Angelo Azura Jimenez has the distinction of being the first UP Student Regent to be elected UP President and the first Mindanaoan to hold the position. He brings to the table a lived understanding of sectoral representation and the hope and the pride of the people of Mindanao.
Having worked in government, he has also developed expertise in the protection and development of migrant workers.
Family, community, and identity
“Growing up in Butuan, you are close to family, close to church, and close to your friends on a day-to-day basis. We grew up in a very supporting, nurturing environment where there is much trust and very little distrust or suspicion of each other’s motives,” Jimenez described his life in his hometown.
His Mindanao life embodied a unity of cultures, that supported trust in the other. “My family has been there for over a hundred years, and I am a native of the city itself. I am a Manobo and a Christian lowlander at the same time,” Jimenez said. “We grew up trusting each other.
“We grew up playing with our neighbors. We grew up with close-knit communities and families together,” he remembered. “My mother was a high school principal and my grandmother was an elementary school principal. My mother was also a church leader,” Jimenez, who was an altar boy himself, speaks about the many other families connected to their own families through such involvements.
The Catholic school boy, several years later, would also be named a tribal datu by the city elders, who conferred on him the name, Datu Mankalagan or “Great Spirit”. He recalls that ceremony fondly. “It’ll be a great source of strength and inspiration as I face this awesome, awesome job of becoming the twenty-second president of the University of the Philippines,” Jimenez said.
He realizes that his Mindanao line is integral to his UP presidency. “It was when I got elected that people reminded me that I’m the first UP president who came from Mindanao, and I was amazed, actually surprised, maybe a little bit shocked,” he said. “It’s something significant to our people. I never realized that my election would resonate in Mindanao.
“Finally, one of their own has become a UP president,” it has dawned upon him. “I wanted to, in my own little way, remind UP where its ultimate loyalty belongs; and, I couldn’t imagine a more marginalized community than our IPs in the mountains where there has been an ongoing conflict and there still is right now.”
“I was roundly criticized then. I had to just grit my teeth and decide in favor of the students so that they could graduate.” – Jimenez
The rise of the student leader
Having lived in a harmonious but diverse Mindanao community, Jimenez did not dream of being involved in campus politics when he passed the UPCAT and moved to the Big City.
“I just loved to write, actually. So when I was in my sophomore year, I joined the Philippine Collegian where I was a feature writer, and probably the longest serving features editor in the Collegian.” Aside from features, he wrote poetry, and many of his poems were published in the Collegian and the Collegian Folio Magazine.
He would become the paper’s associate editor in 1987-1988. Inevitably, he became active in the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), of which the Collegian was a founding member and which had turned militant during the First Quarter Storm.
“One time I attended a session among campus writers in Metro Manila, and they decided they wanted me to run as CEGP national president. That was in 1987, and since it’s an organization of writers, I agreed. I won rather overwhelmingly,” Jimenez said about how he started on the path of national youth leadership. As a national leader, he got very involved with the youth and students outside UP. By then he was a freshman in Law school.
“I was always traveling. And I almost neglected my law school [studies]. It was a very challenging time. But after that, now I was in the radar of student politics, particularly student electoral politics,” Jimenez recalled. After his term as CEGP national president, he was asked to run for councilor in the UP Diliman student council. “I started to speak in the streets, in public fora, and it went naturally from there.”
As chair of the traditionally militant University Student Council in 1991-1992, he remembers facing the burning issue of the renewal of US military bases in the country. “We were against it, and I would lead rallies. [UP] would be the largest contingent. It went as far as 5,000 students in UP from all political spectrum and diversity. We were very united then.”
The Regent and the dilemma of representation
Having been elected Student Regent in 1992, he had to deal with the more complicated issue of sectoral representation. “You have a sector that does not speak in just one voice. And then when you come to the meeting of the Board, you have to come to terms as well with what you call your personal agency, your own structure of beliefs, your ethical and moral structure that you have deep inside you as well,” Jimenez said.
He remembers going against a popular opinion concerning medical students who were refused graduation by the college on the basis of moral fitness. The students and the University Council of UP Manila agreed with the position of the College, Jimenez recalls. He agonized over his vote.
“Upon graduation, they imposed moral fitness and I was a little worried because, number one, it was not in the rules. Number two, I was worried about standards. Who sets moral standards? How do we comply with a particular standard? And what are fair standards that are acceptable to all. And we are a secular university… Whom do we allow to make judgment of our moral fitness to be in the profession?” Jimenez recalled his thoughts back then.
“I was roundly criticized then. I had to just grit my teeth and decide in favor of the students so that they could graduate.”
Jimenez would go back to the Board of Regents as a Malacañang appointee, representing the Republic of the Philippines in the University, from 2016 to 2021.
“And to strengthen the institution, I feel that we have to build trust
— trust in institutions and trust in each other.” – Jimenez
Lessons for UP from his experience
From 1993 to 2007, Jimenez was in government in mostly labor-related posts. He held positions in Malacañang, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. From 1999 to 2003, he was the labor attaché, first to Japan, then to Kuwait, and then to Iraq, too.
“I am a practitioner of international labor markets and the area of expertise I have developed over the last decades is the protection of migrant labor, especially overseas Filipino workers. I was on the opposite end of the educational system because I was receiving finished products,” he said, talking about OFWs as end products of the educational system. “And I have familiarity with the needs of international industries. I saw where the Filipinos are strong, based on our educational system, and where they’re weak.”
“I realize certain things: Some of our professionals are not recognized abroad, or not recognized as we do recognize them. For example, I’ve seen architects who are hired as mere draftsmen, or dentists who are hired only as dental hygienists. We lack certain units or academic units. In the Middle East, for example, many of them observe British standards.”
“At that time we didn’t have K-12. And that was one of the major weaknesses in terms of international recruitment and especially when it came to benefits pay rate, and opportunities, not just from job entry, but also job promotion,” he said.
Jimenez talks about acquiring lessons from a global experience of crisis management. “When Saddam fell, I was sent as well to Iraq. I spent two years there protecting Filipinos in a war zone. There was civil war there, and it gave me a lot of insights. First, on how important it is to strengthen institutions because I’ve seen the country where there was no government, there were no laws.”
“I saw the country implode before my eyes,” Jimenez went on. “I realized that when institutions fall, nations fall or social systems fall. And so perhaps, the greatest insight I have is the importance of strengthening our institutions, not just in the country, but more specifically today in the University as well.”
“And to strengthen the institution, I feel that we have to build trust—trust in institutions and trust in each other. Because I’ve seen how the lack of trust in many places in the world kills societies, how societies degenerate into civil war, fratricidal war, because there was no trust in the community,” the UP President from Mindanao spoke.