The birth of Central Philippine University is connected with the beginning of the Baptist mission in the Philippines.
In 1898, Rev. Dr. Eric Lund, a Swedish Baptist missionary, baptized Braulio Manikan, a native of Aklan, Panay, in Barcelona, Spain. Manikan became the first Filipino Baptist. The two soon planned to undertake mission work in the Philippines. While waiting for that opportunity, they embarked on translating the Gospels and Acts into the Hiligaynon language.
Their opportunity was materialized when the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) commissioned and financed their mission work. They arrived in Iloilo City, Philippines in May 1900.
The Philippine Baptist pastors and American missionaries developed a three-pronged mission work patterned from the ministry of Jesus Christ – Preaching, Healing, and Teaching. This pattern was developed as a means to minister to the “whole man” and not just his spiritual needs.
The preaching ministry resulted in organizing churches in Iloilo, Negros, and Capiz. For instance, Jaro Evangelical Church was organized in September 1900, Bacolod Evangelical Church in 1902, and Capiz Evangelical Church in 1908.
As to the healing ministry, the Philippine Baptist mission established two hospitals in Panay island. In Iloilo, the Baptists partnered with the Presbyterians in operating the Iloilo Mission Hospital (IMH) in 1901. Later, the IMH became an exclusive Baptist institution in 1925 when the Presbyterians turned over their mission work to the Baptists. In Capiz, a medical mission was started in 1902 which later became the Capiz Emmanuel Hospital in 1912.
The Philippine Baptist mission soon started a Baptist Home School in Capiz in 1904. Later, this became known as the Filamer Christian University. In Iloilo, a Bible School for women was established in 1904 through the leadership of Anna V. Johnson. This later became the Baptist Missionary Training School (BMTS). In June 1905 the Bible School for men was also opened. A few months later in October 1, 1905, another school was opened – the Jaro Industrial School. The Philippine Baptist mission commissioned Rev. Dr. William O. Valentine, a pastor and teacher, to head the two schools.
The Jaro Industrial School started as an elementary vocational school for boys who worked for their board and tuition. It was the first school in the Philippines to teach that labor is honor. Valentine said that this is a “school that would offer industrial education with a firm base in Christian teachings.”
The school had the distinction of having organized the first student government in the Philippines – the Jaro Industrial School Republic (now, CPU Republic).
In 1913, the school was incorporated and recognized by the government. The school also began to admit female students. In 1915, the first two years of high school were opened. In 1920, the third and fourth year classes were added and the following year the first batch of high school graduates were turned out.
The school was expanded into a junior college in 1923 and the name was changed to Central Philippine School and then to Central Philippine College. The senior college was established in 1936 and by 1940 five degrees were offered: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Education, Bachelor of Theology, and Bachelor of Religious Education. Another achievement for the college is that it was the first in the Philippines to offer a nursing course in cooperation with the Iloilo Mission Hospital, and also the first in the country to offer a Kindergarten School.
When World War II broke out, destruction and death arrived at CPC. The college buildings were destroyed. In Hopevale, Tapaz, Capiz the Japanese soldiers captured and killed the eleven American Baptist missionaries and one little boy in December 20, 1943. They are called the “Hopevale Martyrs.” One of those who died was Rev. Dr. Francis Howard Rose who was the Acting President of CPC before the war. He was the one who designed the CPC/CPU seal in 1923, and the one who also designed Weston Hall, Franklin Hall, and Roblee Hall. He composed many of the Central Songs, and through one of these songs, he is credited with coining the term “Central Spirit.”
Most students, faculty, staff and alumni joined the “Underground Resistance.” Many of them died for democracy and freedom.
After the war, Prof. Rex Drilon declared, “Out of the ruins and ashes of war shall rise a greater Central!” CPC was reopened by loyal faculty members and returning missionaries. Destroyed buildings were reconstructed and new ones were built. “The first two years of post-liberation has proved that the Central Spirit did not die.” “We shall show the generations coming after us that no war of man or machine can destroy the Central Spirit and that, like a river forever seeking the ocean, the College must go on…no matter what the difficulties.”
In April 1, 1953, Central Philippine College became Central Philippine University, and a serious discussion on the need for a Filipino president followed.
On May 10, 1966 the CPU Board of Trustees elected the university’s first Filipino president, Dr. Rex D. Drilon. Later, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1969, the entire university property – land, buildings and equipment – was turned over by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society to Central Philippine University. One of the conditions was to make “safeguards against CPU ever becoming non-church related.” Thus, the CPU Constitution and By-laws stipulates that 33 out of 65 of the members of the CPU Corporation and at least 10 out of 15 of the CPU Board of Trustees should come from member churches of the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches. Since then the next presidents of the university were all Filipinos – Dr. Augustin A. Pulido, Dr. Juanito M. Acanto and Dr. Teodoro C. Robles.
In the last 114 years, Central Philippine University has grown from an elementary school with 17 pupils to a widely known university with an enrollment of about 14,000 students. CPU has maintained its autonomous status granted by the Commission on Higher Education since 2001. As of 2018, CPU is the only university in Iloilo City that has been granted autonomous status. CPU is also ISO 9001:2015 Certified. CPU is now looked up to as the best in Western Visayas and one of the top 20 best schools in the whole country.
CPU has grown much in physical plant and educational programs but it continues to strive to remain true and faithful to its mission as a Christian institution whose motto is Scientia et Fides (Science and Faith).