Public Lives

What’s in a name?



Whatever it was that motivated our colleagues and students at the University of the Philippines College of Business Administration to name their college—the academic program itself, and not just the building—after their esteemed alumnus and former dean, Cesar E.A. Virata, I am quite sure it had nothing to do with the pledge of an endowment. Though he has rich and powerful friends, Virata himself has kept a low profile and is known to live modestly. But, more important, as far as I know, UP does not confer honor in exchange for money.

The reason for this unprecedented way of honoring a living person by a college in the UP System could be nothing more than a sincere desire to recognize the contributions of a man who nurtured the college and quietly supported the university during those difficult times when it needed an ally in government. It is a fairly common practice abroad where naming rights are routinely given to show appreciation for a large endowment. While I’m certain the amiable Virata did not ask for this recognition, none of these reasons adequately justifies naming a school in a national university after him.

First, as former senator Rene Saguisag reminds us, there is a law against naming public buildings and infrastructure after living persons. Second, while UP has named some of its buildings—like Malcolm Hall, Benitez Hall, and Palma Hall—after deceased persons, there is no existing college or unit in the university that is named after anybody, living or dead. In that regard, the renaming of the UP College of Business Administration into the Cesar E.A. Virata School of Business is precedent-setting.

I first heard about this shortly before this year’s commencement exercises, and I didn’t believe it. Since it concerns an academic program, I was sure it would have to pass through the University Council, where it would definitely be debated, voted upon, and, as a matter of principle, resolutely rejected. But, as it turned out, the decision was made at the college level and, without going through the University Council, was consummated by the Board of Regents at its meeting on April 12, 2013.

It is not as if UP had done nothing to recognize the man. The university had previously honored Virata, prime minister and finance minister in the Marcos administration, by giving him the doctor of laws degree (honoris causa) in 1976.  Even if this was done at the height of martial law, I do not recall that it elicited any comment or controversy in the academic community, unlike the conferment of the doctor of humanities degree on Imelda Marcos.  The general impression about Virata then was that he was among the most decent in the Marcos Cabinet. He was not known to have taken advantage of his position in the corrupt dictatorship, and so he had no reason to flee the country when the regime collapsed.

But, the issues at stake here go beyond personal decency. Cesar Virata was the face of a modern technocracy in the service of a repressive regime that removed public issues from the realm of political debate, and treated them as though they were nothing more than technical problems. Contrary to the image they project, technocrats are not apolitical. They are very much implicated in the political programs of the governments they serve. Thus, they cannot claim political blindness or neutrality.

By naming its school of business after a Marcos technocrat, UP is, in effect, signaling that it aims to produce graduates who, even as they excel as problem-solvers in their respective fields, can be trusted to put their political consciences on hold while they do their work.

Of course, to other people, public servants like Virata are patriots. In their view, it was not the rulers that they cared about so much as the nation itself. Unlike the opportunists who left the Marcos regime as soon as they sensed that the ship of state was about to sink, the truly professional civil servants steadfastly remained at their posts and did what needed to be done. They did not wish to exacerbate the crisis of the state by resigning. They did not want to compound the injury on the society by abandoning the state at its most critical moment. This is an arguable perspective, but I am not sure that Cabinet members who are political appointees can seek refuge in it.

Had it been submitted to the UP Diliman University Council, the issue would have provided the occasion to bring out the competing value standpoints from which a decision as seemingly innocuous as naming a school can be viewed. There is nothing trivial about assigning names to institutions.  Indeed, it is an old problem.

“This has given the greatest trouble and still does to realize that what things are called is incomparably more important than what they are,” wrote Nietzsche in The Gay Science. “The reputation, name, and appearance, the usual measure and weight of a thing, what it counts for—originally almost always wrong and arbitrary, thrown over things like a dress and altogether foreign to their nature and even to their skin—all this grows from generation unto generation, merely because people believe in it, until it gradually grows to be part of the thing and turns into its very body.”  I am told that when this matter was submitted to the student body of the college, the only question the students asked was: “Who is Virata?”  They can be forgiven for not knowing, but not the faculty.

Nothing can be more alien to a UP education than technocratic subservience. At UP, we value excellence in all fields of knowledge. But more than that, we are taught to value wisdom and political sensibility, and the courage of one’s convictions.

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  • Fulpol

    Cesar Virata: the man who holds a candle…..

    F Sionil Jose would happy to share to former Prof. Randy David for a read…

    I had my own analysis about this issue which I commented recently.. I find F Sionil Jose to teach me more…

  • Fulpol

    Nothing can be more alien to a UP education than technocratic subservience. At UP, we value excellence in all fields of knowledge. But more than that, we are taught to value wisdom and political sensibility, and the courage of one’s convictions.


    political sensibility??.. I don’t know if it is an intelligent and wise decision to heed the voice of the mob… when being rational is stuck in the mud..

    courage of one’s convictions?… i always used the word “conviction” in my comments when intelligence and character will come into play when tackling social and political issue..

  • Noel Noel Munro

    Public buildings and properties should not be named after living or dead person like Ninoy Aquino International Airport. but your personal attacked on Virata’s integrity was not necessary, you can say a lot of bad things about him but that is not the issue therefore thats not necessary in terms of Gentlemanship and Profesionalism and its not the point you just want to kak sak the yeloow tards, now we are talking about UP gradweyts and look at our country now.

  • Beersheva

    Prof. David, baka naman Cesar Virata is exactly the right person that embodies the values that UP CBA wants its students to emulate. Just take a walk in the the UP CBA parking lot.

  • WeAry_Bat

    Assuming there was really no financial value involved but the pureness of heart as motivation, the renaming and intentional maneuvering was still excremental, betraying such honorable desire if it was so.

    As one commentator said, why not a plaque on wall? I recall an educational institution in Makati has such a hall where the photographs of their top graduates are named and framed. As an aside, one could see also the changing demography of their students from Spanish related, to Chinoys, then to..err, hindus.

  • doceap76

    What is in a name? This readily brings to mind Shakespeare’s lines in Romeo & Juliet: “…that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This is where Bill S. might have made a mistake or have not foreseen the future. For the name change of the College of Business Administration to Cesar Emilio Aguinaldo Virata is not sweet; in fact, it smells. I could appreciate your viewpoint, that is, to convey a sense of balance to whole thing. But the process of changing the name was skewed to start with, as you yourself pointed out. Moreover, and more significantly, the historical record of his long service to the nation during the entire Marcos regime was anything but service and devotion to our people; it was to his Boss that he poured all his talents and energy from beginning to the very end.

    I wrote a whole article/essay on this titled “UP, CBA, & Virata, and sent it to you this past Saturday asking for your assistance to have it published in your paper. I wanted to send it directly to your Editor-0in-Chief, Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, but cannot access her email address no matter how much I tried to find out. Neither could I find anybody/email address in your paper to whom I could send my piece directly, for I don’t really like asking favors. But it was my first time to write an essay/article for submission to your paper and I thought, because of your standing in PDI, you can help me navigate the “system.”

    I hope PDI will still publish my piece because I honestly and humbly believe that I have something substantive to say on the issue; if anything, it could add another dimension to the discussion. Eugenio A. Pulmano, MD; UPCM, 1969

  • pinoynga

    Everything and nothing, this is just to initially answer the editorial’s title question. Who is Paul, Cesar, Richard, Antonio, Jose, etc…etc…? Most probably nonentities, unless of course we attached a noteworthy event or perhaps another known name to these names, they may remain nobodies.

    Of course, lest we forget, the name Cesar Virata belongs to the grandnephew of Emilio Aguinaldo, our first president. That should be an association worth something. But Cesar Virata, unfortunately, was also Marcos’ prime minister. This too is worth noting. Now what gives? Making Cesar Virata an eponym of a U.P. college to me remains debatable. Of course if U.P. were a private university, it would have been a non-issue perhaps.

    But names and their associations with particular events or particular persons remain important. As our great great grandfathers use to remind our grandfathers and father, our names should be protected at all cost. Our names are our “product brands.” Our names carry with it goodwill, among many other attributes, be it positive or negative.

    However, sometimes by fate or by luck, our names can get dirtied and bungled
    up somehow. In that case, only time will tell whether our names or “brands” will heal and improve.

    Like one posts below mentioned the name “Hitler.” This name must still send chills to a lot of Jews today. Nowadays, the mere mention of LPG sends chills to people’s spine, most especially if your residential address is Serendra. How about Cebu Pacific? How about Ro-Ro?

    What’s in a name?. . . and He shall be named “Emmanuel”. . . or was it “Jesus”. . . ?

  • Romulus Fenandez

    another convoluted piece by david! the fact that virata stayed when marcos flew out ot the country does not exonerate him of his collusion with MARCOS! idiot

    • inquirercet

      idiots reply to articles without understanding what they read.

  • jctmpt

    It is so IRONIC — so incredible– that the University of the Philippines — the scene of so many violent anti-Marcos demonstrations — can turn 180 degrees and now honor one of the architects of the Marcos martial law regime.

    You are not talking about just any university – this is THE University of the Philippines.

    You have to wonder — is 30 years long enough for us to already forget this darkest chapter of our history – the graft and corruption, the political persecution, the Camp Crame?

    Do Filipinos have such short memory?

    And what made Dean Ben Paul Gutierrez to even entertain the IDEA in the first place, let alone push through his proposal vigorously?

    Dean Gutierrez could NOT name one – not even ONE – tangible contribution Virata made for the benefit of the Filipino people. The best rationale he could come up with is that Virata is the “grandnephew of Emilio Aguinaldo”?


    Is this UP pathetic standards for bestowing honor to its alumnus?

    Do you think there is any chance that Ateneo will change its college to RENATO CORONA College of Law or GLORIA ARROYO School of Good Governance??

    And what is CESAR VIRATA’s legacy for the Filipino people?

    You can see his legacy everywhere. Look around you and see the flood and the traffic — those are his legacies of 20 years of disastrous tenure as Finance Minister. He piled up such humongous foreign debts that we are still paying off the loans 30 years later — instead of using these funds to repair basic infrastructure to alleviate the flooding and traffic.

    His failed economic policies set us backward for decades. What used to be a vibrant resource-rich country, the “Pearl of the Orient”, has now shriveled to be the “Sick man of Asia”.

    And who are the real beneficiaries of Mr. Virata economic stewardship?

    Imelda Marcos is able to accumulate P930M based on her SALN. This woman never worked one day in her life — so how did she amass such mind-boggling asset? And don’t forget her son with another P500M. This unbelievable Marcos wealth all came courtesy of Mr. Virata — skimmed off the foreign loans and other corrupt transactions.

    UP officials should certainly go back and review what went horribly wrong with the entire nominating process

    They should also re-evaluate Ben Gutierrez fitness to serve as dean. I don’t know Dean Gutierrez personally but he came across as an intellectual lightweight with almost no corporate experience and someone who certainly need a remedial lesson in Philippine history.

  • eight_log

    After 30 years … those who opposed corruption during Marcos time are the BIGGEST CORRUPT OFFICIALS AT THE PRESENT TIMES!!!! JUST LOOK AT BINAY … JOKER (tahimik lang pero nasa loob ang kulo … kung sa bagay kung corrupt ka bakit ipagyayabang mo …. hahahahaha) … sino pa ba … pwede ninyo dagdagan!!! Thanks

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