Photos courtesy of Enrique “Buko” dela Cruz Jr.ENRIQUE dela Cruz Jr. had a “loaded” relationship with the University of Santo Tomas—he was a full scholar, part of the debate team, and an official of the Arts and Letters Student Council.

But in between his duties to the Artlet student body and years of training to develop structured arguments, this scholar made sure that he had his daily two-hour date with his textbooks and class notes. He knew he was still—and foremost—a student.

“It was just a matter of personal discipline,” he said. “We go to school every day. Everything else is secondary.”

Known as “Buko” after giving away buko juice during a student council election campaign, the man who has become of this international debater is now a partner at the Ponce Enrile Reyes and Manalastas Law Offices, a part-time professor in the Faculty of Arts and Letters, a former three-term councilor of Baliuag, Bulacan and now a newly-elected board member of the province.

And the 2001 Young Outstanding Thomasian Achiever, only in his 30s, is determined not to stop at that. Buko is still to impart his leadership skills by serving his townsfolk by offering free legal consultations among the locals of Baliuag.

Taking the path

The door of opportunity to study at UST opened for Buko when he joined in an extemporaneous speech in high school, where Rev. Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, O.P., then UST rector, took part as a juror.

Buko’s gift of gab turned out to be his saving grace, as the Rector offered him a timely and much-needed scholarship which he readily accepted. His father, Enrique Sr., is a mechanical engineer by profession who was forced to take the job of a jeepney driver after he got sick. His mother, Isadora, suffered from a stroke and sold lutong ulam to augment the family income.

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It did not take long for Buko to bounce back, as he secured himself a scholarship after he took the screening tests in UST.

Though he admitted that he wanted to take up Physical Therapy to pursue his dream to become a doctor, he still decided to take up Legal Management because it was what he really wanted since he was young. This sudden change of mind became his stepping stone to the Faculty of Civil Law after he graduated in 1996. He emerged third in class when he finished law in 2000.

“For once, I wished to be a doctor because my parents then got sick, but I always knew I was meant for law school,” he shared.

But Buko’s duties as a Thomasian did not end by hitting the library and doing well in class. He was also politically involved in his home faculty, where he was elected president of the Freshmen Society. He was also elected as public relations officer, vice president, and president of the Artlets Student Council during his second, third, and fourth year, respectively.

With his public speaking skills as his passport to UST, nights of honing his debate skills eventually paid off for Buko. He was able to lead the University to three consecutive national championships at the Association of Law Students of the Philippines Conflicts of Law Debate Tournament.

He was also named Best Speaker at the fourth All-Asian Intervarsity Debate Tournament in Singapore, where he led UST to a gold medal in 1997. Two years later, he led the Philippine Law Debate Team in advancing to the ASEAN Law Debate Championship in Indonesia.

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During the late Pope John Paul II’s Manila visit in 1995, Buko was the AB student council’s second highest leader. The Arts and Letters’ centenary followed the next year, sending Buko, then a senior and the president of the Artlets student council, out like a spinning top.

While the events were an overall success, Buko regretted not being able to meet the Holy Father despite the fact that his father had something to do with the big event. He just had to take comfort in the fact that his father used to work for Francisco Motors, which designed and built the Pope’s mobile.

Thomasian ‘baptism’

But what Buko considers as one of his best memories in college lie not in the big moments attached to his string of achievements, but in the humbling flood that never failed to evade the España-based institution.

“I couldn’t forget this instance when the University was flooded and the first floor of the building were underwater. We had to get food from Jollibee while riding on a small wooden boat. Then, we had to pass through the windows just to deliver the food to the students who were stranded along with us,” he recalled.

For the Outstanding Young Leaders of the Philippines awardee, college was made fun by widening his horizons and making friends. He also advised students to invest in their interests and engage themselves in extra-curricular activities where their interests best fit.

“You can’t spend your college life in your own little hole, you have to be a part of the community,” he said.

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Buko benefited much from his college experience and uses it well through a well-paying job that keeps him busy. But he still keeps his ties with the University by teaching part-time at the Faculty of Arts and Letters, where he tells his students that while it is important to prioritize academics, success in school is not measured by grades.

“At the end of the day, it’s not actually how many medals you’ve earned. Experience is still the best standard,” he said. Margaret Rose B. Maranan

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