Albert Francis E. Domingo, MD

my flight of ideas

Anatomy of the New UP Charter

Posted on | May 4, 2008 | No Comments

“Act No. 1870, as amended, and all laws, decrees, orders, rules, and regulations or other issuances or parts inconsistent with the provisions of this Act are hereby repealed or modified accordingly” (Sec. 30, RA 9500).

While a repealing clause is a standard part of new laws placed there so as to avoid legal confusion, the repealing clause written as part of the New University of the Philippines (UP) Charter can arguably be viewed as a form of political and perhaps emotional closure in the long wait for a law that shall strengthen UP. It has effectively declared a revolutionary ideal: that after one hundred years on paper of being under the defunct American Governor General’s office by virtue of the archaic University Charter (Act No. 1870), UP can finally say that it is truly the Filipino’s National University under a New UP Charter.

A Struggle to Change a 100-year Charter

Student LeadersOn ten o’clock in the morning of April 29, 2008, a Tuesday, at the UP Visayas Cebu College, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo exercised her Constitutional duty and signed into law Republic Act (RA) No. 9500, formally known as “An Act to Strengthen the University of the Philippines as the National University,” or in short “The University of the Philippines Charter of 2008.” This finally came to be after a colorful 20 plus-year history of drafting, revision, filibustering, and suspension in Congressional sessions that has seen UP constituents agree and disagree (in classic UP habit) with several provisions in the draft law, not to mention the political maneuvering of certain solons who held the draft law hostage to see their personal motivations through.

With its many origins in various bills filed in several Congressional sessions, it has had different versions, each with its own name after their respective sponsor solons: the Tanada Bill, the Liban-Belmonte Bill, the Nachura Bill, and the Casino Bill. Ultimately however it was the Pangilinan Bill – named after former UP Student Regent and now Senator Francis N. Pangilinan – that paved the way, with amendments, to RA 9500.  To all UP constituents alike, it is simply known as the New UP Charter.

The National University

An Autonomous University System

From its title alone and supported by the Declaration of Policy (Sec. 2.), the New UP Charter strongly asserts UP’s primacy as the Philippines’ own National University. The dominant policy of RA 9500 is for the State to strengthen UP in consideration of this status. Furthermore, the university’s institutional autonomy shall be respected by government service-wide agencies.

It recognizes the present set-up of a University System that spans the nation’s islands, currently with seven autonomous Constituent Universities (Baguio, Diliman, Los Banos, Manila, Mindanao, Open University, and Visayas) physically distributed among twelve campuses nationwide. The Board of Regents, upon recommendation by the UP President, may establish more Constituent Universities in the future.

Redefining UP’s Mandate

UP is envisioned to be a unique and distinctive leader in higher education and development. It shall lead in setting academic standards and initiating innovations, serve as a graduate university for advanced studies and specialization, promote research and the dissemination of knowledge, conduct public service, protect and promote the rights and welfare of all its personnel, facilitate learning in academics including sports and nationalism, network with regional and global institutions, and provide avenues for democratic governance.

Academic freedom will be UP’s right, and it will have the responsibility to protect it as it has always done. Academic excellence shall not just be a goal but will be a norm.

Iskolar para sa Bayan (Scholar for the Nation)

The university is now formally committed to national development in that it is directed to regularly study the state of the nation in politics and economics, among others, and in so doing it shall formulate responsive policies and give recommendations to government. Government, in turn, may request the university research or advice on any matter concerning public policy, and any such government agencies who will request for this service will also shoulder the costs.

Notable is the New UP Charter’s implication that more than being Iskolar ng Bayan (national scholar), a UP student must be Iskolar para sa Bayan (scholar for the nation), by its Sec. 8 that obligates the university’s activities to be related to the needs of Filipinos and the latter’s aspirations for social progress and transformation. To this end, the university has been authorized to provide venues for student volunteerism.

A Democratic Board of Regents

The Board of Regents (BOR) has been retained in essence, with revisions that shall make it more democratic and dynamic in its governance. The UP President is no longer just a Vice-Chair of the BOR; s/he is now a Co-Chair, on equal footing with the Chair of the Commission on Higher and Technical Education (CHED). There is also now the inclusion in the BOR of a new Staff Regent who shall represent full-time permanent research, extension, and professional staff (REPS) and administrative personnel.

Instead of the original five Malacanang appointees, the Philippine President’s voting power by extension has been reduced to three, and these three Presidential appointees must be distinguished in their professions or fields of specialization, in consideration of the BOR’s own recommendations. Two out of the three should be alumni of UP.

Sectoral Regents (Faculty, Student, and Staff Regents) are also now held more accountable to their constituents – their membership in the BOR ends in cases of suspension, separation, or recall by their own sectors.

Discussion through Consultative Assemblies

While the University System Assembly – an idea of the UP-Wide Democratization Movement (UP-WIDEM) – was not adopted as the highest university governing body in place of the BOR, Sec. 3. (h) provides for the holding of such assemblies of students, faculty, REPS, staff, and alumni for the discussion of non-academic issues affecting the university.

Balanced Admissions Policy

Admission to the University as a student is to be made democratically accessible. The university is allowed to have an alternative and equitable admissions process for disadvantaged students such as indigenous peoples, poor but deserving students, including (but with no limitation to) valedictorians and salutatorians of public high schools, and students from depressed areas. Religious freedom is reaffirmed, and as such the university shall not discriminate on the basis of religion.

Strengthening through Sports Development

Sports programs that promote physical education, uphold excellence and encourage competitive participation shall be undertaken by UP. These programs shall be meant to instill school identity and solidarity, in addition to cultivating pride, self-discipline and teamwork as a foundation for participation in university affairs, and in nation building.

Competitive Salaries and Benefits for Employees

What has long made it challenging for UP to retain its brightest is now about to end. The lure of higher compensation and benefits for faculty and staff working in other academic institutions (notably the private ones) can now be addressed, what with the exemption of UP employees from the Salary Standardization Law. As stated in Sec. 13 (k), the BOR can now, “any law to the contrary not withstanding,” fix and adjust the salaries and benefits of faculty and employees, “provided that [these] shall be equivalent to those being received by their counterparts in the private sector…”.

Empowered and Truly Democratic Student Institutions

The Charter of the national university is also unique amongst several other university charters that govern the establishment of other state colleges and universities in that it has an entire section (Sec. 21) on student affairs, and other supporting sections throughout the law that contributes towards empowered and truly democratic student institutions.

While tuition and other fees can be fixed by the BOR, they can only do so after mandatory comprehensive consultation with students concerned by proposed changes in the said fees.

The office of the Student Regent, which supposedly has long been controlled by an elite group of student councils with similar ideologies, is now subject to genuine participation and approval by the general student body, as provided for by law. Those who seek to maintain a specific selection process that can be easily controlled by vested political interests now have to submit their selection rules and qualifications as proposals alongside other possible variants, ultimately for the entire UP student body to choose from in a referendum.

Student Councils are guaranteed their existence by law. Every college and degree-granting institute shall have a College or Institute Student Council, while every constituent university will have a University Student Council. In that same line, the entire UP System will have a general assembly of all student councils. The student council shall serve as the primary student body that shall uphold and promote the interests of its respective student constituents, and is now authorized by law to adopt its own internal rules of procedure.

Student Publications are to be established in every constituent university and college, to be funded by student fees. It is a must, however, that students of the particular units covered by the student publications are to be comprehensively consulted on their operations. Established student publications are guaranteed the freedom of expression and autonomy in all editorial and fiscal policies.

Fiscal Autonomy with State Commitment

In response to the alleged deterioration of the university brought about by inadequate government funding, the New UP Charter has effectively granted UP enough fiscal autonomy to augment State Subsidy which, incidentally, is still mandatory as guaranteed by law in Sec. 28: “… such lump sum representing the responsibility of the national government for the continued growth, operation and maintenance of the national university shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).”

The new charter allows UP to retain its unused income or government subsidy (which before is returned to the national government) for future use. The specific provisions on this (Sections 13 (m) and 28) even allow the BOR to, in the case of funded projects that for reasons beyond its control was not pursued, reprogram budget allocations. There is also a guarantee that funds collected from students for a specific purpose cannot be diverted to other expenditures.

Section 22, on “Land Grants and Other Real Properties of the University”, allows UP to productively use its vast idle assets to generate income that shall be geared towards the academic mission and orientation of the university. Land owned by the UP may be leased to interested tenants for financial returns, but the lands that may be leased exclude those of the academic core zones of the UP campuses.

There is also an entire provision (Sec. 23) that outlines the safety nets for the university’s productive use of idle assets. The outright sale of UP’s lands shall not be allowed, except for the sale of donated property meant to be sold (as indicated by the donor), given to the university after the effectivity of RA 9500. Long-term leases (more than five years) are subject to the protection offered by consultation, careful planning by experts, competitive and public bidding, and the advice (not directive) of an advisory board composed of experts in monetary management. Also, transactions involving more than fifty million pesos in value will require a three-fourths vote of all members of the BOR, and splitting said transactions into smaller amounts to get around this safety net is explicitly forbidden.

A monetary management provision is also in place (Sec. 24). An independent trust committee chaired by the UP President and composed of representatives from the country’s lead finance organizations will be in charge of recommending to the BOR how the university’s money should be managed, with the ultimate goal of securing investment returns for UP’s academic mission.

The New UP Charter also has a provision on tax exemptions for certain aspects of UP’s operations (Sec. 25). In particular, revenues and assets used for educational purposes, gifts and donations (which are now also deductible from the donor’s gross income), and academic awards shall all be tax-free. The importation of books, supplies, materials, computer hardware and software for academic use shall also from now on be customs duty-free. Lastly, the university shall no longer need to pay any value-added tax (VAT) for all transactions subject to VAT.

Lastly, as a gift to UP, government has seen it fit for the law to grant a centennial fund in addition to the regular government subsidy, totaling five hundred million pesos (P500,000,000) to be given to the university as one hundred million pesos (P100,000,000) annually for five years.

Vigilance is Key

As with any law, the New UP Charter will only be in effect after a certain period of its publication in newspapers of general circulation or in The Official Gazette (a government publication). In reality, its full force and effect will only be felt over the span of a few to even more years depending on how easy it is to logistically implement the changes it contains.

It may also be difficult for certain university groups to set aside their political and ideological differences in so far as the New UP Charter is concerned. To the very end of the legislative process, there were groups – individuals even – who went to the extent of getting personal with UP administrative officials just to delay the passage of RA 9500.

Everyone was given a chance to be heard, to speak in Congress, and to demonstrate either support or disdain. The issues have been extensively examined, studied, and even rewritten in some cases. What is more important now is that we all have a new law that is waiting to be implemented. As one university community facing the next one hundred years of UP, it is imperative on us to be vigilant, no matter which side of the UP Charter debate we used to belong to. We must make sure that this new law will work for the good of the university, and in so doing for the good of our nation.

What is a law’s letters’ worth if its spirit is not carried out anyway? We must, therefore, seek to strengthen our beloved UP ourselves, with this New UP Charter as our starting point.

*Albert Domingo belongs to the UP Centennial Medicine Class of 2008. He was Chairperson of the UP Manila University Student Council (USC Manila) in Academic Year 2005-2006, and was the UP Medicine Student Council’s Officer-in-Charge of the New UP Charter Advocacy before and after he became USC Chair. Albert’s passion for the New UP Charter began back in his senior year at UP Diliman’s National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, where an academe-industry partnership he and a classmate initiated between UP Diliman-NIMBB and San Miguel Corporation for their undergraduate theses was inadvertently used, without their consent, as a political issue against the New UP Charter. Since then, Albert has worked through the UP Medicine Student Council, on many occasions attending Congressional hearings as an independent resource speaker for the students. Along with other student leaders, he witnessed the President’s signing into law of RA 9500 at UPVCC last April 29, 2008. He maintains his own website at

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