My days with UP presidentsBy Pio P. Frago
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With the recent death of Onofre D. Corpuz, a former president of the University of the Philippines, memories of how various UP leaders shaped my life came rushing to me.
I started working in the Office of the UP President in the mid-1950s. The acting president then was Dr. Enrique T. Virata, a mathematician and a man of few words.
When I applied for a job in his office, Virata did not know me from Adam. As is usual in job-seeking, I was told to fill out forms and indicate a contact address. Virata said to me, “There is no vacancy at the moment, but once there is one, I will write to you.” From my previous job-seeking experience in Metro Manila, the cavalier statement amounted to something like “Sorry, there’s nothing for you.” Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I received a letter from Virata telling me to report for work as an office assistant.
Within a month I settled in on the job. I learned Virata’s daily routine, down to how he preferred his coffee black, which I usually served at 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Virata seldom smiled. He was poker-faced, seemed unapproachable, and abhorred socials, but he was a man with a golden heart. Unknown to many, he helped more people than some presidents of this country, especially in the employment of laborers, janitors, working students, and rank-and-file employees. He was my ninong (godfather) in the world of work. For this I will not forget him as long as I live.
Unfortunately, after two years in an acting capacity, Virata was not named to the presidency. I was crestfallen.
Dr. Vicente G. Sinco, then dean of the UP College of Law, was appointed president. I describe him as “Napoleonic” because he was vertically challenged. Whenever I said, “Good morning, Mr. President,” he’d acknowledge the greeting but he’d be looking at the ceiling.
As a hardworking legal luminary, Sinco applied his full and undivided attention to his speeches, which he wrote himself. Prudence dictated that we stay not less than 15 meters away from him during those times. Otherwise, we would be met with “Get out, I will call you when I need you.”
Gen. Carlos P. Romulo (CPR), a world-renowned diplomat, orator par excellence, and multiawarded writer succeeded Sinco as UP president. He maximized his connections with American foundations to acquire for some members of the UP faculty fellowship grants that came with very generous benefits and allowances. Many faculty members got their PhDs at that time. I consider CPR’s watch as the “high noon” of faculty development.
I never saw CPR in attire other than coat and tie or barong Tagalog. One time I wore a white polo barong at a Board of Regents’ meeting, and he admonished me later: “Frago, during meetings wear your best.”
Next came Salvador P. (SP) Lopez who, to me, was the most humane UP president. He was very fatherly. He was the only UP president then who stayed in the Executive House (the president’s residence) in the UP Diliman campus. He jogged every morning not only for physical fitness but also to inspect the entire campus. He noted such mundane matters as dangling electric wires, tall grasses, carabao manure on the street, leaking fire hydrants. Thereafter, he would issue instructions to the Director of Physical Plant for appropriate action.
SP’s presence was felt by all; he was a hands-on president.
I consider him the father of UP’s Administrative Development Program. When I was promoted head of personnel, I proposed an Integrated Administrative Development Program for nonteaching personnel, which he approved in toto. Many administrative personnel benefited from the program. He also immediately approved my recommendations for the benefit of personnel. His standard test in approving the promotion of a supervisor was: “Are the rank-and-file personnel under him/her taken care of?”
OD Corpuz, who died last March 23, succeeded SP Lopez. I had known OD since my student days in a political science course. He was then fresh from Harvard University. Every encounter with OD was a learning and educational experience; one always learned new things from him. He was the most cerebral and profound UP president.
In addition to my work as head of personnel, OD made me a member of the university housing committee, which administered the University Housing Program. His reminder to the committee: “In solving the big problem of housing, don’t create a bigger problem. You don’t solve problems by throwing people out in the street.” We followed his marching order and many nonteaching personnel and laborers benefited from his legacy.
OD, rest well, you did a good job in the university.
I worked with other UP presidents but because they are still alive, I dare not say anything about them as they might contradict me. Dead men tell no tales.
Looking back, having worked with the top leaders of UP who served with honor and dignity, I became “a transformed man.” Perhaps, through constant and regular interaction, I absorbed their desirable work habits, their work ethic, which prepared me for greater challenges ahead.
Pio P. Frago, 73, is a retired director of the Human Resources Development Office in UP Diliman.
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