ON THE OCCASION OF THE CENTENARY OF THE UP ENGLISH DEPARTMENT

By Elmer A. Ordonez
The Manila Times
26 August 2010
http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/opinion/24530-on-the-occasion-of-the-centenary-of-the-up-english-department

Diliman was sprawling countryside, with clumps of trees and bamboo and stretches of cogon and talahib. It must have once been covered with forest, hence, its name.

The campus just vacated by the US Army had two pre-war concrete buildings, what are now Benitez Hall and Malcolm Hall, and many quonset buildings, including a cavernous theater and a gym. The campus was divided into numbered areas where sawali huts were assigned to faculty members, employees, and their families. There were two swimming pools, a large hall with dance floor, bars and function rooms, called Gregory Terrace. This became the venue for monthly socials sponsored by Dean of Women Ursula Clemente for the purpose of teaching UP coeds the social graces. The girls were bused from the dormitories, while the boys came looking for dance partners.

This was the campus as we, the first batch of freshmen, found it in January 1949. From June to December 1948 we were studying in the rubbled Padre Faura campus where classrooms and laboratories leaked when it rained. My Freshman English class was under a Florencio Makalinao, a former GI from the Philippine regiment of the US Army. Other former-GI s included Professors.

Alfonso Santos, Satur-nino Cabanatan, and Pas-cual Capiz. While most male professors came in shirts or khaki, Macalinao always came to class in coat and tie but did not teach us much. UP High School graduates like myself felt we had an edge in UP ways over other freshmen who mostly came from public high schools—most of them valedic-torians and salutatorians with regional intonations. Those from Ateneo and De La Salle behaved like spoiled brats, with phony accents.

At the time I was a pre-law student but when my short story was published in the 1949-50 Literary Apprentice (edited by William Pomeroy, Silvino Epistola, and Ruben Canoy) I switched to AB English. I became a member of the UP Writers Club for my Apprentice story and being editor-in-chief of the Philippine Collegian.

My grades suffered in my third year because of pressure of Collegian work.

I thought Professor Vicente Hilario picked on me in his class in 18th century English literature while others like Professors Ester Perez and Damiana Eugenio seemed to give me some leeway in my academic work. I think it was Nieves Benito (later Mrs. Epistola) who told me that JD Constantino as Collegian examiner gave me a good mark in editorial writing, which put me in the top three examinees.

The editor in chief then was elected from this shortlist by a student board of management controlled by fraternities. Upsilon to which I belonged had the majority votes.

In my senior year I topped the essay exam for the Philippinensian. Senior Council President Cesar Virata would appoint no one but me for the yearbook.

The pace of work in the Philippinensian was not as hectic as that of the Collegian, and I did better in my major subject. While I basked in the honor of being editor of two publications, my grades did not qualify me for membership to the Phi Kappa Phi honor society.

It was then that I seriously thought of becoming a journalist, working with Fred Mangahas and Jose Lansang (both PhB in English degree holders) in the Diliman Star, the Manila Post (under Abelardo Subido who with Trinidad Tarrosa were known as the Brownings of the Philippines), and later The Manila Times (together with Pocholo Romualdez, Isagani Yambot, and Rodolfo Reyes, all English majors). Romualdez was the last to get a PhB in English in 1950.

Upon graduation in 1952 I was taken in as a graduate student together with SV Epistola while I was holding a proofreading job at night at Benipayo Press. Professor Cristino Jamias, the department head, was not pleased with me since I usually tried to elude his attempts as adviser to screen the stories for the Collegian when I was editor. Furthermore, in his graduate class (Tudor drama) I had the habit of raising questions about our readings—upsetting Jamias.

A classmate, Major Juan Aguas of the Philippine Military Academy, said he felt that anything I said in class would annoy our professor. I did not fail Jamias classes including Anglo-Saxon, but I sensed I wouldn’t last in the department. At the end of summer, while I was assigned to the dean’s office, Dean Tomas Fona-cier told me that he would tell the department head to take Epistola and me as Instructors in English. Jamias had no choice but to suffer my presence in the department. The department took in older writers Dolores Feria and Ricaredo Demetillo from Silli-man, and Francisco Arcellana who was already living on campus with his family.

In the following year the university was plunged into turmoil because of religious sectarianism fomented by Father John Delaney’s “interference” in UP affairs. Using the death of an Upsilon neophyte during hazing, Father Delaney waged a campaign with the help of the UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA) and faculty members who lived on campus for the abolition of all fraternities and sororities. The Jesuit insisted on holding sessions with his supporters in UP academic venues and proposed a department of religion. Registrar Arturo Guerrero wrote a memo to President Vidal Tan saying that Father Delaney’s acts were a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. The matter reached the Board of Regents when it was learned from an assistant of the Secretary to the President that names of faculty members were submitted to the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).

The testimony of Amelita Reysio-Cruz and others before the Regents’ hearing was reported in the press such that four names of faculty members (Ricardo Pascual of Philosophy, Agustin Rodolfo of Zoology, Epistola and myself of English) appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine (1954) as purported “Red suspects.” This was the local version of McCarthyite, witch-hunting at the time that would continue on for the rest of 50s and early 60s. The congressional committee on anti-Filipino activities hearings on “communist” UP professors were protested by student groups led by the SCAUP (Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines) founded by Jose Maria Sison, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, Luis Teodoro, Ed Villegas, and other English majors with student leaders from other disciplines. Ironically, Leonardo Perez, once liberal Collegian editor, headed the CAFA.

I was already out of the country by 1957 for PhD study in the University of Wisconsin (Madison).

But I learned that the wounds or scars of that sectarian conflict were to stay for quite a while on campus, particularly in the department where the division took on an ideological color. The issues were over books to be used in general education subjects. Readings particularly in English 5 were debated. Appointment of instructors, renewals, curricular revisions, and new courses were fought over. These would go on to the early 70s—during my term as department head (1969 to 72).

Martial law would make all these irrelevant in the face of a larger threat not only to academic freedom but to the lives of faculty and students. As President SP Lopez wrote to me in Malaysia, “the key word is survival—to a better day.” I was then a visiting professor in Penang with a cancelled passport about to be deported.

The Society for the Advancement of Academic Freedom was formed in the mid 50s by 154 faculty members (including several from the Department— Leopoldo Yabes, Pascual Capiz, Ricaredo Demetillo, Leticia Ramos, SV Epistola, Rony Diaz, Virginia Moreno, Alejandrino Hufana, and myself), and its first project was putting out a landmark publication, Academic Freedom as a special issue of the Philippine Collegian under the advisership of Dr. Alfredo Lagmay of Psychology. The book includes articles on academic freedom by Ambassadors Carlos Romulo and Salvador Lopez (who would become UP presidents), Professor Leopoldo Yabes, Dr. Pascual Capiz, and Instructors in English Ricaredo Demetillo, Alejandrino Hufana, visiting professor of humanities Albert M. Hayes, myself, and my students; Leopoldo Gerardo and Petronilo Daroy. Dr. Lagmay and Dr. OD Corpuz were among other professors from other disciplines—as contributors.

The 50s then were interesting times for the department. Not content with academic work, I found together (with writers F. Sionil Jose, Alex Hufana, and Fred Burce Bunao) the little magazine Comment, billed as a journal of ideas, at a time when many academics were afflicted with what Yabes called “the fear of ideas.” Comment drew the support of the liberal-minded faculty not only from English but other disciplines—all involved in the resuscitation of nationalism and promotion of academic freedom. After editing three issues, I was sent by Dean Fonacier for study in Wisconsin.

Comment under Frankie Jose metamorphosed into the Solidarity journal that lasted until the late 90s.

When I returned in 1963 the English majors were protesting “terror” teachers in the department. Many of them were involved in the burgeoning nationalist movement led by Kabataang Makabayan founded by Jose Maria Sison and other English majors, Pete Daroy, Ed Villegas, Vivencio Jose, Perfecto Tera Jr., Luis Teodoro. Ninotchka Rosca, Gelacio Guillermo, Rosario Ramirez, and Dick Malay were just some of the former students from the department who entered UP in the late 50s to assume nationalist roles in the turbulent 60s onto the First Quarter Storm and beyond. The 60s produced generations of students with commitment to what Sison espoused as the national democratic movement. Since then many of them had been through street protests, armed struggle, imprisonment, torture, exile, and sometimes disaffection.

To be an English major certainly is no effete vocation. Literature particularly Third World writing opens eyes not only to one’s self or individuality but to a wide range of social issues of oppression, tyranny, and man’s inhumanity to man. With these insights into unjust societies, one is a step away from involvement and struggle.

The professors and colleagues in the department who contributed to my “sentimental education” were Leopoldo Yabes, Consuelo Fonacier, Cristino Jamias, Pascual Capiz, NVM Gonzalez, Francisco Arcellana, Damiana Eugenio, Josefina Constantino, Wilhelmina Ramas, Ester Perez, Pacita Guevara-Fernandez, Helen Mendoza, Leonard Casper, Dolores Feria, Ricaredo Demetillo, Saturnino Cabanatan, Alfonso Santos, Concepcion Dadufalza, Vicente Hilario, Alfredo T. Morales, Mona Highley, Dan Rola, Felixberto Sta, Maria, Armando Malay, Hernando Abaya, Josefa Cabanos Lava, Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero, Virginia Moreno, Leticia Ramos-Shahani, SV Epistola, William Pomeroy, Alex Hufana, Rony Diaz, Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio and others I may have missed here.

To be continued
It was through association with them in class as a student or colleague, in faculty meetings, seminars, conferences, workshops and social gatherings, or in chance encounters along the corridor, in the library or anywhere in the groves of Diliman, and ultimately in reading their work, that I acquired insights that have shaped my thinking and direction in life.

Just conversing with Yabes in his office with his rich collection of Filipiniana always yielded something for a paper or thesis. His low-key approach to teaching or thesis advising appealed to me because I work best in independent study. He introduced me to Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station and Memoirs of Hecate County.

SV Epistola who guided me in the Collegian challenged me to read Karl Marx when I manifested a Cold War attitude after visits to the USIS library with books like The God That Failed. Epistola and Pomeroy published my first story in the Apprentice. Pomeroy whose stories I admire for their lyricism was the quiet American in our class with Alfonso Santos in American literature. He disappeared in the summer of ’51 to join his Huk comrades. The Forest and its sequel Bilanggo depict his odyssey (with wife Celia Mariano) in the Sierra Madre and their ordeal in prison and separation.

I remember Jamias for his Anglo-Saxon learned at Harvard. I made peace with him on my return in 1963 when it was my turn to teach Old English. Vicente Hilario introduced me to Popular Bookstore in Doroteo Jose (the best bookshop in town at the time). He is memorable for his GI khaki get-up, rubber shoes, bayong for brief case, and wry jokes. Alfredo T. Morales, the first PhD. in English after the war, taught American literature and critical theory; he had a rich baritone voice as he read “Peter and the Wolf” in performances for children. Franz Arcellana wrote on yellow pad parts of his story “Divide by Two” in our Victorian literature class under Mona Highley.

Saturnino Cabanatan encouraged me to write my undergraduate thesis on Jose Garcia Villa. After gathering all the data needed, I wrote the thesis directly on the typewriter, with all the footnotes and bibliography without the benefit of a first draft. I learned later he used my thesis as a model for English 199 class.

NVM Gonzalez will always be known as the father of the writers workshop (1950) where young writers sat at his feet in his Area II cottage and discussed with him the craft of fiction. It was about this time the Ravens was formed with SV, Alex Hufana, Rony Diaz, Maro Santaromana, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Pacifico Aprieto, Armando Bonifacio, and myself as the original members. Virgie Moreno became its lone female member, and Nick Joaquin, honorary member.

Debates with Felixberto Sta. Maria, Dionisia Rola, and Concepcion Dadufalza over curricular matters could not help but hone one’s argumentative skills and also teach something about self-knowledge and humility. They together with Wilhemina Ramas, Damiana Eugenio, JD Constantino, Esther Perez, Alejandro Casambre, and others with BSEs certainly knew their pedagogy in comparison with those who began teaching (oido style) armed with PhB or AB degrees – many of whom were tapped for the humanities, creative writing, Philippine language and literature, mass communication, and linguistics. Consuelo Fonacier and Alex Casambre later formed the speech and theater department.

On my first years in teaching, some of my students in GE courses would drop in the department, and parking by my desk, engage me in conversation about books — like those by Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, Mary McCarthy, Leopoldo Yabes, Ricardo Pascual and others – and journals like Partisan Review, Dissent, and the New Republic, and current issues like academic freedom and religious sectarianism. There was no privacy in that large hall of department of English at what is now Palma Hall. And so perhaps that was how we got into the attention of dossier keepers.

Now and then I get reminiscences from former students like Epifanio San Juan, Jr., Pete Daroy, Rene Mendoza, Bernardita Reyes-Churchill, Alma Pecson-Fernandez and others like Benito Lim, Aurora Roxas-Lim, Luis Uranza Jr., Rodolfo Reyes, Perfecto Fernandez, Ruben Garcia, and Ismael Khan who were not my students but who remembered the antics and foibles of their mentors but above all the intellectual ferment of the times that led to the nationalist resurgence of the 60s.

Remembrances of those early decades in the department could easily fade unless set on record now. To quote T.S. Eliot:

“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.”