UP, CBA, and Cesar Virata
The University of the Philippines is unique and privileged. Declared the “national university,” it enjoys academic freedom as no other Philippine university does, has its own charter, and is not subject to the salary scale law, slowing the bleeding of its professors.
This latitude allows it to focus on its core missions: Educate the youth, push the frontiers of knowledge, help in nation-building.
Its mission—implicitly articulated and conveyed in its social sciences and humanities courses—is nevertheless guided by moral and ethical values and ideals.
UP has fulfilled its mission, producing most of the leaders in the government, the private sector, and any sphere of the nation’s life. Sadly, it has also produced leaders with doubtful integrity and character. Two of its best and brightest alumni were driven out of office (by People Power) and nearly impeached, respectively. The second is now under indictment for plunder and abuse of presidential powers. There are countless corrupt leaders who control the levers of governmental powers in cahoots with oligarchs who are also products of UP.
As students, they epitomized youthful idealism and defended national interests. Yet many of them, once out of the university, were immediately absorbed into the dysfunctional system. A sudden amnesia about their ideals and principles overcame them.
One of the brightest products of UP was Ferdinand Marcos. Many thought he was the “messiah” who would deliver them to the “promised land.” His mantra was “We can be great again.” The people bought it.
Marcos recruited the best and brightest to his Cabinet. Cesar Virata was among them. He made his mark in the financial world, and was later appointed dean of the UP College of Business Administration (CBA). He transformed that college into a highly regarded component of UP.
But Marcos had other designs. In one fell swoop he transformed the nation in perverse ways: destroyed democratic institutions; made himself a dictator; revised the Constitution for more powers for himself; looted, along with his cronies, the national coffers; and instituted a police state. He and his surrogates cut short countless lives, mostly the youth, whose flowers were about to emerge and bloom; his wife regularly went on shopping sprees around the world using public money. He impoverished the people and saddled the nation with a debt of $60-80 billion. When ousted and exiled to Hawaii, he was found to have stashed billions of dollars and gold abroad. (Recently, the Marcos offshore wealth was estimated at $5-10 billion, with 6.3 metric tons of gold.)
Where was Virata during this period? He was a servile technocrat: secretary of finance, prime minister, and chief negotiator for loans from international multilateral financial institutions. This gave him special access to all government financial and banking institutions and big-business transactions and negotiations, and perhaps also to security and military matters. Did he raise any objection to the abuses of power in private or in public? Not that we know of. He was said to have submitted his resignation on more than one occasion but Marcos would not allow it. It’s hard to know the truth. There are resignations and resignations.
The alleged resignations were probably feigned, a cover-up for hubris, believing he alone can do the job. At UP and other schools there were many smart people, with probity beyond question, who could easily have stepped into his shoes.
Honest, never amassed much wealth, and lived modestly: Okay, let us grant that. Not everyone is motivated by wealth, pomp and circumstance, and power. But let’s look under the hood of this virtuous man after whom the UP CBA has been named.
Beneath the appearance was probably a deeper motive (i.e., extreme protectiveness of his reputation). His alleged virtues were masked by selfishness, seen against the abuses of power and corruption that surrounded him. At times, there is a thin line separating virtue from vice.
Alternatively, Virata was a robotic technocrat, unfeeling of the sorry state of the people, programmed by, and following, his boss’ program to a T. He fit the three monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.” And he validated the adage that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
He helped prop Marcos because of his name in the global financial institutions, from which money was massively borrowed to keep the nation afloat, only to drown it in debt. If he left Marcos early on, the latter’s fall would have been much sooner.
He does not deserve the honor UP gave him. Decency dictates that he decline it.
Virata is a case study of morality and ethics. What was committed in naming the CBA after him was a violation of moral and ethical standards; it effectively approved his behavior while serving the Marcos regime.
Academic freedom and UP’s charter cannot exonerate him. And UP may be in violation of Republic Act No. 1059.
UP is financed by the people, to whom it’s accountable, and with whom it made a solemn contract. Its existence derives from their hopes and dreams.
It’s time UP worshipped at the shrine of the mind and of moral and ethical values.
Eugenio A. Pulmano, MD, has retired from medical practice in Jersey City in the United States. He received an Award for Exemplary Service from Jersey City Medical Center in 1980. He graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in 1969.
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