WITH ALMOST all obstacles cleared, Asia’s oldest University is set to open its first satellite campus soon in Mindanao.

Located at General Santos (GenSan) City and encompassing two barangays (Ligaya and Katangawan), the satellite UST campus will offer programs not available in the main campus, such as marine sciences and agriculture courses, Rector Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, O.P. bared.

“Those programs will really help the area,” he told the Varsitarian in an interview.

Aside from these courses, UST-GenSan will offer Bachelor in Secondary Education (major in English, Math, and Science), Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology, Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy, Bachelor of Science in Accountancy, Bachelor of Science in Entertainment and Multimedia Computing, and Bachelor of Science in Tourism, documents showed.

“The location of UST’s property in General Santos City is an ideal site for the farm laboratories required by programs in Biotechnology, Pharmacy, and Agriculture. Hence, after a year of operation, the University shall offer Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology,” UST lawyer Paterno Esmaquel said in a letter to City Mayor Ronnel Rivera dated July 18, 2013.

“Since the University is seriously pursuing an educational platform focused on science, technology and innovations, we will also offer programs in Engineering (Geodetics, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, and Chemical Engineering),” the letter stated.

At almost 80 hectares in size—four times the size of the Sampaloc campus—the GenSan site will feature a modern architectural design, plans from the Office of the Rector showed.

Like the Sampaloc campus, it will feature a multi-purpose gym, a chapel, and a residence for Dominican friars. These and several other buildings will be designed by UST Facilities Management Office architect Enrique Sta. Maria.

University architects are considering building a replica of the Arch of the Centuries and the Benavides Monument at the GenSan campus.

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“When you enter the University, you will know that you are in a UST campus [even without the UST Main Building],” Sta. Maria said in an interview, adding it would be very tedious and expensive to copy the UST Main Building’s design because of its large scale.

The GenSan campus is expected to be completed in two years, just in time for the first college students out of the K to 12 system in 2016. “Our initial plan was to open senior high school, so that those who enter the grade will automatically be admitted to the General Santos campus,” Dagohoy said.

The initial investment for the construction of the General Santos campus is P200 million, Dagohoy said. For the road network alone, the University has allotted P60 million.

Barangay Ligaya Chairman Romy Pagaduan said UST also has an additional six-hectare property close to the highway, separated from the main site. “UST wanted to be in possession of the highway [property] because the administration wanted to have a road going into UST,” Pagaduan said. “The campus is around one kilometer away from the highway.”

UST GenSan’s first batch of administrators and faculty will come from the main branch in Manila until homegrown experts are developed in GenSan. “[Developing local experts] will take time,” Dagohoy said. “Most definitely, those with specializations and those teaching major subjects [in General Santos] will be from the Manila campus.”

The Manila and GenSan campuses will be under one rector, he said.

Land conversion

UST bought the property in General Santos for P96 million back in 1997. But lack of support from then mayor Adelbert Antonino stalled development. The previous mayor, Darlene Antonino-Custodio, daughter of Antonino, was also said to be opposed to the project, because the land was classified as agricultural. The younger Antonino lost to Rivera in the 2013 elections.

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Because of objections from the previous city administration, the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) July 18, 2008 order that already extended the period of development by five years expired last July 22, 2013. The University is awaiting DAR approval of its request for the further extension of the permit.

Under Rivera, GenSan councilors approved the change in zoning classification of the property to institutional from agricultural through City Ordinance No. 15 series of 2013 on Oct. 8, 2013. They also lifted a longstanding cease and desist order on further improvements issued by the city planning office.

The GenSan City Council imposed two conditions: protection and enhancement of the irrigation canal traversing the school site, and relocation of all tenants and residents occupying the area or any portion thereof.

“After [the land conversion] it will be a full-blown project because everything is ready,” the Rector said.

Councilor Rosalita Nuñez, chairman of the committee on education of the GenSan City Council, said UST had difficulties in land conversion because of the property’s agricultural status. But the city government agreed to rezone the area because of UST’s stated objectives.

“There are exceptions when the purpose would serve a greater purpose than what was intended as an agricultural area,” Nuñez said. “[But] it was really justified because the putting up of an institution there would be of greater benefit to the area.”

Economic benefits

GenSan Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles said the presence of the University would further spur development of the bustling city known as the country’s tuna capital.

“We are in favor of having UST here in General Santos because of the quality education that it will offer,” Nograles said. “For me, academic and economic advantages outweigh ambiguities and technicalities,” he said.

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The local government under Mayor Rivera has prioritized the establishment of the UST campus in General Santos, she said. “Our support is always there. As long as the requirements are fulfilled and the law is followed, there is no problem,” said Nograles.

Residents of General Santos are already anticipating the start of UST’s operations in its first satellite campus since its founding more than 400 years ago.

“Many are excited and [we have people] asking when UST will formally open,” Nograles said. “Usually [parents] have to send their children to Manila, but having UST here instead will make it very accesible.”

Fr. Angelo Vale of the Diocese of Marbel said the Pontifical University will also somewhat change the landscape of General Santos and the wider south-central Mindanao region known as SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos).

“It is really beneficial because it will become an educational hub and culturally, people will be benefitted by the presence of UST,” Vale said.

The Catholic University will also be able to reach out to countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as some students from these fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are already studying in universities in General Santos and in Davao.

Pagaduan, for his part, said having UST in the vicinity would bring in more business establishments and job opportunities.

“This is a big opportunity for Barangay Ligaya as well,” Pagaduan added. “There would be an expected increase in population and that would mean an expansion of Brgy. Ligaya’s area.” Andre Arnold T. Santiago

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