CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The opposition to the sale of the sprawling Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan campus in Cagayan de Oro kicked up to a new level as organized residents presented their side to the city council and asked the local government to stop the plan.
Leaders of the Concerned Parents, Teachers, Alumni, and Communities (COPTAC) on Monday, February 21, appealed to local officials to intervene and stop the sale because the campus is considered a historical and heritage site in Cagayan de Oro.
The Jesuit-owned university plans to sell at least four hectares of its six-hectare downtown campus, and another 14 of a 63-hectare agricultural property to build “a campus of the future.”
Xavier has entered into an agreement with renowned property developer Cebu Landmasters Incorporated, in a deal that is estimated to generate at least P3 billion for the university.
In a meeting, COPTAC representatives told Vice Mayor Reineir Joaquin Uy and city councilors that the move to sell Xavier’s main campus would also have “serious implications” on the comprehensive land-use plan of Cagayan de Oro.
“The campus cannot just be sold and converted into a commercial district without the city council revising the comprehensive land-use plan,” said alumna Ro-Ann Bacal, a retired National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director.
Xavier plans to retain about two hectares of its present campus built right in what is considered the heart of Cagayan de Oro.
If plans don’t miscarry, the project would be carried out in phases beginning in the second quarter of 2022.
The plan, seen as a move that would change the landscape of downtown Cagayan de Oro, started a firestorm in 2019 among teachers, alumni, and old families in the city.
In an announcement in 2021, Xavier said the father provincial and superior general of the Jesuits in Rome gave the plan the green light.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno initially hailed the plan, saying the move would “redefine” and change the landscape of Northern Mindanao’s capital city.
The main campus is located in the heart of downtown Cagayan de Oro.
Bacal said COPTAC has “gently reminded” Moreno that changing the land use of the existing university campus from “institutional to commercial/residential” would require an amendment of the city government’s land use program and zoning ordinance.
She said the city government has approved the Lunhaw Urban Design Adaptation project that would transform the Cagayan de Oro riverside up to Corrales Avenue, where the main campus is located, into the Divisoria Heritage Park.
COPTAC lawyer Eddie Cuaresma, former president of the local chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), said a team from the National Historical Institute (NHI) would be sent to the city after the May 2022 elections to inspect the campus buildings that are more than 50 years old.
“The entire Xavier University main campus is a heritage campus. It should be preserved for the generations to come,” Cuaresma said. – Rappler.com
Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.