It’s been a week since the Solemn Eucharistic Celebration and Installation Ceremonies of Rev. Fr. Edwin A. Lao, OP, DBA as UST-Legazpi’s 9th Rector and President. Given the transition, we look closer as to where the University is heading under the leadership and administration of the new Rector and President . . .
*with reports from Emanuel A. Miranda of UST-Legazpi Talastas
The Legazpi Thomasian Community gathered once again last August 22, 2023 to formally witness another historical moment at the University of Santo Tomas-Legazpi – the Installation of Rev. Fr. Edwin A. Lao, OP, DBA, as the University’s 9th Rector and President. Priests from the Dominican Province of the Philippines, distinguished guests from the different stakeholder sectors of the institution, representatives from academic institutions, administrators, supervisors, faculty, support personnel, students, parents, and the new leader’s family and friends came to take part in this momentous occasion.
From Iloilo to Legazpi
Born on June 9, 1956, Fr. Edwin, as he is fondly called, carries the legacy of Pedro Lao Sr. and Lucila Lao.
He started his educational career at Dueñas Elementary School in Iloilo in 1968 to Mary Immaculate Academy in Calinog, Iloilo in 1972. He took his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at the Philippine Dominican Center for Institutional Studies at the Santo Domingo Convent, Quezon City in 1978. He furthered his studies at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila obtaining a Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 1982. In 1996, he finished his Master in Management at the Asian Institute of Management which later led him to complete his Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Santo Tomas-Legazpi in 2023.
Before stepping into his presidency at UST-Legazpi, he served as the Rector and President of Collegio de San Juan de Letran from 1999 to 2007. Leaning more on administration and finance, Fr. Edwin also took the role of Vice-President for Administration and Finance from 2011 to 2023 which showcased his strategic acumen while remaining firmly grounded.
Becoming the 9th Rector and President
Last June 30, 2023, the University’s Board of Trustees convened to elect the new leader of the institution. After a unanimous decision, Fr. Edwin was elected as the 9th Rector and President, confirmed by Rev. Fr. Filemon I. dela Cruz Jr., OP, MA Theo, Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of the Philippines.
An autonomous university with transformative education
The big day started with an exclusive press conference with the University’s media partners. In his opening statement, Rev. Fr. Lao highlighted his utmost intention to connect with the community through the media where he banks his trust in terms of information dissemination in this digital era.
When asked about his visions for global competitiveness, Fr. Edwin said that he sees the institution as a University of transformative education anchored on the thrusts of excellence, innovation, continuous improvement, integrity, good character, and right conduct.
“Transformative education should be systematic and sustainable. Marami na tayong naumpisahan and the challenge now is to sustain,” he added.
As an educational institution, the new leader aims for academic excellence in the University’s programs. He intends for the graduates of UST-Legazpi to be number one in their chosen fields propelled by the quality of education the University has been striving to provide the entire student body.
In terms of competitiveness in the market, the 9th Rector and President bravely stated that he wants the University to be at par with UST-Manila so that the “Bicolanos will get the same kind of education with what UST-Manila offers and spend less on expenses such as boarding and lodging.”
Rev. Fr. Lao also proudly showcased the University’s academic performance from the last decade: Top 7 in the 2012 BAR Examinations, Top 1 and 3 in the 2019 BAR Examinations, Top 6 in the 2023 Medical Technologists Licensure Examination, and just recently, Top 8 in the Psychometrician Licensure Examination.
On the other hand, regarding global ranking, Fr. Edwin blatantly admitted that UST-Legazpi is not yet among the 100 universities in the Philippines. He stated that he is taking this as a challenge to develop further a culture of excellence at all levels which must be facilitated intensely, for continuous improvement.
Apart from enjoining a culture of excellence, the chief official also vies to implement a culture of innovation – an act of adding more value to what has already been done and the things to be done in the future. Thus, developing a road map for UST-Legazpi to be an autonomous university in the near future.
To attain this big goal, the University, according to Rev. Fr. Lao, “needs to be industrious in research, perform well in licensure examinations, come up with a strong roster of faculty, establish centers for development and excellence, and produce strong curricular programs.”
He also calls for strong support from the student body. Fr. Edwin calls for the Legazpi Thomasians “to watch the professors and their performance to get their money’s worth.”
“Each and everyone in the academic community has a role to do in order to get autonomous status,” he continued.
Blessing the new Rector
The University was graced by the presence of the members of the Dominican Province of the Philippines especially during the Solemn Eucharistic Celebration and Installation Ceremonies. The country’s Prior Provincial, Rev. Fr. Filemon I. dela Cruz Jr., OP, led the concelebrated mass together with the other Dominican Fathers, Priests from the Diocese of Legazpi, and other esteemed friars.
In his homily, Rev. Fr. Filemon retold the significance of the Queenship of Mary especially that the Installation Ceremony was slated on the same day.
“Thinking of the significance of this date is beautiful not only that we have a date to remember where Fr. Edwin was installed on this day but moreover, this memorial day is the Queenship of Mary – her coronation as queen of heaven and earth,” he said.
As the University entered another beginning under a new leadership, the Prior Provincial requested the Legazpi Thomasian community to ask God for His blessing.
“Ask the Lord to bless the new Rector as he has chosen a big responsibility. Let us extend our prayers to bless those who will assume new office and ministry in the University. Ask Him to bless the students, those who struggle. Ask the Lord to bless us through the intercession of our mother, the Queen Mary,” Rev. Fr. Filemon said.
Taking his seat on the Queenship of Mary
The significant occasion happened on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, a celebration of great honor and devotion in the Legazpi Thomasian community. Every time the Feast is celebrated it will also be remembered that it was when Rev. Fr. Edwin A. Lao, OP, DBA, took his seat formally as UST-Legazpi’s 9th Rector and President. The said event was also the formal presentation of the new leader of the University to the academic community and to the public signifying the utmost importance of his role in the educational institution.
His predecessor, Rev. Fr. Ernesto M. Arceo, OP, STL, PhD, Prior of the St. Raymond of Peñafort Convent, gave the opening address highlighting the hard work of Fr. Edwin especially his expertise in management and leadership back when he was still the Vice-President for Administration and Finance of the University. His expertise, according to Fr. Arceo, made him more qualified to lead UST-Legazpi toward the achievement of its vision.
“I am very optimistic that Fr. Edwin will do very well to lead UST-Legazpi. All the achievements, developments, and improvements here in the University for the past 12 years have been the handy work of Fr. Edwin. It’s very likely that the University will continue to be developed and improved and eventually attain the vision to be a deregulated University in the future,” Fr. Arceo said as he shared the background of the new rector to the audience.
Rev. Fr. Boyd R. Sulpico, OP, Provincial Syndic of the Dominican Province of the Philippines and member of UST-Legazpi’s Board of Trustees, led the Reaching of the Charge followed by its signing by Rev. Fr. Lao as a symbol of his formal acceptance of the assignment.
Soon after, Fr. Edwin took the Oath of Fidelity and Profession of Faith promising that he would maintain communion with the Catholic Church both in his words and conduct, fulfill his duties bound by the Church, universal and local, and in accordance with the law.
The University Medallion was also imposed on the 9th Rector and President by Rev. Fr. Filemon I. dela Cruz Jr., OP, MA Theo, assisted by Rev. Fr. Ernesto M. Arceo, OP, STL, PhD, Prior of the St. Raymond de Peñafort Convent. The University Medallion symbolizes the mission to join the finite man with love and gratitude to his infinite God. It also represents leadership, and eminent labors and work in different academic fields. It is a symbol of self-sacrificing gifts for society–a mark of virtue and merit, honor, and respect.
Meanwhile, Rev. Fr. Ramiro M. De Belen, OP, Vice-President for Religious Affairs, presented the University Ring. The Ring is an emblem of commitment to the generation and propagation of knowledge which are valuable to the growth and development of the University and to the people, especially the youth of Bicol region upon whose total formation rests, the welfare and well-being of the communities they will soon serve.
The Regional Director of the Commission on Higher Education – Bicol, Atty. Septon A. Dela Cruz, handed over the University Mace to Rev. Fr. Lao. The Mace portrays the authority and leadership of the Rector and President. It proclaims that as a leader of a Dominican University, he has a noble commitment to serve the people of God guided by the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity – bases of the pure Christian life, marked by the Thomasian culture, distinctly Catholic in mandate, Dominican in charism, and Filipino in character.
The 4-point Strategic Administrative Agenda
During his Inaugural Address, Rev. Fr. Edwin A. Lao, OP, DBA, as the 9th Rector and President of UST-Legazpi, laid out his 4-point agenda manifesting his dreams and visions for the University in the coming years: Transformation and Sustainability, Institutional Culture, Continuous Improvement, and Excellence.
Transformation, according to Fr. Edwin, is about embracing changes, innovations, and evolutions altogether. It requires being open to new ideas, experimenting novel approaches to teaching and learning, research, customer service, human capital, and technology-driven processes. He added that the University under his watch will live with change and manage it adeptly and expertly.
“By being creative and forward thinkers and by equipping and empowering ourselves with the right skills and competencies, we ensure that we will remain at the forefront of education – attuned and synchronous,” he said.
Fr. Edwin also introduced the UST-LIC Framework as part of his mission to achieve an institutional culture to propel continuous improvement in the University. The UST-LIC or University of Sto. Tomas-Legazpi Institutional Culture is expected to be the soul and source of every Legazpi Thomasian’s way of thinking and doing.
Under the said framework, “the University is expected to envision a culture of excellence across multiple levels and dimensions; immerse in a culture of continuous improvement, where it is not merely a goal but a way of life, and; consider the culture of innovation, where the boundaries of knowledge are repeatedly pushed, and new frontiers are explored. Putting this together, the University will create an environment that nurtures a hunger for innovation by celebrating achievements and recognizing outstanding performance.”
To achieve the mission to be a University of excellence, Fr. Edwin encouraged the community to observe the culture of integrity, good conduct, and character, where ethical principles and values such as truth and charity are the guiding norms of all endeavors. With this, acting with sincerity, honesty, fairness, and respect becomes second nature to every member of our Legazpi Thomasian community.
“Our Legazpi Thomasian integrity and character become a shining reputation that attracts to our University the best and the brightest, “mahusay, magaling, mabuti””, he added.
“These become symbols of our trustworthiness and reliability, forging strong relationships with every stake and shareholder, enhancing our brand image. By leading and living with integrity and unsullied character, we inspire others to do the same, creating a workplace where ethical behavior is cherished and celebrated,” he continued.
Adding more importance to the event were the felicitations sent by individuals who played a big role in the life of Fr. Edwin and the entire community. Words of salute and praise were sent by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dangupan and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP); Very Rev. Gerard Francisco P. Timoner III, OP, Master of the Order of Preachers, and; Jose A. Lao, brother of Fr. Edwin.
The future of Bicol’s Premier Dominican University
By nurturing the mind, forming the heart, and enriching the spirit, in a life of truth and of love out of gratitude, Fr. Edwin’s leadership will empower members of the Legazpi Thomasian community to be dependable, credible, and veritable agents of transformative education and sustainability. Finally, he is forward-looking to UST-Legazpi as an institution that prepares individuals for the challenges of today as well as of tomorrow.
“Together as one community, we are and will be the guardians of our University’s resources and legacy –- industrious, united, dedicated, and committed. We build a University of Santo Tomas –Legazpi, a premier Dominican University of Bicol, a university of transformative culture and sustainability.”