I realized recently that it was exactly 50 years ago that I entered the University of the Philippines in Diliman as a 15-year-old freshman. Okay, so I was just a month short of 16 when I had my first day of college life in June of 1971.
This past year, I’ve refreshed my memories of the campus with sketches of landmark buildings and sites. I base this article on those structures and places that hold memories for me and my generation of Maroon Iskolars ng Bayan.
The first things that greet you as you enter the university are the modernist twin waiting sheds of National Artist Billy Abueva. I always marveled at them, their abstract lines and feat of cantilevered engineering. The two structures were the de facto gateway when coming, as most people did, from Commonwealth Avenue.
Right after the gateway is Quezon Hall, the administration building. Designed by Juan Nakpil in a hybrid art-deco style, I would only visit this twice during my undergrad years: first in a performance with a Spanish-language choir (to score points with my Spanish teacher and his teaching assistant, whom I eventually dated), and second, when I graduated. Both involved another UP landmark: the amphitheater behind Quezon Hall. I liked the graduation ceremony so much that I did it twice (I have two undergraduate degrees), albeit without Latin honors — Non est omnis genius.
My first two years were spent mostly in this building. We called Palma Hall the AS, short for Arts and Sciences. We took our general subjects here: English, Spanish, Math (I still have calculus nightmares), Philippine Institutions, WETOT (Western Thought), and Humanities, which we all loved because it was the only classroom that was air conditioned. We often dozed off as our professors showed slides in the darkened room.
From my second year onwards, I spent more and more time at Melchor Hall, the Engineering Building. The college of architecture was located on the fourth and fifth floor of the west wing of the Cesar Concio-designed building. This was home to me and my batchmates — through years of sleepless nights, producing our design plates, scale models and theses presentations.
My key memory of Melchor Hall was when I had an organization meeting there on Sept. 22, 1971, right after the imposition of martial law. We found out that DZUP radio station on the fifth floor of Melchor Hall was raided and the transmitter demolished. We hugged and said our goodbyes to each other, not knowing when we would be together again (as it turned out, a few months later, as UP reopened under tight controls).
University Theater and Carillon
The theater was where we had our freshman orientation. I have no recollection of what was presented, but the theater made an impression. I would revisit it constantly over the years to watch concerts of the APO, the New Minstrels, jazz music, and choral competitions.
Sunken Garden and University Library
The library was my favorite place in the university. I loved spending gaps between classes, mostly reading current foreign magazines and journals of design and architecture in the periodical section in the rear tower, and, yes, also to take naps. Behind the library was the sunken garden, where fairs were held and where we played intramural games of soccer.
The UP gym was where I learned judo, tennis, taekwondo, and dance. It was here that I joined the UP Filipiniana. I had originally wanted to join the Madrigals, but did not know how to read music.
The Filipiniana directress, Corazon Iñigo, held classes in folk and modern dance at the gym. It was more difficult compared to the martial arts and they needed men, so I learned to dance and play some ethnic instruments; eventually traveling with the troupe and earning a university letter (dance was considered one of the varsity sports).
I credit this experience to my losing any stage fright and developing an ability to stand and perform in front of an audience. This augured well for me years later when facing clients and audiences at conferences.
This is the student union. In my freshman year, I would go here to have two-peso lunches at the cafeteria. The university food service did not exactly have a sterling record, but the food was cheap, and I took a strange liking to their saccharine chiffon cake. The university bookstore was in the basement and that’s where I stocked up on bluebooks.
I survived my freshman year relatively intact, spending little of my allowance. I would commute to school, spending about 45 centavos on buses from Pasig. The Ikot jeepney (it traveled only counterclockwise then) cost 15 cents a ride. I survived on food-service offerings, as well as turon and banana-cue sold by ragamuffins. They were allowed, in the pre-martial law years, to roam about anywhere, even inside the buildings.
Congratulations and welcome to the UP Diliman freshmen of 2021. I hope you eventually get to physically experience the sprawling green campus after this pandemic is contained. My time there defined who and what I am. It was an adventure, and I hope your stay will be as amazing as mine was in the ’70s. And oh, yes, remember to study hard. Do not forget that you are scholars of the country.