Now that the controversy over the decision by the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) Board of Regents to award President Rodrigo Duterte an honorary degree, Honoris Causa (which he has declined), has fizzled out, let’s focus our attention on an another honorary degree, gladly accepted by Vice President Leni Robredo.
Robredo received an honorary doctorate degree in Humanities from the University of Saint Anthony in Iriga City, Camarines Sur last April 19.
Unlike those who opposed Duterte’s honorary degree, we’re not going to argue the merit of the award to Robredo. Rather, we have some ethical questions that we hope the university can answer.
- The University of Saint Anthony is headed by its president, lawyer Santiago D. Ortega, Jr. (his father Santiago, Sr. founded the school), the same person who was among the top contributors to the senatorial campaign of Leila de Lima. He contributed to the tune of Five Million Pesos.
- Aren’t schools and universities supposed to be non-partisan especially if they are tax-exempt?
- Even assuming that the P5M was a personal contribution by Ortega, isn’t his political donation subject to the perception of a conflict of interest? As people say, “perception is reality.” The repercussions are worse if school funds were used for the contribution.
- I had assumed that Saint Anthony was a Catholic or religious university which would have begged the question about separation of Church and State. But the school’s website states that it is “non-sectarian,” so we’ll leave it at that.
- Again, as part of perception, what does Ortega or his university expect in return?
- Now that the university has honored the Vice President with an honorary degree — deservingly or not — the same question can be asked about what’s in it for the institution or its president?
- Lastly, was the Vice President — herself a lawyer — aware of the political dealings by the university? If so, did she ignore the ethical issues because she needed to beef up her resume?
Surely, it is none of our business what a private institution decides to do. But when ethical issues come into play, including a possible violation of its non-profit status, then Ortega and the university may need to do some explaining, especially to its paying students and their families, as well as members of the school’s administration and faculty.
It is not only Ortega’s personal reputation that’s at stake.
Being a lawyer, he should be able to easily answer these questions. He owes it to his institution.