Sunday, January 31, 2010

What happened during the January 29, 2010 UP BOR meeting?

by: Judy M. Taguiwalo
Faculty Regent
January 31, 2010

January 29 was the first BOR meeting for 2010. And the start of my second year as Faculty Regent.

The weeks prior to the meeting were hectic as I prepared my report on my 2009 stint as Faculty Regent and received appeals from faculty, staff and students from all constituent universities of UP, with UP Baguio and the Open U as the only exceptions.

When I arrived at Quezon Hall at around 8:30 that morning (the BOR meeting was set at 9 am) scores of students, faculty, REPS and staff from Diliman, PGH, Manila and Los Banos were already there. They circulated a statement entitled “A University in Crisis” (see below).

The BOR meeting started with CHED Chair Angeles presiding. President Roman, Malacanang- appointed Regents Sarmiento, Chua, and Gonzales, Alumni Regent Pascual, Staff Regent Cabrera, Student Regent Banez and myself were present.

The agenda of the meeting was approved with the inclusion of the UP Cebu High School issue in other matters. The minutes of the December 18 BOR meeting was also approved.

Regent Sarmiento protests the December 18 election of new PGH Director

The first item placed on the agenda for discussion was the protest of Regent Sarmiento dated January 29, 2010. Regent Sarmiento protested the election of Jose Gonzales as PGH Director on the grounds that “The Student Regent is not only under suspension but is in fact not a student as defined by the University. Ms. Banez tried to register for the second semester but (sic) was only on November 17, 2009 that she tried to register…… “

The “Final Prayer” prayer of Regent Sarmiento’s written protest was:

“….the election of Dr. Jose Gonzales as Director of the Philippine General Hospital is hereby declared null and void on the following grounds: that an unqualified person claiming to be the Student Regent, although she is not even a student, Charisse Banez was allowed to vote for Dr. Gonzales giving him winning margin

“….the Board declare that the Student Regent be deemed to have ceased, the Student Regent not being a student

“…and items taken up by the Board at the 1252nd meeting on December 18, 2009 including the appointment of the University officials under B of the agenda, without considering, as a vote that of the Student Regent because she is no longer a student of the UPLB, she being thus is no longer a regent, she being no longer a student, all remain approved.”

The Alumni Regent, Staff Regent and I voiced our position that the issue of the Student Regent voting last December 18, 2009 was resolved when the Board voted on the motion of President Roman. In that meeting, the UP President presented the December 15 letter of the Chancellor of UPLB (received by her office on December 17) informing her of the non-student status of the Student Regent on account of her failure to register for the second semester of Academic Year 2009-2010. The UP President also presented the December 17 memorandum of Vice President for Legal Affairs Theodore Te on the status of the Student Regent. The memorandum stated that “considering the information given by the UPLB...that the incumbent SR is not enrolled during the second semester, even for the purposes of residency”…then, “this would be a ground to declare the position vacant”. When asked, VP Te confirmed that under the UP Charter, the BOR has the power to prescribe rules for it own governance.

Discussions ensued in an executive session and at some point the SR was asked to step out while the rest of the Regents deliberated on her status. Then President Roman moved that the SR be allowed to sit in the meeting as an observer. I and several other Regents objected to the motion as it was the first time that the Student Regent was informed of the letter of the UPLB Chancellor and the December 17, 2009 memorandum of Vice President Te. I said that the Student Regent has not been given the chance to consult with a legal adviser regarding her status and due process requires that she be given the opportunity to do so. The Staff Regent said that this was an alarming precedent as a charge could be raised against any of the Regents on the actual day of a meeting set to decide on contentious issues and that Regent would be disenfranchised without the chance to prepare for his/her answers. The Alumni Regent also objected stating that even if the allegations raised against the SR were true, the hold over rule, meaning the incumbent continues to sit until a replacement is named and qualified, would allow her to remain as a voting member of the board.

The SR was called in and Chairman Angeles informed her that the Board would take a vote on whether she would assume an observer status or continue as a voting member of the Board. Right before President Roman’s motion was put to a vote; it was clarified that a YES vote would mean that the SR sits on the Board as an observer until the issue about her enrolment is settled and a NO vote, that she continues as a voting member until the same issue is resolved. The SR was allowed to vote on the motion she continues to be a regular voting member of the Board unless the Board decides to make her an observer as proposed in the motion. In a secret voting, with all of the nine (9) Regents present casting their votes, four voted YES and five voted NO. The motion was not carried so the Student Regent continued to sit as a voting member of the Board at the December 18 meeting.

Regent Sarmiento participated in the voting on the SR’s status and did not question the propriety or jurisdiction of the BOR deciding on the fate of the SR’s participation in the December 18 meeting. Neither did he object when the SR was asked to return to the meeting and participated in the voting on the motion of President Roman. Regent Sarmiento subsequently also participated in the voting for the new PGH Director where Dr. Jose Gonzales was elected by a vote of six (6) while then incumbent PGH Director Dr. Alfiler (who had already served a total of two consecutive terms) garnered five (5) votes. [1] It was only after the remaining items in the agenda were voted upon and when the meeting was about to be adjourned that Regent Sarmiento expressed verbally his intent to protest the election of the new PGH Director.

January 29 protest of Regent Sarmiento: Latest attempt to prevent Dr. Jose Gonzales from assuming the position of PGH Director

We, the Sectoral Regents and the Alumni Regent, were not against discussing the current status of the Student Regent prior to deliberating on the matters on the agenda for the January 29, 20101 meeting. But we found it highly irregular that the question on the status of the Student Regent during the December 18 meeting, which had already been decided was being revisited for the purpose of nullifying the election of Dr. Gonzales as PGH Director.

The irregularity of the protest on the status of the Student Regent by Regent Sarmiento tying it with the election of the PGH Director, who was not the choice of President Roman, Regent Sarmiento, Regent Gonzales and Regent Chua, is better understood by what occurred after the December 18 meeting. The term of outgoing PGH Director Alfiler was to end on December 31, 2009. There was no issuance of the appointment of university officials right after the BOR meeting on December 18, when previous BOR decisions on appointments were announced on the same day as the BOR meetings (e.g. October 21 OSU Memorandum on Appointment of University Officials and November 23 OSU Memorandum on Appointment of University Officials). When I inquired about this failure to issue a similar memorandum on the December 18 decisions of the BOR on the appointment of University Officials, the Secretary of the University said that because it was the last working day of the year, the issuance would be made on January 4, 2010. This clarification was not consistent with the fact that the December 18 decision of the BOR on the appointment of UP Artists was posted on the UP official website on December 18 itself.

The memorandum on the appointments of new university officials made during the December 18 meeting came out only on January 4. Early on that day, Dr. Gonzales was informed by the UP Manila Chancellor that he (Dr. Gonzales)would take his oath of office at 2:00 pm of January 4. But prior to the scheduled oath-taking, the UP Manila Chancellor sent a message to Dr. Gonzales that his oath was reset for January 5 as President Roman wanted to meet with them in Diliman that afternoon. There was neither an oath taking on January 5 because on that day President Roman issued Memorandum No. PERR-2010-001, appointing Chancellor Ramon L. Arcadio as Officer-in-Charge of PGH. The Sectoral Regents immediately issued a statement dated January 6 protesting the deliberate refusal of President Roman to install Dr. Jose C. Gonzales as PGH Director, duly elected by the Board of Regents. There was an emergency meeting held at the Manila Hotel in the afternoon of January 6 attended by Chairman Angeles, President Roman, Chancellor Arcadio and Dr. Gonzales. At noon time of January 7 at the height of the protests of PGH personnel, medical students and staff against the refusal to install Dr. Gonzales as Director, the formal notification of appointment of Dr. Gonzales dated December 18, 2009 was sent to the UP Manila Chancellor. At two in the afternoon of that day, Dr. Gonzales took his oath before the Chancellor with other university officials and staff of PGH in attendance.

One cannot but surmise, given these series of events, that some very powerful people are intent on preventing the installation of Dr. Gonzales as PGH Director. The protest of Regent Sarmiento was clearly aimed at nullifying the election of the PGH Director but it has been overtaken by events. The fact is Dr. Gonzales has taken his oath of office for a fixed term of three years and has actually discharged his duties for more than three weeks. He cannot be removed or suspended except for cause as provided by law. Moreover, an appointment once made and completed, is not subject to reconsideration or revocation.

When a Regent moved for a vote supporting Regent Sarmiento’s protest against the Student Regent’s participation in the December 18, 2009 meeting and nullifying the appointment of Dr. Gonzales, the Staff Regent, Alumni Regent, Student Regent and I protested. But there was no more room for discussion as one of the Regents insisted on putting an end to more talk and to proceed to the voting. I asked for a break and conferred with the other Sectoral Regents and the Alumni Regent. We discussed the consequences of participation in the unlawful removal of an elected University official, without cause and without due process, as proposed by Regent Sarmiento, and the subsequent election of another PGH director in spite of the fact that the post is not vacant. I decided that I could not countenance being part of a process which was clearly aimed at reversing the decision on the choice of the PGH Director made last December and which could be considered illegal. It left me physically ill. I opted to leave the meeting.

The Staff Regent, Student Regent and Alumni Regent after a while also left leaving the meeting without a quorum.

We are open to deliberating on the status of the Student Regent but it should not be used to overturn a decision not palatable to the powers that be

Let me reiterate: we, the Sectoral Regents and the Alumni Regent, were open to a discussion of the current status of the Student Regent prior to deliberating on the matters on the agenda for the January 29 meeting. But what we found highly irregular was that the question on the status of the Student Regent involved the nullification of decisions of December 18, in particular the selection of the PGH Director, undermining the integrity of decision-making processes in our institution.

Our university faces a range of burning issues which we as Regents, through our collective wisdom, must deliberate and decide on. But we must do so with the highest respect for due process and respect for decisions, especially on appointments, arrived at by the Board even in the rare case that the decision goes against the wishes of the highest executive official within or outside UP.

[1] Senator Mar Roxas and Rep. Cynthia Villar voted through signed letters sent to Chairman Angeles and President Roman, respectively.

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