quickly and more efficiently, mission-driven, public institutions such as UP Mindanao will be highly dependent on the support of the government for its growth and development.
We rely on government for infrastructure and facilities, for example. At present, of the 204-hectare plot of land in Mintal, Davao City, allotted for the UP Mindanao campus, only about 20% has been developed. This is a far cry from twenty or so years ago when the university rented office spaces in the downtown area. And yet we are confronted by this stark reality: 80% of the total land area that is supposed to be used to provide quality education and relevant research and public service to the people of Mindanao remains idle or is being inhabited by illegal settlers.
Due to our limited infrastructure, we have limits on the number of students we can accommodate. Our carrying capacity for students for the current academic year until 2022-2023 is only about 1,600 students.
On top of that, UP Mindanao is a fairly small constituent university. At present, UP Mindanao is home to only 89 teaching staff and 77 non-teaching staff. If you think about it, the entire population of UP Mindanao is less than the population of some colleges in one of our bigger sibling universities in the UP System, like UP Diliman or Los Baños.
But no matter how small UP Mindanao may be, small in terms of human resource as well as financial resource, respond to the challenges of Mindanao we must. When it first opened its doors in 1996, the university welcomed its first 167 students. Since then, the university has graduated more than 3,000 students across various degree programs given by its three degree-granting units: the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Science and Mathematics, and the School of Management. 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. First supporting an initial 8 research projects in 1996, UP Mindanao has since funded close to 100 and endorsed for external funding more than 250 research projects, and these researches have contributed to the body of knowledge and, slowly, we are working on ensuring this knowledge will create impacts in our communities.
But what is really expected of us? In many instances, I have been personally asked “What has UP Mindanao done for Mindanao?” in a tone that challenges the university to account for its very existence. Are we expected to serve an entire island with smaller islands that account for 97,530 square kilometers of land area with a population of over 25 million?
If yes, then the big question becomes HOW? How do we do that?
The answer in one word is EXPANSION. UP Mindanao will have to expand in terms of its academic program offerings, its research, development, and engagement, its human resources, and its infrastructure and facilities. And this will require resources to accomplish.
Since I assumed the chancellorship of UP Mindanao in March of this year, the whole university has been busy crafting a new strategic plan that will take the university in a bold and uncharted territory. We took a look at our mandates, our original mandates in RA 7889 and the UP Charter of 2008 or RA 9500, took a look at our strengths and our weaknesses, and listened to the wisdom of various scholars and the collective voice of our various stakeholders. We also looked at the Philippine Development Plan or AmBisyon Natin 2040, the Mindanao 2020 Peace and Development Framework, and the various plans of government agencies such as the Commission on Higher Education, the Department of Science and Technology, just to name a few, as well as the various development plans of the regions within Mindanao. We also took a look at the Strategic Plan of the UP System, which functions as the north star for all of its constituent universities. And this exercise has revealed four guiding principles that will shape how we will be operating moving forward:
First, honor and excellence. UP Mindanao shall continue the tradition of honor and excellence established by the University of the Philippines as its sixth constituent university.
Second, One UP. UP Mindanao belongs to a greater UP System, with other constituent universities in various parts of the country, guided by the same mandates and working towards common goals. UP Mindanao does not stand alone. As a member of this system, we can therefore tap into the collective intellectual resources of the entire system for the benefit of the people of Mindanao.
Third, Mindanao focus. As the entire UP System is mandated to contribute to national development, UP Mindanao is mandated to contribute to the development of Mindanao in particular. This is our reason for being.
And last but not the least, international outlook. While we are focusing our attention on Mindanao and its needs, we have to acknowledge that we operate in a highly globalized world. It should therefore be part of our positioning to adopt an international outlook, in line with UP’s mandate to become a regional and global university. UP Mindanao therefore aims to bring the best of the world to Mindanao and the best of Mindanao to the rest of the world.Guided by these four principles, we came up with three strategic themes in the next five years.
First, we will mold learners into leaders.
And we will do this by providing a distinctive learning and student experience, improving the services that the university offers in various stages of a student’s life—from their recruitment into the university until they graduate and become alumni. We will also focus on increasing the number of students from underprivileged backgrounds as well as students from Lumad or Moro indigenous communities.
We will also set the standards for higher education in Mindanao, working hard to improve the quality of our existing programs by establishing more centers of excellence and subjecting these to the quality standards of the ASEAN Universities Network Quality Assurance framework.
And in line with UP’s mandate as a graduate university, we will be establishing more graduate academic degree programs to fill the gaps in the higher education landscape of Mindanao. We will do this by adopting existing programs from other UP constituent universities, inviting more offshore programs from other UP CUs to be offered in UP Mindanao (for example, Medicine from UP Manila), or forging joint or dual degrees with foreign universities (we are currently eyeing a partnership with universities from Australia and Taiwan).
Second, we will transform insights into impacts.
We will strengthen the research-development-engagement continuum by establishing CARIM or the Center for the Advancement of Research, development, and engagement in Mindanao, which will become a hub for RDE in Mindanao that will forge strong networks with both local and international research institutions.
And we will further strengthen the two streams of our Mindanao Studies Research Initiatives: the Mindanao Arts and Cultures stream and the Sustainable Agri- and Biosystems stream. We will also serve the public to achieve sustainable development goals by creating value and offering key services from the knowledge generated through research.
And lastly, we will build a campus into a community.
We will invest in the development of the people who are tasked to carry out our mission, our faculty and staff. We will need more plantilla items for the regularization of our existing contractual teaching and non-teaching staff and for new people to support our expansion plans. Here we need the support of the Department of Budget and Management.
We will also engage our partners for change such as the alumni, government, industry, communities, and other stakeholders to achieve greater impact.
We will also transform our campus into “a green university town” and aspire to become a model for operational excellence not only in Mindanao but the entire country and, perhaps, the world.
The UP Mindanao campus is strategically located in the Mintal-Tugbok Urban Center designated in the Davao City Comprehensive Land Use Plan as a center for higher level education and biotechnology R&D in Mindanao and in proximity to the planned Regional Government Complex where 55 government offices will be relocating. It is also near the Calinan Urban Center, the center for agri-based industrial activities; the Baguio District, which is a conservation and watershed zone; the Marilog-Paquibato Zone, which is known for its community-based agro-forestry and upland agriculture development; and various tourist sites and ancestral domains of Lumad or indigenous groups.
In building a “green university town,” our goal is for the UP Mindanao campus to become an agri-eco-cultural tourism spot and a mecca for international sporting events. And in the next five years, we want to develop most of the remaining 80% of the campus by building more academic and R&D facilities and completing three big-ticket infrastructure projects:
• First is the completion of the Davao City-UP Sports Complex, which is a joint project with the City Government of Davao and aims to provide facilities to host international events and will complement the university’s Mindanao Sports Development Program, with the support of the Philippine Sports Commission and the Department of Education, to train the next generation of coaches, sports teachers, and athletes from Mindanao;
• Second is the establishment of a Knowledge, Innovation, Science and Technology Park, which will be undertaken by the university with the support of key government agencies such as Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry and aims to strengthen the relationship among academe, government, and industry in bringing to market knowledge products from research;
• And third is a world-class Botanical Garden and various cultural gardens, which will be undertaken by the university with the support of the Department of Tourism and the National Commission for Culture and Arts and other agencies and aims to showcase Mindanao’s bio- and cultural diversity.
That is our game plan: to mold learners into leaders, to transform insights into impacts, and to build a campus into a community.
As we anticipate the celebration of our 25th founding anniversary in February 2020, the entire UP Mindanao community is looking back on its past and at the same time planning for the future, planning for expansion to better provide quality and accessible higher education and responsive research and public service to more Filipinos, particularly Mindanawons.
To bring home this message, I would like to call to mind one of highlights of the celebration of our 20th Founding Anniversary in 2015. The UPAA-Davao Chapter organized the “Isang Libong Alumni Para Kay Oble,” an event that brought together alumni from various UP campuses to build the UP Mindanao Oblation Plaza. Stones changed hands from one alumnus or alumna to another until they reached the gabion of the plaza. This gesture perhaps best illustrates the power of collective action to achieve a common goal.
As with the Oblation Plaza, we will continue to build this university, stone by stone, no matter how long it will take. Every stone is significant. And so I ask all of us in this assembly: what stone do we wish to contribute to build this university? That is the challenge for all of us.
The road to transform this island from a land of promise to land of fulfillment may be long and arduous, but the University of the Philippines Mindanao, with your support, can contribute significantly to achieving this.
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