“We better assume a new role, aside from the traditional role…. This time, we should also provide legal assistance to those who engage the communities.” – Acosta
Atty. Abraham Rey M. Acosta, UP’s Vice President for Legal Affairs, envisions his office to serve a more dynamic role during the Presidency of Atty. Angelo Jimenez, to be “lawyers for the people and not just lawyers for the UP administration,” since UP, under Republic Act 9500 or the UP Charter, is mandated to be a public service university.
The Office of the Vice President for Legal Affairs (OVPLA) provides timely and expert legal advice, guidance, and support to UP officials, to facilitate the University’s pursuit of its mission of teaching, research, and service. It also handles administrative cases, student disciplinary tribunal cases, cases involving UP properties, and contracts being entered into by UP, among others.
“One of the priorities of the current administration is engagement with the public. We show the nation what UP really is, who we truly are, and that engagement will also require legal support,” Acosta said. He explained that UP’s students, researchers, staff, and teachers doing field work, advocacy and volunteer work, and other University-linked activities in various communities and sectors of society, often encounter situations that require legal assistance. However, when problems occur, like harassment or arrests, students and faculty members immediately contact public interest lawyers’ groups for help and not UP’s own lawyers.
“We better assume a new role, aside from the traditional role…. This time, we should also provide legal assistance to those who engage the communities,” Acosta further stated.
Prior to his appointment as VP for Legal Affairs, Atty. Acosta practiced law in Cebu, taking on dispute resolution, patent drafting, prosecution and litigation, and corporate registrations and housekeeping. He served as Municipal Administrator in Compostela, Cebu (2022-2023), as Partner in A Acosta & Associates Law Offices (since 2014), and as Associate in Quisumbing Torres (2011-2014) and Sycip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan. He also served as Director of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter (2021-2023), and as Co-Chair of the IBP Cebu City Legal Aid Committee, which handles developmental legal aid, volunteer legal aid caravans, and jail decongestion, among others.
Atty. Acosta has also been teaching Criminal Law as Senior Lecturer in the UP College of Law since 2020. His advice to students: study hard but also do volunteer work, and enjoy UP.
“Enjoy UP! UP has a lot of things to offer, especially if you live on campus. Even if you don’t live on campus, ang daming pwedeng gawin, pwedeng maaral,” he said.
“Go near the College of Music and you will hear wonderful music. Go to the College of Science, you will see lots of lectures, in the College of Engineering… [attend] free public lectures. Ang daming pwedeng matutunan ng UP students, kaya nga don’t just stay in your classroom. Lumabas din, kahit within UP lang.”
“And if possible, volunteer outside UP. Because even as a UP student, meron na tayong responsibilidad sa bayan natin. Bayad yung tuition natin ng sambayanan eh, kaya kahit konti naman maybe we can volunteer our time. Kahit yung mga reading initiatives sa mga public libraries, teaching kids how to read, or tumulong sa mga barangay natin, to show that, us being UP students, this is what UP students are like. Engage the community. Volunteer. Yun yung gusto kong sabihin sa mga students natin,” Acosta exhorted.
VP Acosta was a dormer, student council member, and campus journalist during his undergraduate years in UP Diliman. He was editor-in-chief of the Logscript, the official student publication of the College of Engineering. Elected Councilor in 1995, he headed the Community Rights and Welfare Committee of the University Student Council (USC). He joined the news section of the Philippine Collegian after his term in the USC. Molave Residence Hall was his “home away from home” for four years.
At the Molave Residence Hall today, VP Acosta reminisced about what college life was for him and fellow dormers as he took the UP Forum staff on a nostalgic tour of the dormitory. The 1990s was an era that did not have the e-mails, cellular phones and social media that we have today. Long-distance communications were limited to telegrams, telephones and snail mail; and students lined up at the public payphones in the dorm lobby and paid in one peso coins to be able to speak with their relatives and friends. Students used to rally against tuition and other fees related to education, inadequate dorm facilities, food services, and administration policies. The entry of private concessionaires and corporations, University budget cuts, and the commercialization of UP’s idle assets (vacant areas of land, among others) were among the biggest issues faced by University constituents.
“Dito ako namulat to a lot of things,” says VP Acosta about his stay in Molave. He recalled times when peers would be in the dorm lobby even at midnight, and pointed to the old spots where they would usually hang around to talk about campus life or simply do ordinary things. He showed the now renovated areas where the dorm’s dining hall was before; the area beside the windows where they watched their favorite television programs such as “The X-Files” and “Friends”; the second floor where they set up the betamax to view rented movies; the steel stairway that was previously made of thin wood; and, the mezzanine room where he stayed as a senior dormer until his graduation from the UP College of Engineering.
“A lot of things were cooked up on these tables [pointing to where wooden tables were back then]… This was my room before. Ang daming mga student leaders who had their rooms here in the mezzanine. And in the mornings, we could see everybody taking their breakfast,” VP Acosta reminisces.
“Tingnan natin kung nasaan talaga yung strength ng University. Our strength lies in our purpose. We are an academic institution geared towards helping to uplift the Filipino people.” – Acosta
VP Acosta obtained his degree in BS Electronics and Communications Engineering in 1999. Some years later, he graduated from the UP College of Law in 2006 and was admitted to the Bar in 2007.
This year, Atty. Acosta was called to serve the University once again. “When UP calls, you either run away and hide, or just answer the call. I felt that it’s time na rin for me to give back to UP what it had provided me during my student days. How can you say no to UP who nurtured you through your youth?”
VP Acosta anticipates a more publicly engaged UP under the Jimenez leadership. “Tingnan natin kung nasaan talaga yung strength ng University. Our strength lies in our purpose. We are an academic institution geared towards helping to uplift the Filipino people.”
“We have a lot of world-class research and talents here. Why don’t we show the world the face of UP? We engage the community with what we are doing. If you show them what UP is all about, if you show them that UP truly cares for the community, yung mga natulungan, sila na mismo ang magdedepensa, na ‘taga-UP yan, May malasakit yan. Tumutulong yan,’” Acosta explained.
The OVPLA faces numerous legal issues and concerns, especially on making UP campuses safer and more conducive and enabling to its constituents. There is, on one hand, various groups committing acts of red-tagging and disinformation against UP; and, on the other hand, the recent unilateral abrogation of the UP-DND (Department of National Defense) Accord of 1989, and prospects for updating the 1992 agreement between UP and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“What the Accord is saying, if certain incidents, or if a crime is happening inside the University, may protocols tayo… for good order and safety. Hindi pwede yung bigla na lang papasok dito [referring to those entering or conducting police or military operations inside UP]…. Ang sinasabi lang naman, just inform us na may ise-serve kayo na warrant…. I hope [the agreement] would be respected by other parties, kasi ang daming pwedeng mangyari kung wala yang Accord na yan. When the Accord is in place, and there is order in serving legal processes,” he explained.
“Basic lang yan, eh. Respeto. UP is a microcosm of society, ang daming ideologies, competing ideas, marketplace of ideas nga ito eh…. We should all be respectful of each other…. If we respect each other, then I think UP will be a safe environment for everyone,” he added.
In the meantime, VP Acosta aims to address UP’s land cases, grants and donations, and procurement system for what the University could use for academic and research purposes. “We are also trying to speed up our procurement process, particularly for the big-ticket items, so that UP’s researchers will get the machinery, the equipment, or even the buildings that we need,” he concluded.