By NITZ ARANCON
ARCHBISHOP Antonio Ledesma questioned the Jesuit-owned Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan’s ambitious plan to sell its Divisoria property and build its “Campus of the Future” in Manresa even as he expressed doubts on the viability of the proposed project in a letter he sent to the institution’s president.
Ledesma confirmed to the Gold Star Daily yesterday that he sent the letter to Xavier president Roberto Yap after an unsigned copy of it was made public by a netizen on social media.
The letter was sent to Fr. Yap as early as Oct. 5, 2018 but no one confirmed its existence until yesterday. In an interview weeks earlier, Ledesma declined to discuss the matter; he told this paper it was between him and Fr. Yap. Both are priests of the Jesuit order.
In his October 2018 letter, Ledesma stated: “I have questions regarding the economic viability of the entire project. Why spend P3.3 billion to tear down the present buildings and put up new ones on a campus that is only about five kilometers away? Even if the developer agrees to shoulder the costs of the new construction, how sure are we of the quality and durability of the new buildings? And what if the costs exceed the stipulated budget to be set aside for this purpose?”
After confirming that the letter came from him, Ledesma told the Gold Star Daily: “Well, mao nang akong observation. Dili man kinahanglan nga ibalhin ang tanan o halos tanang campus sa Xavier ngadto sa lain nga lugar.”
Ledesma added: “Napalastar na man karon diha ang mga buildings ug mas angayan na man gani ang mga estudyante nga mag-anha dinha kay mas du-ol man kana sa sentro.”
Ledesma however said he does not have the last say on Xavier’s plan and his were only “observations.”
Pursuing the plan, he said, would be up to the management of Xavier, the Jesuits “authority,” apparently referring to Vatican-based Society of Jesus superior general Arturo Sosa.
He said, “Ang ako diha, ako lang gipakita diha ang akong mga observations bahin niana.”
The archbishop started his 2018 letter to Fr. Yap with this: “This is with reference to the proposed sale of 6.3 ha of XU’s Divisoria land and 14.3 ha of Manresa in order to build a new 20.6 ha University campus in Manresa. Since this is a radical plan, may I suggest that this be the subject of a wider consultation…”
Ledesma also suggested that previous university presidents — Fathers Ernesto Javier, Bienvenido Nebres, Antonio Samson, Jose Ramon Villarin — be consulted.
He said Xavier’s “greatest asset” is its strategic downtown location because of its accessibility to students from all corners of the city.
“This will not be the case if it is based in Manresa,” Ledesma pointed out to Yap. “Other universities like FEU in Manila have maintained their main downtown campus while expanding to a second campus outside the center. XU can do the same thing with its existing Manresa campus.”
Ledesma also expressed “serious doubts” that any developer can adequately replace the buildings on the planned Manresa campus.
Reads part of his letter: “The present buildings on the main campus are solidly built and the fruit of the labors of generations of XU and Ateneo de Cagayan alumni. Many of these buildings are almost seen as historical monuments, like the church of Fr. [Andrew] Cervini, the Science Center of Fr. [William] Masterson, the Social Science Center of Fr. Madigan, the Engineering building of Fr. [Ernesto] Javier, the Museo de Oro building of Fr. [Francisco] Demetrio, the library buildings, the present gym, the Commerce and Nurses’ buildings, and even Loyola House.”
He said the transfer of Xavier’s College of Agriculture to the university’s El Gaucho property in Bugo, one one hand, may be inevitable given the rising value of commercial land near downtown Cagayan de Oro. On the other hand, he said, the Manresa Experimental Farm Station, as originally envisaged by the late Fr. Masterson, can provide the much needed greenery and retreat atmosphere for XU students.
Ledesma stated: “The envisioned 20.6 ha new campus can actually be retained at 64 ha! Indeed, future developments will actually enable the university to use the available space in Manresa, like the new dorm buildings for senior high scholars. The Searsolin building itself can be used for training seminars and conferences throughout the year. With careful planning and landscaping, Manresa can actually become gradually an alternative main campus, while retaining the present downtown campus.”