The UP Board of Regents has no clear mechanisms in deciding a chancellor’s third term bid.
Words by Dean Valmeo and Gabriel Dolot
When the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) announced on July 22 that it is opening the search for its next chancellor, many of its constituents were hoping to finally see the end of term for incumbent Chancellor Fernando Sanchez, Jr., who has been the university’s top official since 2014.
For the past six years, his leadership has been marred with controversies and criticisms for his indifference and anti-student policies. Among the most prominent issues of his administration are the disapproval of hundreds of maximum residency rule (MRR) and readmission cases in the university and the failed implementation of the substandard Student Academic Information System (SAIS).
Four years since its implementation, there has been no progress. Every registration period, students still scramble to enlist their subjects. Instead of securing a slot, they are met with a frustrating SAIS experience due to its unresponsiveness and inaccessibility.
So when the controversial Sanchez announced that he is running for another 3-year term, his constituents expressed their strong opposition on social media. The university’s stakeholders even formed a coalition to ensure the end of his leadership and to campaign for a pro-student chancellor.
Sanchez’s critics have also questioned whether the controversial chancellor is still eligible to seek a third term, citing Article 79 of the University Code, which states that deans, directors, including chancellors can serve up to only two terms.
If this is the case, how did Sanchez secure another chancellorship nomination?
Third term precedents
Sanchez’s attempt to seek a third term is not unprecedented. His case is similar to that of the former UP Baguio Chancellor Priscilla Supnet-Macansantos, who was allowed to run for a third term and served as chancellor from 2003 to 2012. She was also the first chancellor of UPB since it was established as an autonomous constituent university of the UP system.
Meanwhile, former UP Diliman Chancellor Emerlinda Roman also served three terms, non-consecutively, from 1991 to 1993 and 1999 to 2005.
As confirmed by the incumbent Student Regent Isaac Punzalan, this is because it is the discretion of the UP Board of Regents (BOR) whether they would allow a chancellor’s bid for a third term.
He also said that based on their latest review, “it is up to the Board to deliberate based on the context and situation whenever a certain selection that warrants for it takes place.”
The caveat is a vague clause
The Perspective looked into two issues published by The UP Gazette to analyze the policies and matters acted upon by the BOR in relation to term limits. These include the publication’s July-September 2005 and 2009 issues.
Based on our findings, it was at the 1200th meeting held on September 22, 2005, that the BOR adopted a policy that would limit the term of office of all chancellors, deans, and directors of the university to a maximum of only two terms.
The UP Gazette wrote that the clause stating, “Provided, further, that only in highly exceptional cases shall they [chancellors, deans, and directors] be allowed an additional term or terms,” was deleted by the BOR, amending Article 79 of the University Code.
However, the Board took a step back.
The highest governing body in the UP system chose to reconsider its earlier decision to delete such provision. BOR agreed that including the clause ‘only in highly exceptional cases’ will give them the “leeway” on future decisions.
The clause “as determined by the Board of Regents” was also added.
Article 79, as agreed by the BOR, now read as follows:
“The term of office of all deans and directors or heads of degree granting schools and institutes and that of directors of non-degree granting units, university departments, college programs shall be three years from the date of their appointment without prejudice to reappointment and until their successors shall have been appointed; Provided, that deans and directors may serve for two terms in the aggregate; Provided, further, that only in highly exceptional cases as determined by the Board of Regents, shall they be allowed an additional term or terms.”
This rule, which was also adopted for chancellors, would soon legitimize the third term campaign of Sanchez.
But what exactly are the ‘highly exceptional cases’?
Interestingly, the BOR did not specify what are the ‘highly exceptional cases’ and said that it could arbitrarily decide whether to allow a third term nomination.
In fact, when Judy Taguiwalo, then-Faculty Regent, inquired at the 1248th meeting on August 28, 2009, saying “when do we say a case is highly exceptional?” then-UP President Roman said that it would be “difficult” to enumerate what are exceptional cases to allow an official seeking a third term.
“Each case might be a unique one. In one case, exceptional might mean there is no other candidate. In another case, exceptional might mean truly exceptional performance. Or, it could mean, the other nominee has no supporter at all,” the UP Gazette wrote, indirectly quoting Roman.
But then-Staff Regent Clodualdo Cabrera raised to the BOR that they should discuss what exactly would warrant a third term citing possible harms: “There is the danger of him/her building up his/her kingdom and deviating from the mission of the institution. No matter how good the leader is…he/she should not stay long in office unless there is no one else who would replace him/her.”
Former UP President Alfredo Pascual, who was also a regent at that time, affirmed that the “enumeration of criteria” would tie their hands saying that the Board should not “be limited to a checklist.”
Roman added that it is a “general rule” for chancellors to keep in mind that they should serve for only two terms. She also rehashed that the recommendation of a third term would only be for “very exceptional cases.”
Meanwhile, Regent Nelia Gonzales said that “There should be no doubt on the ability of each Regent to decide on specific cases. They know what exceptional cases mean. They know who has rendered exceptional performance.”
However, as was pointed out by the sectoral regents, the vagueness of so-called ‘exceptional cases’ are prone to abuse. Then-Student Regent Charisse Bernadine Bañez also reminded the BOR that “exceptional cases should not be a convenient excuse for those who aspire for a third term.”
Despite the skepticism of the sectoral regents, the Board upheld the decision.
This means that up to this day, there are no clear mechanisms for the BOR to define what are these ‘exceptional cases.’ Interestingly, this vague clause from 2005 secured top officials like Sanchez a ticket to extend their leadership.
The university’s constituents have yet to demand the incumbent BOR to reevaluate the nearly 15-year-old decision — which is a possibly ‘dangerous’ clause that could be weaponized by bad actors for personal gains like retaining power in the university.
The BOR is set to vote on who will be the next UPLB Chancellor on September 24. As thousands of UPLB Iskolars seek a pro-student administration, they could only hope for the best, as it would be in the hands of the UP’s highest governing body to decide whether Sanchez is still fit to lead the university for three more years. [P]
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