First outside Metro Manila: UST to open campus in Gensan in 2015
It took 15 years and a change in administration before the University of Santo Tomas finally saw the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
On Tuesday, October 1, the Sangguniang Panlungsod of General Santos City passed a resolution allowing Asia’s oldest University to reclassify its 80-hectare property in the city outskirt village of Ligaya from agricultural to institutional.
Almost giving up after they were repeatedly snubbed and given the runaround by the previous city administration, representatives of the Dominican-run university appeared before members of the city council and gave a PowerPoint presentation providing the city with snapshots of what UST’s first ever branch outside of Metro Manila would look like.
This time, UST is confident it will be able to accommodate college students when classes are opened in the first semester of 2015.
Politics played a big part in the delay in granting the request of UST for a city approval to convert its property.
UST acquired the Ligaya land from different owners in 1997 at a cost of Php1.2 million per hectare or some Php96 million in total. It was given assurance by its brokers that they would work for the conversion and development and other permits necessary for the construction of its university campus.
In 1998, however, then re-electionist Mayor Rosalita Nuñez lost to Adelbert Antonino amid charges of corruption. At the time of the purchase of the UST property, it was reported that close allies of Nuñez brokered the deal.
Antonino lost no time rejecting and ending all projects conceptualized by his predecessor, including the proposed multimillion sanitary landfill and sewage treatment projects.
The most controversial among these projects was the application for reclassification of the property acquired by UST on grounds that it will adversely affect the city’s food security. At that time, the Ligaya property was planted with coconut trees. According to University officials, the property has more than 6,000 coconut trees.
Despite assurance that UST will use the property as an agricultural research center for the production and development of virgin coconut oil, Antonino and his city council would not budge.
In February 2001, just three months before the local elections, Antonino resigned, paving the way for then Vice Mayor Pedro Acharon Jr to occupy the top executive post in the city. In the May local elections that year, Acharon trounced Nuñez who was aiming to make another comeback at the city hall.
Acharon also did not give UST the reprieve it was seeking as the Sangguniang Panlungsod was still dominated by partymates from the Antonino-created Achievement with Integrity Movement. He and the city council repeatedly blocked any attempt to re-classify the land, then a requirement of DAR before the latter can issue a conversion permit.
And so for 15 years, and five city councils, UST’s application was placed in the archives.
To keep their hopes of seeing their first ever campus rise outside of Metro Manila, UST had to twice extend its conversion application with DAR.
Exasperated, at one time, some UST officials refused to face members of the 14thSangguniang Panlungsod who went to their main campus purportedly to seek clarification.
For the last 15 years, also, all UST could do was to repeatedly announce it was going to build a campus in General Santos.
At some point, however, UST entertained thoughts of relocating to nearby Sarangani where the family of former Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez offered to donate 5 hectares for its campus site.
Reversal of fortunes
But this year, the stranglehold of the Antoninos was finally broken as Adelbert’s daughter and then re-electionist Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio lost to Ronnel Rivera. Seven of Rivera’s lineup for the 12-elective city council seats also won. With Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles – a running mate in the elections – there to break any tie in nominal voting, Rivera is now assured of passage of significant local ordinances and resolutions. (AIM has five councilors in addition to the carryover ABC chair and SK representative to bring the city council into a 7-7 composition)
Rivera and his slate, earlier in the May 2013 election campaign, vowed to reopen the UST issue and give it favorable endorsement.
On Tuesday, October 1, UST Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Clarita Carillo and in-house lawyer Paterno Esmaquiel led a team that appeared before the Sangguniang Panglungsod to brief the city councillors of their plan to establish a campus in the city.
Esmaquiel said the proposed UST campus will cost the Dominican fathers some P100 million (US$2.3 million). And if granted their request, they could open the university as early as 2015.
“UST Gen-San is most likely to be a ‘carbon copy’ of UST España, depending on the final outcome of our planning committee’s study,” UST Rector Fr. Ernesto Arceo was quoted by the UST student publication The Varsitarian.
Like the España campus, a hospital and church will also rise in General Santos, the Varsitarian further reported.
However, the UST lawyer also said they will instead open a campus in Sta Rosa, Laguna if they cannot secure the necessary permits and resolutions from the city government in Gensan.
Discussions turned into heated exchange of accusations after AIM councilor Richard Atendido took the floor to deny politics was involved in the denial of UST application by the previous administration which prompted Nuñez, now a city councilor, to appeal to let bygone be bygones.
“Let us forget the past and move forward,” Nuñez said.
But it only worsened when Councilor Vivencio Dinopol, another AIM councilor, told UST to first seek extension of its land conversion application with the Department of Agrarian Reform before asking the city government to reclassify its property, and after he coaxed UST representatives to secure a recommendation from Mayor Rivera.
He was schooled by Councilor Arturo Cloma, a lawyer and sponsor of the resolution, who cited a Supreme Court ruling that allowed local government units to re-classify agricultural lands within its territory sans DAR clearance for conversion.
Councilor Franklin Gacal Jr also angrily rebutted Dinopol and said that although they are party mates of the city mayor, they are not his rubber stamp. He reminded Dinopol that the city council is a co-equal branch with the executive department.
Although it was a matter of fact, Gacal obviously took a dig on previous city councils, where Dinopol and Atendido were members and who were said to be at the beck and call of Adelbert Antonino even though the aging former city mayor held no official function and position in the city government since his 2001 resignation.
In the end, Atendido could only offer muted resistance as the prevailing sentiments in the city council point to another looming political defeat for the Antoninos.
Atendido and the rest of the opposition councilors later joined the rest of their colleagues in the city council for a photo opportunity with UST officials, an opportunity that did not happen during the incumbencies of the Antoninos and their ally Acharon, now a member of the House of Representatives.
Mayor Rivera, who took the UST issue against the Antoninos in the May 2013 elections, said he will endorse the proposed college campus of the España-based Catholic University.