FAST FACTS: How honorary degrees are conferred

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FAST FACTS: How honorary degrees are conferred
The plan of the University of the Philippines' Board of Regents to confer an honorary degree on President Duterte draws protests from students and alumni

MANILA, Philippines – A proposal to confer an honorary degree on President Rodrigo Duterte drew varied reactions online.

Students and alumni of the University of the Philippines (UP) took to social media to slam the offer of the Board of Regents (BOR), the highest decision-making body of the UP system. (READ: ‪#‎DuterteNotWorthy‬: UP students, alumni protest honorary degree for Duterte)

Duterte, for his part, said that he declined the offer of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

An honorary doctorate degree is an award given to individuals whose achievements are worthy of recognition. In UP tradition, the heads of state receive the award, usually during his or her first year in office.

But Duterte isn’t the first to turn it down.

Former presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada had also turned down the recognition.

Qualifications of candidates

Who are qualified to receive honorary degrees?

According to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Memorandum Order No. 19, Series of 2014, an honorary degree (honoris causa in Latin) is conferred on an eminent individual, who need not be an alumnus of the institution offering the award.

“The honorary doctorate degree shall be awarded in recognition of an individual’s meritorious contributions to the advancement of a field in a particular discipline, through exemplary accomplishments in instruction, research, and practice, and his personal humanitarian accomplishments and contribution to the institution and society, rather than as a result of academic matriculation and study,” the memorandum read.

A Doctor of Laws honorary degree is awarded to public servants and lawyers who have contributed to international understanding, leadership, and the rule of law.

Process of conferment

Not all universities can award honorary degrees. They must have existed for more than 25 years and have a well-built reputation.

To confer the degree, the institution must first request for authority from CHED at least 3 months before the scheduled conferment.

The institution awarding the degree is required to submit the following documents:

  • A copy of the curriculum vitae and accomplishments of the candidate
  • Justifications for conferring the award
  • A copy of the resolution of the Governing Board, in the case of SUCs

CHED will decide as a college body on the proposal.

An exception to this rule are private higher education institutions with autonomous status and state universities and colleges (SUCs) with at least Level III status. These institutions do not need to secure CHED approval, and are required only to inform the commission about the offer of an honorary degree a month prior to the conferment.

The commission also has the prerogative to deny or withdraw the conferment of an honorary degree if the submitted credentials are fabricated, or “when the recipient’s conduct or stand on certain issues contravenes public morals and policy.”

The UP students and alumni opposing the offer of a degree to Duterte had cited the President’s bloody war on drugs and other controversial policy statements.


“Giving honor to a man who challenges basic human decency, discourages public dissent, promotes a culture of impunity, and lauds extrajudicial killings, UP has taken a major step backward in upholding Honor and Excellence,” they said. – Timothy Gucilatar, with reports from Kurt dela Peña and Basmarie Marin/

Timothy Gucilatar, Kurt dela Peña and Basmarie Marin are Rappler interns

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