Republic Act 9500, also known as the UP Charter, mandates the University of the Philippines to “lead as a public service university by providing various forms of community, public, and volunteer service, as well as scholarly and technical assistance to the government, the private sector, and civil society while maintaining its standards of excellence.”
Public service is one of UP’s key responsibilities as the national university. But the actual performance of public service is one thing, while the act of coordinating, harmonizing, and standardizing public service initiatives among eight constituent units in 21 campuses is another feat altogether. This is where the Padayon Public Service Office (Padayon) enters the scene. Padayon is a Visayan word that means “to do promptly, and unceasingly”—an apt description of how UP must tirelessly and relentlessly serve the people.
These lofty goals will not be realized without an office at the UP System level to centralize efforts to monitor programs, provide technical assistance, and recommend policies to respond to the needs of UP’s various publics when it comes to volunteerism, community engagement, and sustainable development.
We spoke to Padayon’s project managers to discuss existing initiatives and how these are implemented, as well as future plans to maintain and improve the public character of the University.
In order to assess UP’s compliance with its mandate, a system for reporting public service initiatives is needed. This system is provided by the UP Information Technology Development Center (UP ITDC) through the Public Service Module of the Human Resource Information System (HRIS) of the University Information System. The template was developed in partnership with the UP System Committee on Public Service Monitoring and Reporting.
The aim of the online module is to enable UP faculty, administrative staff, and research, extension, and professional staff (REPS) to report public service initiatives and to retrieve records from the cloud once needed for reports and promotion. The data on public service initiatives can also be used by the respective CUs and the UP System in formulating system-wide policies. The Handbook on Public Service Reporting aims to gather relevant university public service regulations in one easily accessible handbook and provide explanations and examples on the data required in the online module.
To complement this initiative, the UP Catalogue of Institutional Public Service serves as the directory of all the extension services offered by UP units across the system, so that they may be accessible to the general public. As a publication of Padayon and the UP Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs, the listing aims to share and disseminate relevant information so that stakeholders and the community may avail of their services and may access them in a manner that will be helpful—not just for possible publicity and income generation, but also for lending a hand to those who would like to avail of professional services at a cost cheaper than those offered by private institutions. The listing has been uploaded in the Public Service website and the entries are downloadable in a searchable PDF format.
The Public Service Handbook and the UP Catalogue of Institutional Public Service will be useless without strengthening the capacity of members of the UP community to write and report on the said public service initiatives. To address this, the Public Service Writing Fellowship was crafted to promote public service as a scholarly and interdisciplinary endeavor. It aims to encourage university faculty and staff to continue to write literature-grounded evaluation and documentation in the form of journal articles for publication based on the public service initiatives that they have developed and undertaken.
The fellowship was awarded to one (1) Public Service fellow from each of the eight (8) CUs of the UP System. The fellowship was open to all UP faculty, staff, and REPS who wish to write and publish their experiences and the results of the public service initiatives they have designed and undertaken in a scholarly outlet. The chosen fellows underwent a writeshop in order to further hone and develop their respective outputs.
The first writeshop was held last October 24-25, 2017 at the Executive House, National Arts Center, Mt. Makiling, Laguna. After the writeshop, successful fellows were given the chance to present their work in the 2nd Colleges and Universities Public Service Conference in November of the same year.
Padayon also extends technical assistance to external stakeholders such as national government agencies, local government units, and civil society organizations. One of these partnerships is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by UP with the Provincial Government of Palawan, City Government of Puerto Princesa, UP Alumni Association and its Palawan Chapter, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
The MOU establishes cooperation between the parties and sets up an avenue for UP as an academic institution to support the planning, policy- and decision-making, and crafting of sustainable development processes in Palawan. The end goal is the creation of the Palawan Center for Sustainable Development in accordance with Republic Act 7611. The first phase involves a seminar on solid waste management through the UP College of Engineering, and the next involves a comprehensive land use plan with the School of Urban and Regional Planning as well as coastal planning with the Marine Science Institute.
Challenges in contexts
Patricia Liganor, one of Padayon’s project associates, notes that the execution of these projects is not without challenges. One is the need for UP to be in the lead even in data collection of its public service initiatives. Sometimes, there are gaps in compliance between constituent units, depending on the context and how these units assign values to the concept of public service reporting and monitoring. For example, some units see actual service inside the University as public service in itself, while others think there must be external stakeholders involved to constitute public service. Liganor foresees an empowered faculty and staff who dutifully maintain their public service profiles without need of constant reminders.
Assigned to handle the Palawan partnership, Marielle Antonio believes that the project is in line with the vision of malasakit (compassion) because it directly benefits stakeholders. The center will involve the operationalization of a sustainability center.
Definitions and standards are also what hinder the faster rollout of the catalogue. Mimi Barretto recalls how they had to manually input the entries in the existing database and painstakingly sort them in classifications or through labels or tags, by campus, by year, by type or kind of service, by beneficiary and the like. The meaning of the word “institutionalized” in relation to “individual” public service events has varying values and treatment per campus and constituent unit.
At the end of the day, the project associates stand firm that public service must not be viewed as an additional burden on one’s teaching and extension load, but instead be seen as a worthwhile academic endeavor of faculty, staff, and REPS of the national university.