Balik Diliman Republic

For a visiting ex-UP academic like me, there is nothing more unnerving than to go back to the place that nurtured your dreams night and day.

Like a thief, I would sneak into the familiar nooks and cranies and discover from there the meaning of the sacred place, the sacred space, the sacred moment.

Like that small stone bridge that links the Palma and the Melchor Halls, the AS and the Engineering.

I love this bridge, and the memories of drizzling afternoons come rushing to me each time I see this spot.

When I was still a struggling non-tenured, probationary instructor, they threw me at the engineering to teach some general education courses to those who were willing to be terrorized by me.

As in every Gestapo-like institution, and UP is not exempted when it comes to the power-tripping of some of its powerholders, you cannot complain when you are on a probationary status.

In UP as elsewhere, there is much politics in getting that tenure as there is much academic rigor, with that endless demand for publication and research and some such other crap we call community service.

Ha, as if teaching with a meager pay to the supposedly brightest and most promising and the most patriotic is not a community service!

UP is reducible to one thing for me: memories that will never fade, memories that will keep me company for as long as I live.

When I was a student, I had some of the best teachers.

Well, some were not so good but bluffed their way to academia.

But the rest of them were scholars par excellence.

Pat Cruz and Bien Lumbera urged me to look at the Philippines with the eyes of a Filipino.

Zeus Salazar and Poping Covar did not mince words when the going was rough in the interpretation of some discourses.

Like Cruz and Lumbera, Salazar and Covar were tough, so tough we had to review a lot for our comprehensive examinations.

Sister Idad Dacayanan taught me much about religion, movements, symbols, and frameworks for studying cultures. She showed me the way to pluralism in the articulation of faith and belief. She was tough and she was nicest when she was tough, with piles and piles of books for us to read in her class on myths and rituals.

Dan Magat believed in my excursions into hermeutics even if SV Epistola almost did not read my thesis because he had not read Gadamer's Truth and Method. Funny, but these things happen.

The last time I went to UP was when I had to vacate my office at the Faculty Center.

I did it on a Saturday so no one would see me.

I did not want the talks, the long hellos.

I wanted the crisp goodbye, short and final.

Off you go.

No story-telling rituals.

So on one rainy Satuday, I had all my things moved: books and books and books and other things a trying-hard of an academic is expected to accumulate after almost a decade of public service.

I saw those boxes of thank you notes from students and colleagues, the thank yous for
the goodness that I had done to them.

That meant I was capable of doing good, and I patted my back: Dude, dude, you are capable of doing good.

When I went home last summer, word that I was home spread around so quickly I could not anymore hide.

I had to come out and show myself to friends, many of them dear to me.

Some of them demanded that I showed up, which I did, with two gallons of Magnolia to perk up their hot afternoon.

The heat was scorching--and so was their welcome.

The summer heat was some kind of a delayed cuaresma, with the penitencia- to gain indulgence towards redemption.

But we laughed the summer heat off, mindful that the talk of the past was some sort of a presencing--a past becoming present.

There were ties renewed during that last visit.

Except that I never got to see and talk to Sir Bien, the itay of people like us who intellectually grew up by benefitting from his sense of things Philippine.

But I invited him to come to, and address us at, the Nakem Centennial Conference to be held at the University of Hawaii Manoa in November.

By then, he shall have become a National Artist.

A. S. Agcaoili
May 26, 2006
Torrance, CA

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