Br. Bernie Oca FSC officially assumed chancellorship last September 1, following Dr. Robert Roleda’s decision to step down and go on a sabbatical leave. Fondly known by Lasallians as “Brother Bernie,” he will serve as University Chancellor while maintaining his position as President of De La Salle-Santiago Zobel School (DLSZ).
In an interview with The LaSallian, Br. Oca shares his plans on fulfilling the institution’s Vision-Mission and finding sustainable ways in harnessing the University’s potential. The new Chancellor also discusses anticipated challenges and issues, as well as expectations from the Lasallian community among others.
Aside from his vision as Chancellor, The LaSallian goes beyond introducing Oca as a leader, and paints him as a supporter of the sports community, a true-blooded Lasallian, and more importantly, as a person.
You are known by Lasallians as a sports enthusiast, a former active member of the Office of Sports Development, and a Brother who serves several Lasallian schools. Aside from these characteristics, how would you like Lasallians to recognize you? Tell us more about yourself.
First and foremost, I am a La Salle Brother, so I like to be recognized as a La Salle Brother. St. La Salle wanted the men he gathered together to teach the first group of children that he put into school. He wanted them to be called “Brothers” because during that time, teachers were called “masters”. There is a qualitative difference in the term that teachers and masters are somebody who is superior, above, and looks down on students, at the young people.
St. La Salle said, “You become Brothers and that’s the title you will carry. You will not become fathers. You will not become priests. You will not become masters. You become a Brother.” The idea, therefore, is that a Brother is somebody who treats the children who are given to him by God as younger brothers. There is a relationship that the teacher has towards his students.
So, I’d like to be first known as a Brother since St. La Salle originally wanted [them to be an] elder brother, and I can be an elder brother to everybody here in De La Salle University.
What started your lifelong enthusiasm for sports?
When I became an administrator here in the early 90s as Vice President for External Affairs, one of the offices [I handled] was the Office of Sports Development. What really makes me so supportive of sports and our athletes is that [with] these young people, you can see the dedication and commitment they have for the love of La Salle. [They] give honor not only to themselves, but to their families and to the University.
I would also like to believe because of the Christian background that we have, that they are also honoring God who has given them these talents by using them to the best of their abilities. So I’m very inspired by the example that these athletes give. Not only do they practice [for many] hours in a day, but they also have to keep up with their academic requirements. That type of commitment, that type of dedication is very inspiring.
I also believe in a healthy mind and a healthy body. That is an advocacy I have, [for] people to be healthy. As teachers, sometimes it’s very sedentary. You just go to the classroom and check papers and that is not healthy. The idea of a healthy body is a good way of releasing stress, especially in a very stressful environment like ours.
How do you think your experience as the President of DLSZ has prepared you for the Chancellorship in DLSU? What is your leadership style?
It’s not only by being President [of] DLSZ [that I was able] to prepare myself to be in this position, but I have been in De La Salle for really many years and under different administrative positions. Those years [of] being a professor here, being an administrator here earlier, and now in DLSZ have really contributed to my being appointed.
I’ve also been President of De La Salle Greenhills [at] the professional schools, so this type of experience [has] really prepared me and contributed to hopefully [enable me] to adequately do the job of the Chancellor—dealing with people, students, parents, and alumni. But of course, it’s a challenge because De La Salle University is like three times, almost four times bigger than DLSZ.
[As a leader,] I empower. I know directions that have been said, the Vision-Mission, strategic plans, etc. I know my role is to be like some form of leader, but then there’s just so much to be done that you really need to delegate, and you empower [your constituents]. You know that the people there know their responsibilities, their functions, and their roles.
Part of making decisions is also making mistakes, so what do you learn from that? More importantly, [it] is that you empower them to make decisions that can help you. That is another thing, I am collaborative. It’s not only me; together, we will be able to achieve our goals and our objectives.
You have been a Lasallian since the beginning. How has your education shaped you and led you to where you are today?
I am what I am. In fact, this whole spiel of core values is because of my Lasallian education. From the very beginning, I always go through memory lane. I go to the Brothers’ house, I see my prep classroom, I pass by my Grade 1 classroom, I pass by my Grade 2 classroom, and the LS hall. All through that, there were Brothers and teachers that were always kind, always brotherly. There is this sense of communion, a strong sense of family, and the sense of being prayerful, being a person of faith.
It’s just the great influence of all the people I have here. My peers, those who have formed me, the Brothers, the teachers, and now with all my experiences as a Brother—these influenced me.
In conjunction with your appointment as the new Chancellor, you will also remain as the President of DLSZ. How do you plan on balancing both commitments?
I go to DLSZ every morning, and then in the afternoons, I am here. It is fortunate that [there is] now an Executive Vice President (EVP) in Zobel. I am grateful for the reestablishment of that position in Zobel because I am getting old, and somebody can help me do the more day-to-day tactical [tasks], while I do the strategic part as President.
It was also good [that] there was Raffy Relosa who used to be the Integrated School Principal of De La Salle Laguna for seven years. I asked him, “Brother Ray [Suplido], can I have Mr. Relosa to be the EVP?” He said yes. Then eventually, I became the Chancellor here.
Right now, Mr. Relosa does the nitty-gritty, and I will do more or less the ceremonial and the bigger things. Here naman, I am doing the nitty-gritty, and Brother Ray is doing the ceremonial and the bigger things. But so far, so good.
What key developments initiated during Dr. Robert C. Roleda’s term as Chancellor do you plan to continue?
Well, definitely, Bobby was also following a lot of the strategic plans that have been articulated already.
First, he wanted to continue the role and status of De La Salle University as being an excellent academic institution. That, definitely, I will follow. Recently, [we received] the [Times Higher Education] (THE) recognition, which is part of the President and Chancellor’s thrust. Then, we have the [ASEAN University Network] (AUN) accreditation [for the] re-accreditation of two of our programs. We’re going to have the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology coming over in October to [accredit] our engineering programs; this is not only local, but international. Then, we’re going to have PAASCU accreditation of, I think, [six] of our colleges and the School of Economics.
Secondly, to promote the research track of the University. Right now, we’re one of the top universities in the Philippines with the research output that are in top-tier journals. That’s one of the reasons why we got the THE high ranking because one of the criteria is that the university has to be in the Top 1000 and has to have at least 200 publications in these top-tier journals for five consecutive years. It’s only UP and DLSU that have met that. Then, what I heard is that UP—it’s this whole system of UP, all the six schools. Their journals are put together while [DLSU], it’s just us. We can be very, very proud of that.
Then, also the sustainability. Hopefully, we will be able to minimize our use of power and water so that we can make the community realize how important the environment is.
[Lastly,] to encourage continuously the improvement of the teachers, of the faculty, the improvement of our services. The improvement of the way our faculty teaches, especially the new way of teaching, is not like the lecture type, but more on outcome-based—more participative, collaborative, learner-centered. [It’s] that type of paradigm I would like to push through. That’s also another thing that I learned from DLSZ, because DLSZ is trailblazing in this blended learning type of teaching, and I saw how it grew from when I started to what it is now. So, I am hoping that DLSU will be also the trailblazer in the tertiary-level of this type of use of technology learning.
One notable initiative during Dr. Roleda’s tenure was the shift of the University Break (U Break) from Friday to Monday. Despite being announced as “temporary,” do you plan on observing this schedule in the succeeding terms?
I asked Dr. Roleda about that, “Did you really say temporary?” He says “No, what I said was: we will review the calendar after one year,” and that I will follow. We will study it, then we will make a decision after one year. This is kinda controversial, but of course we will be listening to the students. This review is not just going to be arbitrary, not just going to come from administration and faculty, but definitely the inputs of the students will be taken into consideration.
Do you see any particular problems or issues that need/s to be addressed and/or situations that need improvement in the University?
One of the big challenges now is the financial situation. The past several years, because of the shift of K-12, we only had a few freshmen. [Even if] it’s getting back to normal because the Grade 12 students have graduated, we had very few students, which means our finances have taken a big hit. That’s one of the things that we need to look into [so] that we will be more judicious with our finances—so that we will be sustainable in the future.
Another [part] of Dr. Roleda’s thrusts is the Laguna Campus. De La Salle [in] Taft is already in the middle of a bustling city, [and] it is already crowded. The programs are very traditional, while Laguna has more open spaces and more creative, forward-looking courses—courses that we haven’t even conceived [of until] now! [That is] what we call the fourth industrial revolution. We’re even thinking, “If you’re recognizing the fourth, why don’t we already envision the fifth and go towards that?” Hopefully, Laguna can grow and be recognized as [a] progressive development for De La Salle, [since] making the future begins in DLSU.
In relation to these issues and past developments observed in the University, what do you plan to initiate during your term as the Chancellor?
Right now, I’ve been here for just three weeks, so [I am still] exploring. It’s just really exploring and then maybe, you can come back to me in a term, then I can answer you better regarding that. But, [as I have] mentioned with what Dr. Roleda has done, that’s a lot already. Just to follow that, to see it through, and to build on it, that already takes so much.
In light of recent national events, what is one thing that you would like Lasallians to be aware of the most?
What we need to do is find the truth. We Lasallians [should] use our talents [and] our resources to really get always at the truth. I think one of the worst things that is happening now [as] the product of social media, technology—as well as political affiliations—is fake news. We are bombarded with information that is false [while] it look like it is true. With us, hopefully, we are developing critical thinkers. We are developing people who know what is right and what is wrong. We know where to get information. We have the guts to be able to look for the information and to speak out what is the truth. That’s what I would like us to do as [a] University. As a learning institution, we have the resources to find out what is the truth. And so let us, together, always stand up for the truth.
Whatever we learn, whatever we finish in our careers, we always think that: “I am going to make life better.” [Making] life better, as I see in the elevator [which was designed with] what Senator Diokno said: “We will probably not make life for this world perfect, but we can make it better.” So, that’s hopefully [what] we can do. We are so blessed. You are so blessed in being able to have a good education. Let’s use it so that [we can] provide a future for [the ones in need], and thus make our world and society a little better.
We don’t have to go far to see how blessed we are and [see] how far we still need to work [and be able to] share those blessings. I will always keep on recurring these three core values that we have: Faith, Service and Communion. There is a loving God [who] is always with us. He shared so much blessings to us [that] are to be shared with others through service, especially with those who are not as blessed as us. [Additionally, incorporating] the sense of communion that we are not alone, and that we are brothers and sisters to one another. We are not strangers, we are family. We will be able to overcome all of these major challenges and obstacles [given to] us, no matter how big they are because we all believe in one God. We’re together and we’re doing this because of Him.