Jewelry crafted in Bulacan—either sold or pawned by a school founder in Angeles City to pay for teachers’ salaries—reestablished the first private school in the city and sustained its growth into a university that supported 27,000 poor students in 50 years.
The cost of scholarship, P505 million in all, surpassed the worth of jewelry that Barbara Yap-Angeles, brought in and out of pawnshops.
Dr. Emmanuel Angeles retells that story with fondness in tribute to his mother’s determination in securing the beginnings of what is now the Angeles University Foundation (AUF). Angeles, a former chair of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), serves as AUF chancellor.
It was only in 1975, or 13 years after AUF’s precursor, the Angeles Institute of Technology (AIT), opened on May 25, 1962, that Angeles was able to recover some of his mother’s jewelry and paid all of her loans.
His father Agustin went the extra mile, too. A mechanic, Agustin borrowed lumber and built a two-story building on a hectare-lot that Barbara bought on installment from her friend, Fortunata Dayrit.
Angeles, then a young lawyer, did not go into private practice to help his mother fulfill her dream of setting up a school.
“Nobody should be deprived of education because of poverty,” he said, quoting his mother’s constant reminder.
Barbara’s passion to establish a school and help poor students was fired up by a string of setbacks and blessings.
The Angeles Academy (AA), a gift by her brother, Ildefonso, after her graduation from the Centro Escolar University, had to be shut down three years after it opened on May 10, 1931.
Returning from a maternity leave, Barbara found almost all teachers gone, after they transferred to a new private school. She tried to reestablish AA in 1946 but the plan was overtaken by another private school in the city.
Barbara prioritized rearing eight children, one of whom died of measles during World War II. In between, she started small businesses. When her brother asked her to go to Davao City and help him run the Harvardian College there in 1952, Barbara took the entire brood, devoting 10 years in that work.
So when she decided to return and fulfill her dream again in 1961, she asked Angeles, then a 25-year-old lawyer out of the Ateneo de Manila University, to be an educator.
“I told Ima that’s going to be a departure from the career I prepared for. She was in tears when she told me about Angeles Academy,” Angeles said.
“My old lady was a committed educator. Her dream continued. For 30 years, she waited for me. I was challenged by her story. She said that if we established a school, maraming matutulungan (many people could be helped) more than I could as a lawyer.”
By then, his mother had P5,000 in a bank and a P20,000 balance to settle for the school lot.
When Angeles asked her if she had other capital, she told him: “You are my capital.” He then wrote letters to the Bureau of Education to seek a permit to operate a school and eventually got one.
Barbara had to rely on pawnshops for instant cash because at the time the AIT was inaugurated on May 25, 1962, the public market burned. That school year, half of the families of 611 students in high school and college were fire victims. They became Barbara’s first scholars.
In 1968, Angeles tried selling AIT to the Laurel family, who ran the Lyceum of the Philippines, to the owner of Alemars Bookstore and various religious congregations. Since there were no takers, his siblings suggested that he should manage the school’s finances instead.
“My mother was generous to priests and nuns, and she had been helping all our relatives. She’s very kind to everyone. I advised her to limit her charities in the meantime to the allowance we gave her monthly,” Angeles said.
What were not sacrificed were the scholars from various Central Luzon provinces, he said. Scholars consisted 20 percent of the student population each year. This prompted then Sen. Jose Roy to call AIT a “small school with a big heart.” Roy agreed to chair the AIT board in 1969.
The Department of Education granted AIT a university status on April 16, 1971, making Barbara the first president of a private university in Central Luzon.
“She was overwhelmed. She wore her terno. We threw a fiesta,” Angeles recalled. Roy also chaired the Angeles University (AU) board.
Barbara, made ill by diabetes in 1974, asked the board to make her son succeed her as president. Roy and the rest of the board threatened to resign to force Angeles to follow his mother’s wish.
Angeles did but only after AU was converted into a foundation and a Catholic university. “My brothers and sisters found it difficult to accept because all the school’s assets were donated to the foundation,” he said.
The new status came on Dec. 4, 1975, an eventful occasion that Barbara witnessed, before she died on March 25, 1976.
Angeles took in Dr. Concesa Milan-Baduel, then assistant director of public schools, who served AUF for 30 years. Angeles inaugurated the AUF Medical Center in 1990 and established centers of excellence at AUF, mostly on grants and tie-ups with more than 200 universities and benefactors around the world.
After his stint at CHEd, Angeles, 76, stayed at AUF, saying it was a commitment he made to then Education Secretary Onofre Corpuz when he signed the documents making AU a foundation.
Amid the challenges of educating the young, Angeles said he makes sure the dream of his mother is sustained: Help poor but bright students get quality education.