EXCELLENCE and service.
For embodying these intertwined values, 50 alumni of the University of the Philippines (U.P.) received Oblation statuettes from the U.P. Alumni Association Cebu Chapter Foundation Inc. (UPAACCFI).
The statuettes symbolize the “Tatak UP” award, given for the first time by the UPAACCFI during the Alumni Homecoming held last Dec. 2, 2011.
The figure of a nude man, with an upturned face and arms fully extended at his side, is the icon most associated with U.P.
Found everywhere—from official logos to the shirts UPians pair with slippers and shorts—the Oblation endures in its original symbolism.
Weathering climactic, ideological, political and administrative turbulence, even media homogenization—the eponymously named Oblation Run of streaking nude men is a primetime TV staple, often shorn of the reasons behind the protest—the Oblation stands for “selfless sacrifice”.
Guillermo E. Tolentino made the original sculpture, which is found in the U.P. Diliman Main Library Building. He was commissioned by then U.P. president Rafael Palma, who suggested for inspiration the second stanza of Jose Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios”: “In fields of battle, deliriously fighting,/ Others give you their lives, without doubt, without regret/ … If the home or country asks, it's all the same—it matters not.//”
Of this creation, Guillermo wrote: “(The Oblation) symbolizes all the unknown heroes who fell during the night.”
Whether irreverently nicknamed as “Oble” or the politically correct “Pahinungod,” the Oblation statue gracing every UP campus is a thing to behold, silhouetted against the purity of an early morning sky or the palette of colors seeping in the horizon with the dying of each day.
Gazing up the statue, viewers are often mystified by the leaves that twine at the base, rooting the feet to the mound of rocks that symbolize the different islands.
The sculptor explained this detail: “The ‘katakataka’ (wonder plant) whose roots are tightly implanted on Philippine soil, is the link that binds the symbolized figure to the allegorical Philippine Group. ‘Katakataka’ is really a wonder plant. It is called ‘siempre vivo’ (always alive) in Spanish. A leaf or a piece of it thrown anywhere will sprout into a young plant. Hence, it symbolizes the deep-rooted patriotism in the heart of our heroes. Such patriotism continually and forever grows anywhere in the Philippines.”
In the present, who are the katakataka “rekindling the U.P. spirit,” the homecoming theme?
The UPAACCFI chose 50 individuals whose contributions lie in the areas of science and medicine; social change and advocacy; law, public service and governance; business and entrepreneurship; art, design and culture; education; and media and communication.
The first batch of U.P. Tatak awardees are not just graduates of different campuses. They vary in their prominence. Some are well-known to the public but were distinguished by the alumni association for their service in areas many may not be familiar with. Some closely hew to Tolentino’s description of “unknown heroes”. Some have made it their life’s work to pursue advocacies before these become political catchwords.
As a metaphor for patriotism, the katakataka creates a sense of ambivalence: does this plant still exist? What is its local name?
Rereading Tolentino, I realize that the spirit of excellence and service is more enduring than expected. Love of country and belief and stakeholdership in its future is the flame entrusted to every Filipino to keep “siempro vivo”.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 11, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column