UST leaps from España to GenSan; first branch campus in Mindanao inaugurated

In celebration of its 413th founding anniversary, the University of Santo Tomas inaugurated its first branch campus in Mindanao, bringing the Thomasian brand of excellence in education beyond España through its rising 82.2-hectare campus in Brgy. Ligaya, General Santos City, on April 11, 2024, at the Main Building.

The Bishop of Marbel, His Excellency Most Rev. Cerilo Alan U. Casicas, D.D., served as the presider and homilist for the Eucharistic Celebration, where the Main Building and the campus grounds were blessed.

Gracing the blessing rites was the image of Our Lady of Manaoag, with Academician Professor Emeritus Maribel G. Nonato, the pioneering Assistant to the Rector for UST General Santos, leading the Entrustment to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Envisioned to be an integrated innovative agri-tech campus, initial programs at UST General Santos will be offered under the School of Health Sciences, School of Business and Accountancy, and School of Engineering and Information Technology, all housed within the six-storey Main Building. The first batch of students will be welcomed during the Academic Year 2024 to 2025. 

UST Rector Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., reflected upon UST’s decades-long journey to finally open UST General Santos, which began in the 1990s and went through construction after the onset of the pandemic.

“Though they are not epic battles in the traditional sense, the construction process was filled with symbolic battles against nature or the natural course of events, logistical challenges and unforeseen obstacles. Building a structure in Mindanao involves overpowering significant logistic challenges spanning vast distances and navigating diverse landscapes,” said the Father Rector, who also fervently thanked all those who contributed to making the dream of UST General Santos a reality.

“As we gather here today for the blessing of the Main Building, we stand in the majesty of a structure that not only represents bricks and mortar but also embodies UST’s rich history, values, and aspirations. This edifice is a symbol of faith in God, a beacon of hope for Region XII and the country, and of unity and cooperation amidst plurality.” Fr. Ang particularly emphasized that UST General Santos is open for all, and not limited to just Catholics, saying “Nangangako po kami, hindi lang po para sa Katoliko ang eskwelahang ito. Kahit po hindi Katoliko ay tatanggapin namin because this is a place for interreligious and interfaith dialogue.”

The UST General Santos Main Building will accommodate up to 5,000 students. It features 24 classrooms, 23 laboratories, a chapel, library, clinic, auditorium, cafeteria, various organization rooms and function halls alongside administrative office facilities.  Inspired by the original Main Building in Manila, which was also the first structure to rise in the Sampaloc campus, the UST General Santos Main Building also shares the symmetrical design, the central cross tower, entrance canopy, and kumimono bracket-style column capitals of the friar-engineer Fr. Roque Ruaño’s 1927 construction. With respect to the local context, the design of the Main Building in the GenSan campus also incorporates arches inspired by Mindanaonon cultural diversity.

CHED Regional Office XII Director Dr. Nelia Alibin congratulated UST on its 413th anniversary and the inauguration of UST General Santos, saying that “Region XII is very blessed that the very first UST campus in Mindanao is in General Santos City. UST is known as one of the largest Catholic universities in terms of enrollment found in one campus. It is also our hope that you can replicate that here in Region XII.” She also added that “We at the Commission of Higher Education are happy that finally, in Mindanao, the Thomasian brand of education can be felt.”

Dominican Province of the Philippines Prior Provincial Very Rev. Fr. Filemon I. dela Cruz, Jr., O.P., shared how glad he was that the University of Santo Tomas, which was originally borne out of the Dominican Province of the Holy Rosary in 1611, has now birthed its branch campus in Mindanao under the Dominican Province of the Philippines. 

He further shared that, “Not too long ago, the University celebrated its 400th year in 2011. That celebration gave an opportunity to UST as an institution to rekindle the sense of vision, and after that, in the succeeding decade, every University-wide retreat, we are talking about ‘Ambag’ or what else we can contribute, and I would like to see that our presence here [in General Santos] is our ambag, our contribution, our sharing because we consider ourselves as fellow citizens, ito po ang aming ambag sa General Santos, sa SOCCSKSARGEN, sa Mindanao. Ito po ang patuloy na ambag namin sa edukasyon.” 

Mapapabilang na ngayon ang UST sa mga pundasyong magpapaunlad sa GenSan bilang tahanan ng mga kampeon, dahil umaasa po ako na magbibigay po kayo ng mga dekalidad na produktong tiyak na makakatulong sa kaunlaran ng lungsod at maging ng ating bansa. Ang ating pagtitipon ngayon ay hindi lang isang selebrasyon ng pagbubukas ng isang bagong gusali. Ito ay biyaya at handog ng Poong Maykapal para sa ating lahat,” said General Santos City Mayor Hon. Lorelie Pacquiao.

UST GenSan first broke ground on April 20, 2018, while the Main Building was topped off on December 4, 2021. Senior high school and college aspirants took the first UST Entrance Test (USTET) conducted at the General Santos campus on January 13, 2024, while the first USTET intended for admission to the UST GenSan campus was held on May 25, 2024.

UST FMO Director Rev. Fr. Dexter A. Austria, O.P., SThD., and UST Secretary-General Rev. Fr. Louie R. Coronel, O.P., EHL, served as the homilist and presider of the first Eucharistic Celebration held at the Chapel of the UST General Santos Main Building on April 9, 2024, in which the altar was blessed and dedicated to God.

The pioneering group of support staff at UST GenSan also joined the Mass, which was their first solemn gathering done together with officials and support staff from the Manila campus.

In his homily, Fr. Austria emphasized the importance placed upon the connection among campuses.

“This altar connects us [here at UST GenSan] with UST Manila,” said Fr. Austria, who pointed out that the base of the altar is formed from the trunk of a tree from the Manila campus, while the surface of the altar is the tabletop of former FMO Director Fr. Roberto Pinto, O.P. 

The Pier Giorgio Frassati O.P. Chapel and the Dominican Filial House in GenSan also have altars made from trees that used to be in the Manila campus.

“We made sure that this chapel would be special and that it should be integrated in [the GenSan] Main Building, and that it is placed near the front,” Fr. Austria shared, adding that it is the very first location within UST GenSan to be blessed because “This is where we see students gather, not just in academic circles, but to gather with the Lord.”

After the Eucharistic Celebration and blessing of the Chapel, UST Secretary-General Rev. Fr. Louie R. Coronel, O.P., EHL, blessed the chrism oil and the Thomasians in attendance to pray over and mark each entrance, window, and doorway with a cross.

Giving back to the community

Not forgetting to share blessings with the local community, Thomasians marked Eid’l Fitr, the end of Ramadan, through a community gift-giving for a Muslim community in Barangay Batomelong, a few minutes away from the UST GenSan campus.

The Office of Alumni Relations, in collaboration with the Tomasinong SOCCSKSARGEN and UST AAI, led the distribution of groceries and vitamins.

Convening the local alumni chapter

Following the community gift-giving, the UST Office of Alumni Relations and the local alumni chapter Tomasinong SOCCSKSARGEN gathered in the evening of April 10  at Rosewood Place to induct the new set of officers.

Taking their oaths were President Antonio Villanueva Jr., Vice President (Internal) Sergio Demontanio Jr., Vice President (External) Gerard Paul Duremdes, Secretary Rochelle Gajete-Oco, Treasurer Grace Lim, Public Relations Officer Ma. Cristina Ramizo, and Auditor Marc Dominic Pimentel. Meanwhile, Ryan Oscar Aplicador, Jovino Aquino, Ralph Balan, Clarissa Alexandria Lee, Mayvelyn Urbano, Fr. Boyd Sulpico, O.P., Fr. Gerard Zabala, O.P., and the immediate past president Maria Carmela Royeca, now serve as the Board of Directors.

During the event, the limited edition cast marble sculpture “Majestic” (15” x 11” x 6”, 2022) and its certificate of authenticity by Thomasian artist Seb Chua were presented to the Father Rector by the UST Alumni Association Inc., and the Thomasian Alumni Community Foundation, Inc. (TACFI).

TACFI Chairman Emeritus Dr. Robert C. Sy also presented a copy of the Thomasian Alumni Icons Coffeetable Book to the UST Assistant to the Rector for General Santos, Academician Professor Emeritus Maribel G. Nonato.

UST Rector Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Ph.D., thanked the active involvement of the Tomasinong SOCCSKSARGEN for their continued involvement and support in helping establish UST General Santos. He also spoke of UST GenSan’s future within the locality.

“UST is not a threat, but rather, we are a treat because we will collaborate with the HEIs here in GenSan,” emphasized the Father Rector.

Continuing the expansion efforts

The expansion of UST GenSan still continues as the Dr. Ricardo S. Po, Sr. Integrated Innovation and Research Laboratories—a new building named after the Thomasian alumnus and Century Pacific Food Inc. founder —broke ground on April 25, 2024. 

Having recently inaugurated and blessed the UST GenSan campus last April 11, the continuous expansion of UST GenSan is part of ongoing efforts to bring the Thomasian brand of excellence in education beyond España, and is part of the roster of activities for the 413th founding anniversary of the University on April 28.

Century Pacific Foods, Inc. President Teodoro Po graced the event, along with the UST Rector Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, OP, Ph.D., and Academician Prof. Emeritus Maribel G. Nonato, the Assistant to the Rector for UST General Santos.

Fr. Ang led the blessing rites and burying of the time capsule, which contained a Dominican Mission Cross, the blueprint of the UST-Dr. Ricardo S. Po, Sr. Integrated Innovation and Research Laboratories, a rosary, the day’s broadsheet, and the names of those who worked on and attended the inauguration and blessing of UST General Santos on April 11, 2024, and the participants of the Po Lab groundbreaking ceremony on April 25, 2024.

The Entrustment to the Blessed Mother was led by UST College of Science Dean Prof. Rey Donne Papa, Ph.D. 

Simultaneous with the Manila campus, regular classes for UST General Santos will start on August 9, 2024, for the first programs offered, including BS in Medical Technology and BS in Pharmacy under the School of Health Sciences, BS in Entrepreneurship and BS in Accounting Information System under the School of Business and Accountancy, and BS in Industrial Engineering major in Systems Engineering. Former Medical Technology Department Chair Prof. Edilberto Manahan, Ph.D., will head the School of Health Sciences, while former Commerce Dean Assoc. Prof. Leonardo Canoy, Ph.D., will lead the School of Business and Accountancy.

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