October 17 marks the anniversary of the country’s most highly populated university, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) which was first established in 1904 by the American colonial government as the Manila Business School. While the university is a network itself of campuses located around Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country, PUP will always be associated more with its main campus located in Santa Mesa, Manila. (somewhat in the same manner as Diliman is to the University of the Philippines)
Santa Mesa’s association with the university began in the 1960’s when , in particular the area along the north bank of the Pasig River near the intersection of Teresa and Anonas Sts., was allotted by the national government as a site for the expanding school then known as the Philippine College of Commerce. By 1968, the PCC has established itself in Santa Mesa, now being the college’s main campus from its original site along S.H. Loyola St. (formerly Lepanto) though it still held on to that piece of property and was for a long time a campus for the institution’s technical education program.
For more than forty years of this campus, countless students have walked through those gates, many coming from the middle and lower classes of society who were fortunate to become “iskolars ng bayan.” I should know this, having been a student and a graduate of the PUP Laboratory High School. (yes folks, PUP has a high school in case you didn’t know)
The sculpture at the gate is called “Consolidated Growth Through Education” done in 1974 by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo.
Also at the gate is a memorial called “Dambana ng Kabayanihan” or the Shrine of Heroism, dedicated to the youth leaders who opposed the Marcos dictatorship, many of whom came from this university.
Officially, the Santa Mesa campus is called the Mabini campus, named after one of the leading intellectuals of the Philippine Revolution, Apolinario Mabini. Interestingly, Mabini used to live in a house in the Nagtahan area, around 1.5-2 kms. away from the campus, right near where Nagtahan Bridge now stands. Due to government projects along the Pasig River, the old Mabini House had to be relocated to another location. What better place suited to move it to than to PUP’s campus that was named after him. Thus, the Mabini Shrine stands as a landmark in the campus since 2008.
Interestingly, right across it is the monument now known as the PUP Obelisk with the university’s logo at the helm: a golden star with 5 concentric circles . At the front is the bust of Apolinario Mabini.
Over the years, the PUP campus has been home to fiery student activism. As was mentioned earlier, PUP was one of the hotbeds of opposition during the Marcos era. But it came at a price for a number of those who opposed the dictatorship. One of them was a student leader named Charlie del Rosario. A founding secretary-general of Kabataang Makabayan, (Patriotic Youth) a militant student organization during the 1960’s-70’s and an instructor of PUP, he was the first documented victim of enforced disappearance or a desaparecido in 1971. In his memory, the student center of PUP was named after him.
Another prominent Marcos opposition figure from the university is Dr. Nemesio Prudente, who served as the university’s president when Martial Law was declared in 1972. He was soon arrested and remained in prison until 1986, when the new government under Corazon Aquino freed Prudente and was reinstalled as university president until his term ended in 1991. Apart from his outspoken views, Prudente is credited for modernizing and expanding PUP into what it is today. In his memory, a large open space in front of the college building known as the Freedom Plaza was dedicated in his memory.
Even until today, activism is still alive in the campus in a number of ways, even going as extreme as throwing desks and chairs and setting them on fire in protest against increase in tuition.
Regardless of one might think about the reputation of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, there is more to offer in this campus beyond the atmosphere of activism, and the graffiti that comes with it.
For one thing, it’s nice to see that in the midst of the frenzy that characterizes this place especially on school days that there are pockets of green, open spaces in the campus. For one, the area near the Pasig River has been converted to a linear park, a nice place to stroll and study in peace, that is if you don’t mind the sight of the oil depots on the opposite end of the Pasig River.
To be continued…
© The Urban Roamer