Friday, March 15, 2013

A conversation with Dr. Arnulfo de Luna

Dr. Arnulfo Formon De Luna, most probably a year younger than this pen pusher, is in a vantage position. As president of the Romblon State University, he commands over an empire, a state institution that has become an orbital center of higher education in Romblon.
A few years ago, the RSU became an infamous focus of public attention when some personages inside its walls and halls proposed to erect a rock monument to Romblon's most famous modern-day politician, Rep. Eleandro Jesus Fabic Madrona.
That proposal has gained traction, initially, but has since been shot down for its indecent timing.
The reason is that Rep. Madrona is still very much alive and in good health. Not only that. He is scheduled and on track to steamroller the former governor Natalio "Jun" Beltran IV in the 13 May 2013 election. He doesn't need the monument now. In the future, maybe.
The horrendous public backlash to the "monumental" plan to honor the author of the law transforming the Romblon State College into a state university with a rock statue had dissipated and its proponents--surely lapdogs wanting to curry favor from the master--had disappeared. Temporarily, I am sure. They could try another time.
But that 'another time' is yet to come. Today is the time to move ahead and today is the time of Dr. Arnulfo F. De Luna.
And at this time of De Luna, I think the RSU is moving past its episodic brush with politicians trying to be rock stars, pun intended. Steady at the helm of Romblon's premier institution of higher learning, De Luna could yet make the RSU a controlling domain of knowledge as it was mandated to be, regardless of politicians wanting to carve their names in solid rock.
I had a brief conversation with Dr. De Luna the other week. Over dinner of kimchi and bulgogi in a Korean restaurant in Malate, he and I mused over topics seemingly unrelated to each other but upon dissection of his agile mind proved to be really interconnected.
Which made the dinner fun, the conversation lovely.
John Rufon, who arranged the dinner date, was an intent listener throughout our conversation and I am sure he made copious mental notes of what transpired during that brief encounter between the academic leader and this itinerant writer. So were Engr. Ryan Fadriquela, RSU's director for alumni affairs; Kenneth Maestro, a student leader; and Heicel Dalisay and Rocky Gonzales, administrative aides to the RSU president.
I invited Dr. De Luna for I was interested to know what's inside the head of a university president whose rank and position could be more powerful than a governor's.
No exaggeration here. If a governor presides over a province of 17 towns and 219 barangays, the RSU president holds the power of intellectual life and death over the 17 towns' and the 219 barangays' young population. Isn't that power?
But De Luna is a simple man who is imbued with power but who is not drunk of it. With a towering intellect on matters that concern the common tao, he could be a good politician, if there is such.
His handle, I saw during the dinner, was his connection to his roots. "The student population of the RSU's Romblon campus experienced an exponential rise during my time because I made sure the university's value was appreciated by the local government unit," he said matter-of-factly. That's making the connection.
My main and singular issue with the RSU is its alienation to the masses. I told De Luna that as a stand-alone educational institution, supported largely by government largesse, the RSU should matter to the common Romblomanons' everyday lives. I said RSU's impact should not be measured solely by the number of graduates who pass through its portals and wore the toga during graduation. It should be measured by how much the university changes the lives of the people--for the better.
Take its researches, for instance. I know that the RSU has plenty of researchers who have conducted--and continue to conduct--very good researches. These good researches have not made the people good, I said. They have only made the researchers feel better because their names are eventually affixed to their researches, adding more luster only to their credentials for future promotion, of themselves, and not of the people's.
Very fortunately, Dr. De Luna agrees with me. He mentioned that on agriculture, the RSU has produced plenty and very good stock varieties of root crops that could be mass cultivated to contribute to Romblon's food security. He wants the people to avail of these stock varieties. In short, he wants the Romblomanons to plant.
The problem, he said, is that people no longer want to become farmers nowadays. Even children don't appreciate the value of farm work. They want everything in RTE packs. That's 'ready-to-eat' in military lingo. But I will dwell on this later.
Out of this world, the RSU is. The problem, I said, is that the RSU does not communicate to the people in a language they understand. It communicates only to itself, in a language laden with technical 'ek-ek'  that contributes to its being perceived as alien. To this, Dr. De Luna responded that he is trying to remedy the anomaly. He said his appointment of Prof. Jun Fetalsana, as one of the RSU's 'spokespersons', is precisely to enable the RSU to reach out to the people.
"I will spend more time next year in the campuses. I will start at the Sta. Maria campus," Dr. De Luna pledged.
"This is a good start. Better write in The Romblon Times," I said back.
In ruling a university, Dr. De Luna rules by the rules of perspective. And his perspective, I believe, is neither gray nor in dark shade. It is clear: to make the university a truly Romblomanon university, embodying the soul of the province, and living up to realize its people's potential and aspirations.
He even encourages municipal mayors to allocate a good portion of their budgets in support for their constituents who would like to pursue higher education. "I would like to build a modern dormitory for students from the islands," he said.
Public support for such policies is necessary. But I told Dr. De Luna, whose expertise is in agriculture education--he has a master in science in agriculture and a Ph.D. in crop science--that that support could only be had if the RSU conducts itself as a good corporate social citizen, by going out of its way to get itself involved in social causes, and by acting as the 'knowledge conscience' of the province, not by confining itself on matters purely academic and theoretical.
The RSU's coming out party will come inevitably. It will come when it is already speaking out about the ills of graft and corruption in high and low places of the provincial government which the present administration seemed to have failed to do. It will come when it is already organizing forums and symposiums on Romblon culture and history and hosting public affairs programs on illegal drugs and illegal mining.
It will come when the RSU no longer concerns itself with useless debates on whether or not it should erect a rock monument for a politician whose credentials as a hero or heel are, well, still debatable; when its researchers and technicians are going out in the field to encourage the people to plant crops and to teach them to fish properly rather than feed their children chemical-laden imported noodles; when its students act on their ideals by helping out educate the people on issues that matter to them; for example, by leading public shunning or boycott of politicians who lie and cheat and buy votes.
When that time comes, and I hope it comes during Dr. De Luna's presidency of the RSU, that's the time we can say the RSU has truly, genuinely become the Romblon State University.

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