The Agro-Industrial Economic and Processing Zone now being pushed for funding by the Catanduanes State University needs a private developer partner for the venture to succeed, National Scientist Dr. Emil Q. Javier said last week.
The scientist, who served as the 17th President of the University of the Philippines, made the comment during a face-to-face meeting with CatSU President Dr. Patrick Alaine T. Azanza, top officials of the university as well as students of the College of Agriculture and Fisheries last Aug. 11, 2022.
Dr. Javier was on a private visit to Catanduanes together with UP Los Baños Dean Ma. Stella Tirol of the College of Development Communication and Virma Rea Lee, head of the Extension and Technology Commercialization of the Institute of Plant Breeding.
Lee is currently focusing on the abaca industry, particularly in Catanduanes as the largest producer of abaca fiber not only in the country but in the world, for her master’s thesis.
“The processing zone at CatSU could transform the island within three to five years,” Javier said, but he cautioned that it could take two or three university presidents to achieve it but at least the institution has a goal.
“Mahirap gawin yun,” he stressed, citing his experience with the UPLB export processing zone which he said has never been realized until now.
“I’m happy with what CatSU is doing as it would have a profound influence on the island’s economy,” the National Scientist declared, “Malaking bagay yun but it would take a while.”
“We really need the private sector as the university is subject to the rules and regulations of the Commission on Audit and the Civil Service Commission,” he stated, adding that in UPLB, the university formed a joint venture with a private developer on a 49% to 51% sharing.
He urged Pres. Azanza, who was his executive assistant during his presidency at UP, to follow through with the plan, not just on Power Point.
“The Abaca Technology Innovation Center (ATIC) is a good start, as the initiative should come from the university as far as the abaca industry’s future is concerned,” Dr. Javier commented.
With diseases besetting the industry, he cited UPLB’s efforts to develop a hybrid of disease-resistant varieties that initially met success but produced one with shorter stems which are considered inferior.
“CatSU should continue working with the Institute of Plant Breeding,” he said. “Catanduanes should focus on abaca pulp processing.”
He floated a twinning arrangement between CatSU and UPLB-IPB on a graduate program that would admit students on plant breeding in association with the IPB.
“UPLB is looking to have more impact on the national scene and this could be its platform to do so,” Dr. Javier stressed.
He noted that UP gets 25% of the nation’s budget for higher education but produces only two percent of its graduates.
“Where is the equity in this?” he asked. “What UP can offer, it should be able to offer with other colleges and universities.”
In response to the National Scientists’ comments, Pres. Azanza said he has already talked with the UPLB Chancellor regarding the offering of joint courses, with a team of faculty members set to explore the possibility of inking a memorandum of agreement.
He disclosed that a proposal for CatSU to establish an Open University is now up for approval of the Board of Regents.
On the AIEPZ, Azanza bared that he has already started talks with potential private partners.
He brushed aside criticisms of his paying calls on politicians as he is seeking support for the funding of CatSU’s proposed P1 billion funding for the eco-zone.
“I’m not doing this for popularity but to pull strings for the university, just like what my mentor did through side talks and backdoor negotiations during his time as UP president,” he stressed.
This includes the P50 million allotment for a three-storey Smart Student Center and separate funding for an on-campus housing for the faculty.
On the other hand, he said that a proposed foundation is aimed at setting up fund for the faculty, including the establishment of professiorial chairs that would come with a grant of P50,000 or more.
The president disclosed that he recently signed an agreement with the Thousand Rivers University in Canada in which students will study for two years in the Philippines and two years in Canada.
Also in the pipleline is the offering of new courses like Medicine and Law, double degrees in Midwifery and Nursing, and an MBA together with BS in Entrepreneurship.
“We have to measure up to the expectations of the islanders and the Commission on Higher Education,” Dr. Azanza said.