THOUSANDS of students, faculty, and non-academic personnel of the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) gathered at the university gymnasium on December 4 to pay tribute to slain university president Dr. Ricardo Rotoras.
Rotoras was murdered by at least two gunmen around 1 a.m. Saturday, December 2, outside his house on Cypress Street, Golden Glow North, Upper Carmen, Cagayan de Oro City.
Wearing black, the grieving USTP community filled the gymnasium after Monday’s flag ceremony to honor Rotoras, who was also the president of the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges.
Many spoke highly about the four-term USTP president after the Holy Mass and the ecumenical service, such as the University Supreme Student Council president Artemio Pactos, faculty representative Joselito Sabalbaro, the former vice president for administration Romeo Naces, the dean of satellite campuses Colbert Rabaya, and the vice president for finance, planning and development Vanessa Ascao.
Pactos, in his testimony, described Rotoras as the father to all whose priority is "for the good and welfare of the students."
"Sa akoa, sa akong experience, maingon gyud ko nga (For me, based on my experience, I can say that) 'this man is my idol,'" Pactos said.
He added that one of the lessons he learned from the late president is to dream big and keep on dreaming even if you already achieved that dream.
"Usa ka lesson na nga learn sa iya (One of the lessons I learned from him is)... 'Dream big and that dream, make it a goal and don't stop trying to achieve it. And if you achieve that dream, then dream again. Ayaw pagdawata nga diri lang ka taman, diri lang ka taman. Hisgot sa imong kaugalingon nga makaingon ka nga kaya man ni nako. (Don't accept that you can only do this much. Tell yourself that you can do more)' Kato ang akong na learn gyud sa iyaha," Pactos said.
Sabalbaro, who was the former Faculty Association president, rose the spirits of the students by shouting justice for the death of Rotoras.
"So this morning, it will be our battle crime and shout to the world that justice be given to Dr. Rotoras! All of us, Justice for Rotoras!" Sabalbaro said.
He added that the call is addressed to the authorities such as the National Bureau of Investigation, police and the intelligence community, which are all working to investigate the case.
Rabaya, a family friend, described Rotoras as a jolly person.
He said the last time he saw Rotoras was in the party before the latter was shot.
"He was happy that time, tawa, sayaw, wala gyuy (There's no) anything unusual," Rabaya said.
Rabaya said went home around 12:30 a.m. He said he was shocked to receive the news of the incident, through a call, minutes after he arrived home.
Flowers and letters from faculty and students were also offered during the tribute.
On the part of the students, they said they were shocked and sad upon knowing that their president, whom they look up to as their father, has passed away.
"For us, grabe nga burden among na-feel karon kay father man gud namo sya; father sa among university. Dili lang sya father sa university pero father pud sya sa amo as individuals kay si Sir Rotoras, among president, (For us, we feel burdened since he is our father, the father of our university. He's not just a father to our university but also a father to us as individuals because Sir Rotoras, our president), is a very good president," said April, a third year Bachelor in Secondary Education major in Technology and Livelihood Education student.
She said Rotoras is a loving and supportive president who prioritized the security of the students, adding that the former Mindanao University of Science and Technology will not become USTP if not for Rotoras.
"He believes us, the capacity sa among nabuhat og sa mabuhat pa (our capacity of what we did and what we will be doing in the future)," April said.
Mark, Zye, Janzent and Archie, who were all fourth year Bachelor of Science in Electromechanical Technology students, said they were shocked and in disbelief when they first heard of the death of their university president.
"Abi nako bluff ra sya pagkaingon pero nahibal-an namo nga legit gyud sya, nga gipatay sya (I thought it was a bluff but I learned it was legit, that he was killed) for I don't know kung unsay reason nila kay eight ka bullets man gyud ang naa so naa siguro pagdumot ang gapatay sa iya (what reason but the killer probably has a grudge against him)," Mark said.
Zye said several of them wondered how the killer was able to shoot Rotoras inside the subdivision with a tight security and it was after the Christmas party.
On Monday afternoon, according to the Office of Student Affairs Director Amparo Dinagsao, a psychological aid will be conducted for all the faculty and students of USTP to brief them on how to cope with the stress and trauma brought by the incident.
This will be followed by a prayer rally at 6 p.m. inside the university campus.
According to the Supreme Student Council president Pactos, the prayer rally was conducted by USTP student leaders to call out the attention of the media and to push for a faster action in putting the killers of the late university president to justice. (With reports from Cyrill Garcia, Crystel Ann Perpetua, Mary Ross Odchigue and Louie France Arbiso, USTP interns/SunStar Cagayan de Oro)