Brief History of Aquinas University of Legazpi
Legazpi Junior Colleges, the forerunner of Aquinas University of Legazpi, was founded on June 8, 1948. Its founder, a Basque, Don Buenaventura de Erquiaga (April 24, 1896-October 22, 1959), established the institution as an expression of his gratitude to the place and the people who generously “built” him up. From the onset till 1965, the Don Buenaventura was assisted by a succession of Presidents: Ramon C. Fernandez (1948-1957) and Bienvenido N. Santos (1957-1958); then after his death, by Margarito M. Delgado (ca. 1961-1963), and Dr. Manuel Lacuesta (ca. 1963-1965).
In 1952, its name was changed to Legazpi College. The educational institution had grown by leaps and bounds, and offered elementary, secondary, vocational, tertiary and graduate curricula. Its science laboratory was considered as one of the best in the entire Bikol Region. An Institute of Research was founded to conduct experiments on local plants’ problems and the possibilities of developing local resources particularly the coconut and abaca products for industrial use. In the decades to come, these pioneering research efforts would move into production.
Metamorphosis, though without an equivalent term in Bikol, best described this period of change. On July 1, 1965, the administration of Legazpi College was passed on to the Dominican Fathers. Rev. Fr. Ramon C. Salinas, O.P., became the College’s first Rector. Classrooms and library space were increased to meet the needs of a growing population: enrollment in the College of Business Administration increased by 20 percent; Education by 27 percent; and Engineering by 18 percent. In 1967, the College of Nursing was opened. The increase in enrollment could be attributed to the Bikolanos’ clamor for a Dominican brand of education. On March 7, 1966, the College Administrators, local and regional luminaries and guests witnessed the laying of the cornerstone of Legazpi College’s first building in an expansive 32 hectare site in Rawis, some two kilometers from the old campus at the Legazpi Port District. By 1968 three new buildings were completed.
This is the period of rapid increase in the number of enrollees, new course offerings, sprouting of new buildings in an new expansive campus, capped by the elevation of status of the college to full-fledged university, the first catholic educational institution to earn the status this part of Luzon. On March 8, 1968, the Secretary of Education, Hon. Carlos P. Romulo, elevated the college to the status of a University. On August 30, 1968, Hon. Onofre D. Corpus, acting Secretary of Education, signed the University Charter. Legazpi College became known as Aquinas University of Legazpi. The investiture of the first Rector and President of the new University, Father Salinas, was held on February 3, 1969, amidst pageantry and color, attended by local, national, and foreign dignitaries. Father Salinas was Rector of Legazpi College from 1965 until the college was elevated to University status. Six Rectors and Presidents succeeded him: Rev. Fr. Dr. Manuel T. Piñon, O.P. (1978-1984); Rev. Fr. Dr. Pedro V. Salgado, O.P. (1985-1988); Rev. Fr. Dr. Patricio A. Apa, O.P. (1988-1992); Rev. Fr. Dr. Orlando C. Aceron, O.P. (1992-1995); Rev. Fr. Dr. Virgilio A. Ojoy, O.P. (1995-1999); and Rev. Fr. Dr. Ramonclaro G. Mendez, O.P. (1999-2011, three terms).
The University soon earned the recognition as the center of learning in Southern Luzon, chosen as one of the five Regional Science Teaching Centers in the Philippines by the Science Education Program of the Philippines with the assistance of the National Science Development Board, the UNICEF, and the Science Education Center of the University of the Philippines.
The Aquinas University Bureau of Small Scale Industries opened in 1973 the short-term, non-degree ladder-type course on Abacacraft Technology and Management. The course is offered to train selected out-of-school youth the necessary skills for the handicraft industry in the Bikol Region. The Bureau reopened on February 5, 1977 at the Plaza Arcade building in Peñaranda St., Legazpi City. The objectives of the new office are the following: to offer short-term non-degree – ladder type courses on abacacraft management and technology and also mini courses on general management with emphasis on small-scale industries; to engage in the manufacture, purchase and marketing of fiber-craft products; to provide advisory services to those interested in putting up a small-scale handicraft business; and to conduct continuing research studies for small-scale handicraft owners in order to assist them minimize their problems on the operational activities of their business.
In 1975, Aquinas University acquired Legazpi Medical Center. With this acquisition, the Legazpi Medical Center became an integral part of the Aquinas University system. The name of the medical center was changed to Aquinas University Hospital.
Aquinas University became admitted to numerous national and international federations of colleges and universities such as the Philippine Association of Graduate Education, Association of Catholic Universities of the Philippines (ACUP), Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), and the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU). The University is also a member of the International Council of the Universities of St. Thomas Aquinas (ICUSTA); the Association of Southeast and East Asian Catholic Colleges and Universities (ASEACCU).
The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) named the University as one of the country’s Center of Excellence in Teacher Education in 1996.
Building on the foundations of his competent predecessors, Fr. Mendez has brought the University on an even more solid footing, able to sustain its development in the most challenging and in the best of times. Aquinians, like the people of Albay and Bikol, are tempered by the climate and the environment. Natural calamities are common occurrences in this part of the Philippines. The University’s students, teachers, employees, and administrators extended help as volunteers during emergencies wrought by the periodic eruption of Mayon (1968, 1978, 1984, 1993, 1999-2001, and 2006), and recurrent typhoons, the most destructive of which occurred in 1952 (Trix), 1970 (Sening or Joan), 1987 (Sisang or Nina), and 2006 (Reming or Durian). When their help are needed, Aquinian volunteers rise up to reach out and provide first aid, distribute relief goods, provide comfort, and light up hope especially to the unserved and the underserved in far flung areas of the province. This advocacy for the marginalized has brought the University to the very doorsteps of those that need the most—Aquinians built typhoon-proof public school classrooms, surveyed water resources, fabricated low-cost water filters, immersed in rural villages, and conceptualized a community college to help youth who cannot afford private education acquire livelihood skills.
While the administration of Fr. Salinas saw the laying of cornerstones of the three main buildings in the Rawis Campus, the term of Fr. Mendez witnessed the decades old dreams fulfilled: a permanent convent for the St. Raymund of Pennafort, the imposing AQ Chapel, and the cavernous AQ Dome. The Daragang Magayon Hall was transferred to a more spacious, this time air-conditioned, venue. Classrooms were added and laboratories were upgraded. Engineering, Architecture, and Fine Arts classes are now held in a new building, the two-storey Fra Angelico. Since its acquisition in 1975, the Aquinas University Hospital has served as the base hospital of the University’s college of Nursing, the recent vertical expansion of which altered the skyline of the Albay District and provided the most up-to-date holistic care to its patients. With a tastefully designed and executed facelift, the façade of the Professional Schools building along Peñaranda Street now provides a welcome addition to the revitalization of the City’s downtown area.
Despite severe damage Reming wrought to its physical plant facilities, the University, like the Phoenix, rose from the ruins. The former Science High School main building has never been as presentable as it is today. The three main buildings, St. Thomas, St. Dominic, and St. Albert now boast a fresh coat of paint. Renovations and upgrading of other buildings, e.g., the former COCOFED buildings, are gradually carried out. Now, the campuses once again epitomize the cool, neat home that is Aquinas University of Legazpi. As a dynamic center of learning, the University continuously endeavors and proactively adapts measures to meet the growing challenges of the globalization of education. Aquinas University Integrated Schools or AQUI (secondary level) has two curricula, one for Science High School, and the other for the Special Program in the Arts. The University’s Professional Schools comprise the College of Law, Graduate School, and the Center for Continuing Education. The College of Business Administration; College of Arts, Sciences and Education; Polytechnic Institute (Engineering, Architecture and Fine Arts); and College of Nursing and Health Sciences comprise the University’s tertiary level.
The University considers its human resources its most important asset. At the forefront are highly motivated teachers and instructors, many of whom pursue graduate and post-graduate education prompted by an aggressive faculty development program. The AQ Labor Management Council has been a national finalist in the 2005 Search for Outstanding LMC for Industrial Peace, reflecting the harmonious labor-management relations in the University.
The humble objectives of the Institute of Research during the Legazpi College years have been surpassed many times over by its successors. Established in 2002, the Aquinas University Foundation, Inc. (AQFI) has incubated various sustainable enterprises growing and producing indigenous and environment-friendly products, in the process helping reach out and bring employment to otherwise idle hands used to years of seasonal jobs in the rural areas. The AQFI now has about 300 hectares devoted to reestablishing abaca as a top grosser for Albay and Bikol. The AQFI has also invested in coconut coir production and a system of deriving income from initiated and supported cooperative projects.
Aquinas University of Legazpi is now not merely confined to the boundaries of its campuses in Rawis and Legazpi Port District and environs. During the term of the incumbent Rector and President, the University has acquired properties to serve its institutional, educational, and development thrusts. “Bahay ni Kuya” in Albay District is now a Life Coaching and Wellness Center which is a timely response to the periodic calamities that visit the Region. The Kyama Building near the downtown district now houses the AQ Pharmacy, a ‘botika ng bayan’ that dispenses low cost medicine. The Kyama Building also hosts the AQFI. The Holy Trinity Convent in Sunrise Subdivision houses the Dominican Sisters. The “Bahay ni Julius” in Tagontong, Taysan is being developed for future use. Estates in Banquerohan and Anislag are in the acquisition stage. The AQFI has earmarked these estates as relocation sites for some 800 to 900 families displaced by super typhoon Reming. The University has even reached the southern shores of Mindanao, with a farm in Tagum City and a house in Bajada, Davao City.
With the student and faculty exchange program now in the offing, the University is now on the verge of breaching international boundaries.
Culture and the arts are cultivated since the inception of the University; in fact, one of Legazpi College’s presidents was a writer of national and international renown. Of late, the promotion of the rich culture of Albay has found new impetus. Rokyaw as an annual cultural event has been recognized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Home-grown stage production Kantada ni Daragang Magayon has toured the country.
The University’s roster of alumni include respectable caretakers of positions and responsibilities in different disciplines—Accountancy, Architecture, Culture and the Arts, Economics, Education, Engineering, Public Administration, Law, and Nursing—many have traveled across the seas to affirm their self-worth. Youth from as far as Mindanao and the Visayas, and as it were, as near as Masbate, Sorsogon, Catanduanes, and the Camarines provinces others nearby, come to Aquinas University of Legazpi for their secondary, tertiary, graduate, and post-graduate education. Some became writers and artists, university presidents, captains of commerce and industry, and government officials. For 60 years now, Aquinas University of Legazpi has helped the youth and the young professionals of Bikol realize their full potential to soar high and soar beyond. It has been 60 years of grateful passion and devotion to a true and loving life.
In the next ten years, Aquinas University of Legazpi will be a sanctuary of development which is dynamic, connecting, nurturing, and evangelizing, marked by a tradition of excellence and innovation, cultural transformation, transformative education, and organizational effectiveness, reflective of our Aquinian context and that of the borderless world through a committed, competent, and creative teaching and learning community.
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