Dr. Amabel Liao, the fourth President of Western Philippines University (WPU), spoke on the spirit of the college during the celebration of the university’ 114th Foundation and 20th University Day this Thursday, the first event in a four-day long celebration of WPU’s students, faculty, and alumni.

Established on February 28, 1910, WPU celebrated this year’s foundation day event a day later in order for a series of university-related events to be done in successive days. This included a Faculty, Alumni, Non-Teaching Personnel, & Students Day on March 1, a grand alumni homecoming event on March 2, a rodeo show, and a barn dance on March 4, to end with a Faculty and Staff Night to celebrate University Day on March 5.

Liao, who was sworn into her position on February 26, encouraged the community to share in the university’s festivities, one way of which was to invite high school students from public schools in Aborlan to compete in a drum and lyre competition, a street dance/hip-hop competition, and a Battle of the Bands.

During the opening program, Liao referred to her new position as a way of coming back home and paying homage to her roots. Her grandfathers on both sides were involved with the WPU as a former principal and farm manager in the 1950s, when the university was still known as Aborlan Agricultural High School.

“I am more honored to have lived and breathed with them in the peaceful and close-knit community of Aborlan and to be able to call them family and friends. (…) I have equipped myself with technical and management expertise wrought from rigid education, training, and experience. These have given me the confidence that I will be able to continue what the great leaders of this institution have set out to do,” she said.

Revitalizing the institution

A former Vice President of Finance and Administration at Palawan State University, Liao wanted to ensure that the resources WPU provided were of great quality. This meant collaboration with external stakeholders, and other regional and international work to bolster WPU’s research and educational services.

“We have a 72% licensure passing for the recent mechanical engineering exams, that’s way above the national passing. I saw how difficult it was for the students here, yung kanilang mga teachers nahihirapan. They’re overloaded or delayed ang sweldo ang facilities hindi masyadong naipo-provide, hindi sila nabibigyan incentives for skills or scholarships. And yet, ganito ang accomplishments,” she said.

“I will make sure to deload those teachers and that the students will have a better time studying maka-access sila lahat ng support para makaaral sila. Kung hirap na hirap sila ngayon, pero ganito ang kanilang achievement, what more kapag pinagaan natin ang buhay nila?” Liao said.

Liao was also inspired by how openly accepting the community was of the change in administration. Though she was due for a few more courtesy visits this March, there were already parents and representatives from local government units and non-government organizations who came forward with their messages of support to the new administration.

Her time as the former Vice President of Finance and Administration for Palawan State University instilled in her a sense of involving the educational institution in socio-economic programs, to provide a healthy and direct connection of the students and faculty to the local economy.

“I am a finance person; I have a degree in economics (…) ito talaga yung forte ko. Fortunately, yung parts na medyo need improvement in WPU are also in finance and administration. They have the resources, they have many strengths, they just need to harness them well to propel the university,” Liao said.

Research into produce and other fields of environmental study will also be highlighted under Liao’s administration, as aside from revitalizing the lands unused by WPU into local research facilities, Liao’s goal for WPU is to get international accreditation and establish the first School of Oceanography in the country.

WPU as a sleeping giant

Liao’s main plans for this quarter were to bolster the WPU main and external campuses and integrate into them specialties suited to their local environment. This was both to maximize the use of their local resources, and to delegate managerial tasks so as to prevent faculty and staff from being overwhelmed and overloaded with work.

“For example, the logistics of ICT is really more nasa urban center sa Puerto Princesa, so doon natin ilalagay yung puso ng OCT para kung malakas ang generation natin mas Madali siyang makakapagdistribute sa mga satellite. (…) Our El Nido campus, their strength is tourism, so the whole [WPU body] is looking for them towards development also,” Liao noted, adding that the main campus has ties with the Department of Agriculture.

Using the Puerto Princesa City campus’ College of Fisheries standard as a Center of Excellence, Liao said that focusing on these specific skills on one campus would contribute to the development of the entire institution, instead of generalizing them towards one goal.

Although she has big plans lined up for regional and international partnerships for WPU, for now Liao will spend the next few days getting to know the students, faculty, and stakeholders that make up WPU to fully hear out their concerns.

“For this year, I realize we will not be able to help the community and make a difference outside of the university if yung university mismo ay hirap pa. For now, kailangan muna nating gawing happy ang lahat ng tao sa university. (…) Kapag organized na sila, then they will be willing to go,” Liao said.

“Papabangunin muna natin sila, at kapag ready na sila sila na mismo ang kukusa at lalabas sa mundo. We cannot go out into the world if we are not able to help ourselves.”