University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) in Catarman is another of Northern Samar’s major attractions. As a campus town, it bustles with academic activity and vibrates with youthful energy. But it is also home to a length of white coastline, one of the most popular beaches in the province, and a hillside promenade with a clear view of town.
The first and oldest university in the in the region, the institution has been the seedbed of generations of Samarnon graduates and professionals. Their individual stories of perseverance against odds and triumphs over adversity weave as a tapestry into the almost century-old history of a farm school that claimed its destiny as a university.
Located three kilometers from the heart of the capital town, the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) looks to a history fast approaching the centennial milestone, having started out in 1918 as the Catarman Farm School (CFS). Established as a municipal provincial school through the initiative of then Samar Governor Clodualdo Lucero, the CIFS offered practical secondary level training not only for students of the municipality bur from all over the island. Its first principal was Washington A. Wiren, an American teacher who graduated from Maine State College, USA.
Only a year later, it was renamed Catarman Agricultural School after Assemblyman Pedro K. Mendiola, a native of Catarman, worked to raised its status to insular-provincial, and in 1922, it became the Catarman Agricultural High School.
A major leap came in 1960 when then Samar Rep. Agripino Escareal, who hailed from Bobon, succeeded in having the agricultural high school recognized and funded by the national government, thus also having it renamed the Catarman National Agricultural High School.
This also paved the way for its eventual conversion into a chartered state college on June 14, 1956, under a new name, the Samar Institute of Technology (SIT). This by virtue of Republic Act 1434, authored by then Congressman Eladio T. Balite, also a Bobonanon, with the support of then Senator Decoroso Rosales of Calbayog and Congressman Marciano Lim and Felipe Abrigo.
Eight years later, SIT gained university status by virtue of Republic Act No. 4126, again authored by Congressman Balite and supported by two other Samar congressmen, Felipe Abrigo and Fernando Veloso. Thus did the farm school evolve into the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP).
There is scant information on the earliest years of the university as many precious chronicles and records, and even miscellaneous trivia, had been damaged in buildings ravaged by typhoons and through human neglect.
What is available is the product of research obtained from oral history and put together bt the late English professor Adelina Diaz Calonge, which offers a look into the vision, determination and perseverance of the community behind the growth of a little farm school into a dynamic university responding to the challenges of generations.
Responsibility for the farm school planted in the heart of Catarman was passed early on to Filipinos, with the appointment of Dr. Felipe Cevallos as the first Filipino principal in the 1920s, followed by Pedro Montillano.
In the 1930s, during the term of Sabino Ami as principal, the secondary Home Economics course was introduced. This was sustained by Agapito Beunaventura, who succeeded him. The difficult war years interrupted the term of Eulogio Acuña in the 1940s, and post-war, it was Valentin Acebron, a native of laoang, who assumed the post as principal.
In the 1950s. Roque Pacariem headed the school until he left for an academic scholarship in the United States. Nemesio Tejero was the last officer-in-charge before the Catarman National Agricultural High School became the Samar institute of Technology (SIT).
The SIT’s first and only president, Col. Emeterio Asinas of Catubig, embarked on a massive rehabilitation program for both human and physical resources, banking on Philippine reparation funds and SIT’s linkage with the Colombo Plan. It was during this period that the RAB (Rosales, Asinas, Balite) Amphitheatre was built, hewn from a mountain, and today still holding fort as the school’s Centre for Culture and Pageantry.
Such were the strides the school made as a tertiary educational institution that eight years after, it chalked another milestone in its history – its elevation into the first university in Region 8.
The appointment of Dr. Narciso N. Pepito of Lilo-an, Cebu as first university president, following Prof. Toribio G. Sorio’s term as officer-in-charge from 1963 to 1965, provided the initial push towards the drive for excellence, which would gain momentum in the ensuing decades.
Relevant degree courses were offered in lieu of the two-year opportunity courses that SIT offered. Faculty research and continuing education were encouraged and doctoral graduates were brought in to raise the faculty teacher education courses was introduced and the high-performing College Preparatory High School was established, which produced top-notchers in the first and subsequent National College Entrance Examinations. With the first graduates of Agriculture Engineering topping their board examinations, UEP was on the academic excellence radar.
At the end of Dr. Pepito’s term, Atty. Sergio Gelera, a World War II hero of Calbayog. serve as OIC. With him at the helm, UEP opened the Graduate School in 1976, with 42 pioneer masteral students in course conducted by 14 professors. BS in Community Development was also introduced, with 26 pioneering students.
First women president
In 1978, 60 years after the farm school opened, a woman assumed the presidency, Dr. Aurora B. Merida, a native of Bobon, who made cleanliness and beautification the hallmarks of her term it was at this time that the Australian-backed Northern Samar Integrated Rural Development Project (NSIRDP) was launched, which for UEP meant granting approval for the use pf hectares of its property by the NSIRP and a number of national government agencies.
By then, the university had six colleges – Agriculture, Engineering, Business Administration, Veterinary Medicine, Education, and the Arts and Science, each headed by a full-fledged dean. Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Secondary Education (BSESE) was first offered to meet the need for graduates who could each teach both on the elementary and high school levels.
Following Dr. Merida’s death from an aneurism in 1984, Dr. Gerardo Delorino, then CBA dean, took over as OIC, before the appointment of UEP’s third president, Dr. Andres F. Celestino, by birth from Nueva Eciha but a Samareño at heart because of marriage and residence. His one consuming, overriding passio was real high quality education informed by research, effective teachers, and selective admission and retention.
Aligned with this vision, the UEP College Admission Test was introduced, enrollment in the big-population colleges was trimmed, and the BS Mechanical Engineering curriculums were revised to conform to the requirements of the Technical Panel for Agricultural Education (TPAE) and Technical Panel for Engineering Education (TPEE).
Testaments to Dr. Celestino’s vision and leadership, cut short by a violent death, are the Kapihan, BioPhysical Sciences Laboratory Complex, the Crop and Livestock Diagnostic Laboratory, Phase I of the Hostel, the CAC Building, the present Administration Building rehabilitation from the original CoCoFed dormitory, the Agro-Industrial Engineering Workshop, and the UEP Research amd Development Foundation, Inc.
Dr. Celestino was gunned down by unidentified men while at his desk working in the afternoon of April 5, 1990.
Stunned by its president’s assassination in broad daylight, UEP was able to weather through this ordeal under the stewardship of Dr. Leonor A. Ong Sotto, then vice-president for Academic Affairs, who served as OIC until the appointment on November 24, 1990 of a UEP alumnus from Lavezares as the 4th university president.
Dr. Pedro D. Destura, who had been president of Eastern Samar College and regional director of Human Settlements, served for 17 years, during which time, in a move aimed at improving agricultural production and farmers’ incomes, UEP launched the award-winning Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Program for Samar Island (APEPSI). The APEPSI focused on on-farm technology development assistance and the established of technology dissemination terminals in key strategic areas all over Samar Island.
In the decade leading to the new millennium, UEP saw the birth of the Center for Samar Studies, a repository of Samarnon culture, the Institute for Land and Water Resources Management, and Colleges of Law and Nursing. Two satellite campuses were established – the CHED-supervised Laoang National Trade School in Laoang and the Pedro Rebadulla Memorial Agricultural College in Catubig.
At the helm of UEP today is another alumnus of the university, Atty. Mar Pujante de Asis, who was dean of the College of Law at the time of his appointment. A son of Catubig, de Asis focused on optimizing resources and streamlining operation not only to achieve sustainability but for excellence. The already popular White Beach, located within the university complex, has been rehabilitated into a full-service facility and currently the largest and most visited resort in Northern Samar. The grounds of colleges have also been landscaped and made picture pretty.
Enrollment has increased and income generated from projects has surged, even as the number of scholarship grunts and financial aid for deserving but cultural deprived students. International linkages have been established with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Pakistan, the Rakuno Gakuen University in Japan, the French NGO-Center for Education, Mekong Foundation and the Fundacion Grameen Filipinas, among others.
University town residents and visitors delight in the non-academic treats right on campus. At dawn, joggers are a familiar sight around the campus circumferential road when the grass still sparkle with dew. The path leads to the Scouts’ City’s view deck for a breath of clear air and a view of the green panorama below.
White Beach is just a quick jog or hike away, for a refreshing dip or riding the waves when the wind starts to pick up. If the sun gets too hot, there’s the pavilion and the cabanas for shade, where fresh coconut in the shell is sometimes available.
The University Center for Samar Studies is also a great stop. it has cultural artifacts on display and a collection of books and research writings on the culture of the Samareño. The display of the Bisri Island corals have been known to entice visitors to make the trip to the ancient legendary rock formations.