Antonio Calipjo Go was incensed when he learned in January that the venerable University of Santo Tomas (UST) had reportedly bent its rules to grant Renato Corona, the ousted Chief Justice, a doctorate in law, summa cum laude.
Eleven months earlier, the self-styled “sick books crusader” asked for information—no, he wasn’t applying, just asking—about UST’s Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (Eteeap) under which work experience and other nontraditional means of education are awarded credits for an academic degree.
Go, who has waged a relentless campaign against locally published textbooks that were either riddled with errors or where supposed morsels of wisdom were lost in translation, never got beyond first base, as it were.
In a letter to the dean of UST’s journalism department on Feb. 15, 2011, Go said he was currently the academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City and that he did not finish college after “dire” family circumstances forced him to quit.
“I’m turning 60 this April and I would like to know if UST’s Eteeap program will be able to help me gain academic credits which will enable me to graduate with a degree of Bachelor of Arts, major in Journalism,” he said.
“I feel that my work experience—my entire life for that matter—has somehow earned for me the right to be conferred the title of ‘college graduate.’ Personally, I do not in the least feel inferior to those who hold diplomas yet have nothing to show for it by way of good deeds done.
“I believe that what we do defines who we are. Still, my family wants me to give it a try and I said, ‘Why not?’ I hope you will help me attain this goal. Thank you, Sir.”
He did not get a reply. So, he followed this up with another letter in the same vein on March 25. No deal. On August 17, he wrote the rector of the 400-year-old university, Rev. Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, complaining that his request for information had been ignored.
Not a simple case
Finally, he got a three-page response signed by “Prof. Michael Anthony C. Vasco, Ph.D, dean, Faculty of Arts and Letters” on August 26—six months later.
Vasco declared that a request for information could not be answered with a “simple yes or no,” as Go had put it in one of his letters.
He said Go’s letters were “bereft of detail” and didn’t even enclose “a simple curriculum vitae highlighting the professional and academic related achievements” impacting on the journalism degree sought.
Because he could not act unilaterally on Go’s request for information and because it wasn’t an urgent case that required convening an emergency meeting of the Faculty Council, it was tabled and discussed in the group’s first official gathering for the school year on July 21.
“All Eteeap applicants in the past have shown patience, performed difficult tasks … They humbled themselves to become college students once more and did not bask on their professional status,” Vasco said.
“We understand your discomfiture of waiting for our response, but nevertheless we could not act in haste. Your request was deliberated with utmost prudence and fairness. You deserve no less, being an academic supervisor of a school.”
Vasco said he regretted that the council had disapproved his request.
“You’ve got it all wrong,” said Go in a letter to Vasco on September 9, blasting his “bigotry, discrimination and oppression.”
“Letters must be answered. We must say ‘sorry’ if we have hurt or offended others. And we do not disapprove someone who’s not even applying to be included in a program,” he said. “All these we should have learned in kindergarten, not from hoity-toity educational institutions.”
Go then held his peace—unusual for this man who like Don Quixote never missed a chance to train his lance and charge windmills in the mist—until he learned about the Corona doctorate.
Vasco has ignored repeated attempts by the Philippine Daily Inquirer to get his side of this story.
Over the past 16 years, Go had jousts with authors with a string of MAs and Ph.Ds behind their names. He had exposed textbooks they had written for inaccuracies and errors, decrying that these materials were a reflection of the sad state of the country’s education system and the flawed quality of its graduates.
Shelling out P1 million out of his own pocket, he took out ads in newspapers exposing the errors. A cabal of columnists and obviously paid hacks slammed him. He was also slapped by authors and publishers he had crossed with assorted civil and criminal cases, two of which were later dismissed.
Go’s exposés stirred a hornet’s nest. He was called to testify in congressional hearings on what had gone wrong with the nation’s public schools that once produced sterling graduates. The Department of Education later issued corrections to errors Go had pointed out. It also tightened screening of publications.
A tough life
Last year, Education Secretary Armin Luistro called on Go in his school in the working class district of Novaliches and asked him to help improve the quality of teaching materials amid efforts to raise proficiency in science, math and English among students.
“I cannot even begin to tell you how hard it was,” he said in an interview in his book-lined office in the school that also serves as his home.
The son of a Chinese immigrant from Xiamen, Go said his father, a learned man versed in poetry and calligraphy, had disciplined him to attend to his education. But poor health took a toll on the father. The son was forced to forgo formal schooling and help support the family. But he never stopped studying on his own.
On New Year’s Day, Go became furious when he read in a newspaper that UST stretched its rules to grant Corona a doctorate, with highest honors, in April 2010, a month before he was named Supreme Court chief, a move reviled as a “midnight appointment” by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Not above bending rules
Corona reportedly got his doctorate without doing the required dissertation—a charge denied by the university, which said that in fact the then associate justice was asked to do a similar task by writing instead a “scholarly treatise on any subject related to his field to be delivered in public, and eventually published.”
UST likewise denied that Corona got his doctorate via Eteeap. “As an autonomous university and no less than the cradle of higher education in the Philippines and the oldest university in Asia,” it said, “UST knows the academic rules and sees to their proper observance.”
Last month, the Chief Justice was fired following an impeachment trial in the Senate that found him guilty of failing to fully disclose his assets as required by law.
Go said the Corona doctorate highlighted the university’s “power to bestow or, in my case, deny academic honor and integrity.”
“It shows that UST is not above bending and breaking its own rules to accommodate someone who got to where he is by ways less than straight and narrow. It shows how UST treats lesser mortals like me, opting instead to pander to the demigods of Philippine politics who already have everything a man could hope for in life,” he told this reporter.
“How many others have been treated just as shabbily by UST, which did not even have the Christian grace to say sorry for its repeated mistakes? Shouldn’t we be helping those who have less in life and not those who have more than enough of everything?”