Travails of verifying alumni records of public officials

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Checking the educational attainment of Philippine senators – as part of Rappler's efforts to verify claims made by public officials – can be both easy and tough. It all depends on the university.

The University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, allowed Rappler to verify basic information about the 14 senators who claimed to have graduated from the said campus. (READ: No master's degrees for Ralph Recto)

We asked for the senators' years of stay, year of graduation, the name of the course they took, and Latin honors or academic distinctions received, if applicable. This is to compare it with what the senators have declared in their public profiles.

Within two weeks, the UP Diliman's Office of the University Registrar provided us letters containing answers to our queries.

UP Manila

The case is different with UP Manila, where two senators studied and/or graduated. We requested for the same information.

Initially, the registrar's office asked for the written consent of these senators. After informing them that we went through the same process with UP Diliman, they referred our request to the university chancellor.

After nearly a month of follow-ups, we were told by a staff of the registrar's office that our request was returned to them by the senators without comment. Again, their office insisted on getting written consents first.

We ended up explaining the situation to no less than UP President Alfredo Pascual, and sought his advice. It took an intervention from his office to release the information – after the scope of our request was clarified.

Private universities

The private schools we contacted for this investigation gave us a difficult time.

The De La Salle University (DLSU) and the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) asked for written consents from the senators as well. The registrar's offices of the two universities cited the confidential and private nature of such alumni information.

The DLSU website has an online facility for the easy verification of its students and alumni since 1989. However, it offers a disclaimer saying, "No conclusion should be made that names not appearing in the facility did not attend nor did not graduate from this school." It then suggested to further verify with the registrar's office.

To help us further in our research, we asked for supporting information, such as details about specific degree programs the schools had offered in the past.

The DLSU registrar's office kept pointing us to the school's website, which reflects its current undergraduate and graduate programs, and only general details about the school's past offerings.

Due to these roadblocks, we resorted to looking at secondary sources like yearbooks and copies of commencement exercise programs publicly available in the school library.

As for UA&P, it responded to our queries about the Strategic Business Economics program. Senator Ralph Recto claimed to have earned a master's degree under the said program. The school's library also provided us copies of UA&P yearbooks available in their collection.

But when we asked for copies of commencement exercise programs from the library, we were led back to the school's registrar's office. One week later, a staff there told us that these documents are only for "internal use." Only then were we referred to the school's alumni affairs office for the official list of graduates.

The alumni affairs office required us to produce the following: incorporation papers of Rappler, company profile, and a fee of P3,000 ($66). Only then would they grant our request.

We were surprised by these impositions so we reached out to UA&P's corporate communications office. They gladly helped us.

Maria Mercedes Robles, managing director of the corporate communications office, apologized for the way our request was handled. "It took too long and went through a circuitous route before reaching my office which could have acted on it more promptly and decisively," she wrote us.

"I'm thankful this happened because it gave us an opportunity to revisit the ways in which we deal with such requests whether from the media or other interested parties."

After going through all these, the question should be asked: Shouldn’t universities make basic information on the educational background of government officials public? After all, they are public figures and subject to everyone’s scrutiny. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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