Is This Man the ‘Father of UP’?

| Written by Andre DP Encarnacion

Oil portrait found at the Pangasinan Governors Gallery, Capitol Building, Lingayen, Pangasinan. Photo from Ms. Joy Napolitano, Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office, Pangasinan


Murray Bartlett, the first President of UP. Ignacio Villamor, the first Filipino UP President. Guillermo Tolentino, sculptor of the Oblation. Great men in UP’s history, all of them. But none of them is known as the ‘Father of UP.’ Is there even anyone who deserves such an honor?

Enter Juan Alvear, a famous espiritista and former Pangasinan congressman. According to Philippine studies scholar Dr. Maria Crisanta Nelmida-Flores, this remarkable individual was actually behind the establishment of the University in the early 20th century. Here are a few fast facts about Alvear:

  • According to Flores’s research, Alvear was from San Fabian, Pangasinan and a member of the Malolos Congress. He founded several schools, including the School of Arts and Trades in Lingayen.
  • He is better remembered (if at all) as a major figure in Philippine Spiritism, having also founded the first Spiritist Center in San Fabian, Pangasinan in 1901.
  • The book, Pangasinan, 1901-1986: A Political, Socioeconomic and Cultural History, by Rosario M. Cortes described Alvear as a former Philippine revolutionary who became a member of the Partido Nacionalista during the American occupation.
  • The Partido Nacionalista advocated absolute independence from the United States. As a member of this party, Alvear won a seat as a delegate in the First Philippine Assembly as a representative of Pangasinan’s 3rd district.
  • Alvear made higher education history as a representative by first proposing the need for a ‘national university.’ This came after his equally important proposal that a ‘national hospital’ was also needed by the nation.
  • His latter proposal eventually became Act No. 1688, which was passed in 1907. This Act appropriated the sum of P780,000 for the construction of the Philippine General Hospital.
  • The former resulted in Act No. 1870, which was passed in 1908. It established the University of the Philippines—an institution to provide “advanced instruction in literature, philosophy, the sciences and the arts, and to give professional and technical training.” The seeds of what we know now as the UP System had been planted.
  • After his tenure in the House, Alvear ran for Pangasinan provincial governor and won. Details of his life after the governorship are sparse but sources indicate he passed away in 1918.
  • Today, in spite of his role, this leading candidate for the title of the ‘Father of UP’ is all but forgotten. Flores hopes that more historians would be inspired to look into Juan Alvear’s life and tell us more about this all-important figure in our history.

Condensed from the original article published in the UP Forum October-December 2017 issue

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