At the end of the interview, Atty. Roberto M. Lara, Secretary of the University and of the Board of Regents (OSU), announced: “Ako ang pinaka-gwapong naging Secretary ng UP.”
After a beat of silence, he reconsidered what he had said, “Sabagay, patay na yata lahat ng naging lalaking Secretary of the University, ano?”
Thus, because none of the male University Secretaries in the past are still alive to possibly protest, he jokingly declared once again: “Ako ang pinaka-gwapong Secretary ng UP!”
Simply no place like (UP College) Manila
A few minutes into the interview and already one gets the feeling that conversations with Sec. Lara are rarely boring. A proud UP graduate, he earned his degree in Bachelor of Arts in Social Science in 1982 from UP Manila (UPM). Back then, it was the UP College Manila, when it was still under UP Diliman before becoming an autonomous university.
“If you are a working student, you inevitably ended up in UP College Manila, kasi Manila lang ang may evening classes and I was a working student,” recalled Lara, who worked as a clerk at the Department of Justice, “Clerk 1, which is I think one rank higher than the janitor,” he said. Most of the students in UPM at the time were freshmen and sophomores, at least until 5:30 PM, when classes for working students in their third and fourth year in college began.
“Masaya Manila noon!” enthused Lara, whose fondest memories of his undergrad days tend to range from PG-13 to R-18. For instance, there were the White House and the Doctor’s Club, which had to have the stuffiest establishment names ever, but which were actually popular watering holes frequented by UP students for the cheap beer they sold. And of course, right outside the campus was Mabini Street which, Lara pointed out, was already the lively Mabini Street even back then.
He experienced both the UP Manila and UP Diliman of the 70s and 80s, having earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the College of Law in 1987. He was admitted to the Bar a year later, and went on to earn his Masters of Law degree in Commercial Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1999.
Over the years, he worked in various government agencies, including as Senior Technical Assistant to then Senator Rene A.V. Saguisag, and as Chief of Staff of former BIR Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato. He left government service in 1998 and went into private law practice until February 2017, when then UP President Danilo Concepcion appointed him Secretary of the University and the Board of Regents.
“Of course, I am very proud to carry the mace. Siempre, you’re carrying the symbol of the authority of the University.” – Lara
Serving six years and six years more
When current UP President Angelo Jimenez asked him to continue on as University Secretary for another six years, Lara agreed. “It wasn’t a difficult decision. I had known the new President because he had been a member of the BOR for some time. Of course, I would like to help him.”
Still, he first needed to secure his boss’ permission. Wait, his boss?
“My wife,” Lara said, laughing. And what did his boss say? “She wasn’t thrilled, let’s put it that way. But of course, she said yes.”
What does Lara envision for the OSU in the next six years? “Well, I do not know how the OSU can further evolve from what it’s been doing. It is doing what it is supposed to be doing. If anything, it’s a matter of getting the right people, which I think to a large extent we have addressed in the past six years.”
Improving the OSU’s human resources is foremost, and gains have already made in this area. “We hired some very good people. We had them take exams—all of them, even our driver. And we got the best from among the candidates. I believe that we have a very good team already.”
“Basically, my goal for the OSU is that it should be able to operate without a Secretary,” Lara shared. “Meaning even if the Secretary is away, it would still be able to perform its functions. The OSU should make the Secretary redundant.”
Of mace and men
His experience as a lawyer serves him well in his role as University Secretary. “The work of the University Secretary is basically the same as that of a corporate secretary, so it’s not anything new to me. I think most lawyers, some time in their career, would have performed the duties of a corporate secretary or done something in relation to that kind of practice.”
The role of University Secretary is not easy. Even during the interview, Lara was fielding calls and preparing for yet another meeting. But when asked what the most challenging thing was about being University Secretary, his answer was both unexpected and obvious, in hindsight.
“The most challenging thing is carrying the mace,” he said, an answer which had the UP Forum staff trying hard to stifle their laughter. He said that was not even to mention having to attend all those formal University ceremonies, which could get tedious, especially when the ceremony was being held outdoors and one was sweating bullets inside that heavy gown.
“Of course, I am very proud to carry the mace,” Lara said with a smile. “Siempre, you’re carrying the symbol of the authority of the University.”
And while the title of hottest male University Secretary may be up for debate, Lara may easily be the coolest.