By L. P. E. De La Rosa
Three and a half kilometers east of Catarman, the capital town of Northern Samar, the University of Eastern Philippines nestles on a reservation of 516 hectares of verdant plains, forested hills, and rice fields along shores awash by the Pacific. The first and oldest university in the Visayas began as the Catarman Farm School (CFS) in September 1918.
The CFS owes its initial nurture to the prominent leaders of the province initiated by governor Clodualdo Lucero and his brother Severino, who was municipal treasurer, followed by the illustrious assemblyman Pedro K. Mendiola of Catarman, representative Agripino Escareal of Bobon and senate president Jose Avelino, Sr. of Calbayog. After being converted into the Catarman National Agricultural High School (CNAHS), destiny continued to work in favor of the CFS. On June 24, 1956, congressman Eladio T. Balite of Bobon authored the bill that then President Ramon Magsaysay signed into law (RA 1434), converting the CNAHS into the Samar Institute of Technology (SIT), the first state college in the Visayas and the fourth technical state college established in the country.
Its first and only president was Lt. Col. Emeterio Asinas of Catubig. Vistages of his era remain in the University chapel and the RAB (ROSALES, ASINAS, BALITE) Amphitheater, UEP’s Center for Culture and Pageantry, hewn from the mountain by every SITean, from the president to the faculty, employees, and students—monuments to his grit and pioneering spirit and the glory that was SIT. On Asinas’ retirement, prof. Toribio G. Sorio of Bobon became the OIC. Another bill by congressman Balite became RA 4126, which elevated SIT into a University.
On Jan. 24, 1966, Dr. Narciso N. Pepito of Cebu assumed office as the first UEP president. After a revamp of the academic organizational setup, he initiated charging tuition by units—P3 per unit, from a flat rate of P10 per semester.
He opened the high performing College Preparatory High School (CPHS), which produced topnotchers in the first and subsequent National College Entrance Examination (NCEE). After president Pepito’s term, UEP’s head executive assistant, lawyer Sergio Gelera of Catarman, became the OIC. He got the titles for the land grants of the provincial government and opened the Graduate School in the first semester of school year 1976-77.
In 1978, Dr. Aurora B. Merida of Bobon, UEP BOR secretary, became the second University president. It was during her time that the Northern Samar Integrated Rural Development Project (NSIRDP) took place. Linkages with outside agencies took the form of allowing hectares of land for these agencies’ use. A Housing Committee was constituted to meet the rising problem of informal settlers. The first lady president represented UEP in the International Association of University Presidents in Costa Rica.
After president Merida, CBA dean Gerardo Delorino became the OIC and made the College of Arts and Sciences a University College, also institutionalizing the departmentalization of programs.
In 1985, Dr. Andres F. Celestino of Nueva Ecija, became the third UEP president. His one consuming passion was real high quality education. Curricular offerings were revised to conform to the requirements of their respective technical panels. He put in place the Institute for Agricultural and Rural Development (IARD) and the NSIRDP-ADAB-funded NORSARC.
At the end of the project, the NSIRDP equipped the University’s Crop and Livestock Diagnostic Laboratory with sophisticated equipment, which were added to the P1.5 million worth of Biology laboratory and scientific equipment purchased by the University. It also turned over its duck dispersal program and the residences of the Australian nationals to the school.
President Celestino’s term ended abruptly when he was gunned down in his office on April 5, 1990. Stunned by the president’s assassination in broad daylight, UEP was gently led out of the gloom by Dr. Leonor A. Ong Sotto, VP for academic affairs, who continued president Celestino’s projects in her characteristic firm manner. The VPAA represented the UEP at its maiden appearance in the Japan Conference of the Association of Asian Agricultural Colleges and Universities (AAACU).
On Nov. 24, 1990, an alumnus from Lavezares Northern Samar, Dr. Pedro D. Destura, assumed the presidency with the battle cry of expanded educational opportunities in a comprehensive University and wider spheres of extension service. His brainchild—the award-winning Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Program for Samar Island (APEPSI)—received initial funding from then Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos. Technology Dissemination Terminals (TDT) were strategically established in the province to help farmers improve their harvest.
With president Destura, the UEP hosted national events, like the national conventions of the ACAP and SUCTEA, the 1998 National Rover Moot, the 1995 National Boy Scouts Executive Board Meeting, and the 1990 Visayas Regional Jamboree.
UEP was chosen as a Learning Center for Distance Education by the UP Open University (UPOU) and the DOST Regional Science Teaching Center (RSTC). Two CHED-supervised institutions, the Laoang National Trade School and the Pedro Rebadulla Memorial College, were added to UEP to become its satellite campuses, now named UEP Laoang and UEP PRMC.
Destura’s term (Nov. 1990 to Feb. 2007), the longest for a UEP executive, is replete with infrastructure projects and buildings, which changed the University’s skyline.
Upon the his retirement, the CHEDRO V chief education program specialist, Dr.Milagros S. Esparrago, was CHED-sent to the University as OIC.
The fifth President of the university, lawyer Mar P. De Asis of Catubig, the second alumnus to occupy the post, was passionate about making his Alma Mater count among the prestigious Philippine Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
With him at the helm, resource generation rose to a fever pitch. The IGP’s, coupled with prudent spending, enabled the school to expand its scholarship program and complete some infrastructure development. He reinvigorated research, which were presented in international forums, earning linkages with ASEAN HEI’s.
The first international seminar held in UEP, the “International Migration and Cultural Adaptation,” was co-sponsored by the University and the Catholic University of Daegu, South Korea.
Extension services focused on literacy, nutrition, local governance, and traffic safety education, among others. The young president also rehabilitated the White Beach, left on the wayside after president Asinas’ term, to make it a flagship IGP. With a freshwater swimming pool and overnight stay facilities, it is the biggest resort in the province in terms of area and the number of guests.
When the second term of president De Asis ended on June 30, 2015, Dr. Baltazar Martires, VP for administration and finance, became the OIC.
One month later, on Aug. 6, 2015, Dr. Rolando A. Delorino, VP for research, extension, and training, assumed office as the sixth UEP President. A native of Catarman, he is the third alumnus to have taken the helm of the UEP. His vision is for the University to be academically competitive, centered on research and development, public-service-driven, and an economically sustainable state HEI.
A scholar, researcher, and author, he has been a recipient of not a few international and national grants. In recognition of his achievements, he was awarded in 1992 as a UEP Distinguished Alumnus in Research, and in 2004 as a UPLB Distinguished Alumnus.
Early on, his mettle as a leader was tested when two typhoons devastated the province. He rose to the challenge in no time, and at present the campus is witnessing a rehabilitation and construction boom.
The past year saw a dramatic rise in the number of faculty actively involved in research, owing to the University’s “One Faculty-One Research” policy in place since school year 2016-17. Similarly, there has been an increase in the University’s intellectual property, with the publication of research outputs in refereed journals.
In 2016, the University was awarded the Center of Development in Literature, and in Environmental Science. Recently, it was named one of the Top Performing State Universities and Colleges by the Accrediting Agency of Chartered Colleges and Universities in the Philippines (AACCUP), ranking eighth among the 111 state higher education institutions.
Within two years of his incumbency as president, the annual budget of the University from the national government ballooned by about P300 million. From its forerunner’s initial operating budget of P15,000 in 1918, the University, a hundred years later, now digs into a P550 million budget providing the necessary resource requirement for the its key programs, projects, and activities.
The aforementioned men and women, who together with other unnamed academic leaders of the very distant past, nurtured the growth and rise of UEP from a farm school to a comprehensive University. Their toil had borne much fruit, the most tangible of which are UEP’s graduates who now occupy positions of responsibility in different parts of the country and around the globe. What the institution is now, after a hundred years, bears the stamp of their handiwork.
History will be the final judge of their deeds.