From the start she was Dr. Francisco “Dodong ” Nemenzo’s personal choice to replace him as UP President. After some voting deadlocks between her and Edgardo Espiritu, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dr. Emerlinda Roman became the 19th and first woman President of the University of the Philippines by a vote of 7 -5.
Rallies of support for Dr. Roman marked the election for UP President in 2004. Students, faculty members, alumni and workers of UP were all rooting for her and Dr. Roman’s victory was a triumph of the UP Community. It was also a personal triumph for Dr. Nemenzo but he would not make big thing of it, even refusing a post-election interview. She is homegrown, having started her UP life in UP high school Los Baños. She rose the ranks, holding various positions in the state university before getting elected as President. During her term as the Chancellor of UP Diliman, the chaotic enrollment that we had known became automated. Even now at the helm of the university, she retains teaching units for herself, and she would not admit this is for pure love of teaching. The reason why she still teaches, she says, is that she would not like to deprive herself of the experience to tell students what to do without being questioned.
She will be remembered for all time as the UP Centennial President of the 21st century. But more than this, what would stand best as her legacy is the final passage into law of Republic Act No. 9500, also known as the University of the Philippines Charter of 2008. From 1987 until signed into law, the new UP Charter went through 20 years of rough sailing in several Philippine Congresses. Some difficulties were inflicted by lawmakers who had axes to grind with UP or its sitting President. In the last months of Dr. Nemenzo’s term, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago threatened to “filibuster for six years” on the UP Bill if she would not get satisfactory explanation on the allegedly anomalous admission procedures at the UP College of Law (where Defensor-Santiago’s son had been refused admission). In her term, Dr. Roman did a remarkable job of preventing the new UP charter from being mutilated by lawmakers and interest groups. Some congressmen did not like to recognize UP as the “national university”, preferring to call it simply a “premier state university.” There were attempts to make religious instruction mandatory at UP, endangering the secular nature of the state university. Even before the final Presidential signing, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, apparently gripped by paranoia, set as precondition that the signing ceremonies should not be disturbed by rallies. Dr. Roman had to gather the presidents of various student councils to appeal to them to stand down. The students listened and the new UP Charter was signed into law in Cebu City on April 29, 2008.
The new charter is imperfect but it is the best that we could get under the present regime. It still has provisions that allow politicians to dip their fingers into UP affairs. While the power to appoint the UP President has been removed from the President of the Philippines, 6 out out 11 members of the Board of Regents are either politicians or political appointees: the Chairman of CHED acting as chairman of the board; the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Education; the Chairperson of the House Committe on Higher and Technical Education; and three Malacañang appointees. Given this, preservation of UP’s independence would still certainly require the legendary vigilance of the UP community.
In a hard hitting Web forum of UP students someone seeded the question: What is you opinion of UP President Roman?. The replies were surprisingly innocuous: …her real name is Emerlinda…, I do not like her hair-do…She is not a controversial figure. And in her four years as UP President, Dr. Roman would not run out of accomplishments to show off. For example, a P6-billion IT Park, dubbed as mini-Silicon Valley, now fills up the 37.5-hectare hitherto empty area on Commonwealth Avenue near the corner of Elliptical Road. Furthermore she likes activism in UP to live on, and she intends to include this among her legacies. Dr. Roman is generally implicit on the political high wires she has to walk on, yet you get the feeling that this woman is UP’s UP President. She is our UP President.
And this is not lost to UP alumni of the Bicol region, who last Saturday, May 31, 2008, gave her the warmest welcome befitting a UP President who has earned her right to reach out to UP alumni and be received with open arms. Three alumni groups joined hands for the event: UP Alumni Mayon Chapter, UP Alumni Association of Camarines Sur, and UP Ibalon Bicol. The Provincial Government of Albay provided the venue for the Legaspi leg of Dr. Roman’s visit. Albay Governor Joey Salceda personally entertained her. Mayor Jessie Robredo and wife Lenny led the welcome group in the Naga City evening meeting.
-Photos of the Legaspi leg of Dr. Roman’s Bicol visit sent by Dan Daz and Alan Badiola.