Asinine hatred of UST | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Asinine hatred of UST

HE DOES not lambast Secretary Joel Villanueva whose posters, in the name of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), dot the entire archipelago. Because Villanueva is a friend, President Aquino does not bother to ask where the funds for the posters came from. The posters are obviously meant to prop up Villanueva’s burning ambition—albeit sagging it has always been—to become senator. That is not all; Villanueva has his own television program, again in the name of the Tesda.

No, Mr. Aquino does not lambast Villanueva because the two of them are of “kindred spirit” and this was a State of the Nation Address of hallelujahs for kindred spirits. Never mind if Villanueva will soon join the third batch of Janet Napoles’ minions who are going to be locked up in jail. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima must not make us wait any longer.


Mr. Aquino’s selective justice was again at work when he made a hostile reference to a

“big university” which, he said, opposes a flood catchment basin to be built below an open field inside its campus. He said the institution opposes it because it wants to protect heritage structures.


Which “big university” could that be? There is only one educational institution in the country accorded the prestigious inclusion in the ranks of “National Cultural Treasures” (NCTs). That singular distinction belongs to the University of Santo Tomas.

Prior to the declaration by the National Museum of the Philippines on Jan. 25, 2010, only churches, terrestrial landmarks, intangible cultural property and movable objects had been declared as such. UST has four NCT structures: the main building, Central Seminary, Arch of the Centuries, and its “Open Spaces.” Take note of the last one.

There is actually a fifth NCT in UST. On Aug. 22, 2014, the National Archives of the Philippines formally declared two 17th-century baybayin documents in the UST Archives as NCTs. Baybayin is the ancient Filipino syllabary in use during the Spanish contact in the 16th century. It was the first declaration made by the National Archives and the first paper documents ever to be declared NCTs. Because NCT is a formal title prescribed by law, it is the state’s duty to protect their integrity. Republic Act No. 10066 requires that for any proposed alterations or renovations to an NCT, the expert permission of the proper cultural agency or the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) must be sought as a prerequisite. It also penalizes anyone who “destroys, demolishes, mutilates or damages any world heritage site, national cultural treasures, important cultural property, and archaeological and anthropological sites.”

Mr. Aquino misses out on two things. If he really wants UST to agree to the proposed flood catchment basin below its open field, UST’s administration, as a responsible steward of these NCTs, is required to seek the permission of the proper cultural agencies. In which case, it is possible that in response, the NCCA will convene a panel of experts to include, but not limited to, structural engineers, geologists, hydrologists and experts of heritage monuments and sites to assess the plan. If the project is not given the green light by these experts, Mr. Aquino can wail and whimper like a spoiled brat, but the law must be allowed to run its course.

There was actually another point in his Sona that showed Mr. Aquino to be intellectually dishonest. According to investigative journalist Raissa Robles, “There are HUGE pipes that run under España Street. The pipes are big enough for people to walk through, standing upright. They were installed in the 1970s and are meant to drain off rainwater from the streets above.”

Quoting Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Robles continued: “The carrying capacity of these pipes have been reduced to 30% because of heavy siltation, the 70% crammed with filth.”

Building a flood retardation basin below the grounds of UST but neglecting the restoration of the España pipes is clearly another Band-aid solution. But by choosing to be acrimonious toward UST, Mr. Aquino exposed his gross ignorance of the heritage law. And by leaving a bad taste in the mouth for UST and what it stands for in the nation’s history and culture, Mr. Aquino lends a hand to the trivialization of Philippine national heritage.


The Palace quickly intoned: Public interest must prevail over campus concerns. Excuse me, who says heritage is a “campus concern” and not part of public interest?

Was Mr. Aquino playing the usual jest of a tit-for-tat between the Jesuits and the Dominicans? Give him the benefit of the doubt—he may not have been. But in the same speech he praises another so-called “kindred spirit”—the president of Ateneo de Manila. Mr. Aquino is not being president of all the Filipino people. He is, very parochially, just being president of one institution—his alma mater.

We already have a fractured democracy as it is. The President of the Philippines wishes to fracture it some more by circumventing the heritage law, as if his warped sense of selective justice is not damaging enough.

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TAGS: culture, Joel Villanueva, nation, National Cultural Treasures, news, UST
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