Quezon City

UP and Diliman: A Sort of Love Story (First of a series)

The University of the Philippines (UP) and the district of Diliman in Quezon City. Two distinct “characters” that have become so intertwined with each other for the last 70+ years that you can’t think of one without the other.

If anything, the 493-hectare campus gave an identity to a district that was considered far-off from the City of Manila, after having failed to realize the dream of a national capital district in the area. In return, the district’s open spaces and lush natural topography helped form this idealized and romanticized image of the university, an academic nirvana and utopia that only the few and the intelligent can enter, regardless of cultural, religious, gender, or social backgrounds.

This relationship between the university and the aborted capital district was one borne out of one dream that was able to be fully realized in the midst of the many that were unfulfilled. And it is but proper that on this month of love, we look at how that relationship came to be.

This particular story is just part of a long-arching series here that will look at the history and evolution of the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, a project that has long been in the pipeline. So on this 71st anniversary of the move of the university to Diliman and after years of piecing this series together, let this particular journey begin with a bit of history.

A need to move

In the 1930s, the University of the Philippines experienced a growth in its student population. At that time, that population amounted to over 8,000, which was more than what its campus in Ermita, Manila could handle. (the original UP campus occupied not only the present UP Manila campus at the Padre Faura side but also the present buildings of the Supreme Court, Department of Justice, Court of Appeals, National Bureau of Investigation, World Health Organization Asia-Pacific, and even the Philamlife Building)

The University Hall at the old UP campus in Manila, now the building of the Department of Justice (photo courtesy of John Tewell via Flickr)

It was not only UP that was feeling the congestion of old Manila. Even the national/Commonwealth government was itching to move out to a larger area where there would not only be room for national government offices to build and expand but also serve to showcase Philippine self-rule on the road to becoming a sovereign state. Being a state university, UP was included in that masterplan for a “national capital center” which was eventually drawn by Harry Frost and Juan Arellano in 1939.

The Commonwealth government decided to build what would become the Capitol City northeast of Manila proper, in the area called Diliman, named after the species of fern that was abundant in the area. As the different government offices were eyeing on the areas they will set up office, UP chose a 493-hectare property northeast of the planned National Capitol (the present Quezon Memorial Circle) to be its new main campus. Work would begin soon after as some buildings were beginning to be built (more on that later in the series).

UP Diliman in the late 940s-early 1950s (photo courtesy of the UP Diliman website)

Work on the campus would be interrupted by the onset of World War II as the Japanese forces used the buildings standing in the campus at the time as military garrisons. Because of this, those buildings suffered heavy damages that necessitated rehabilitation.

The “Exodus”

Despite the damages the buildings in the Diliman campus had, they were nothing compared to the greater damage inflicted on the Manila campus of UP. With many buildings either totally destroyed or hollowed out, students had to make do with holding classes in the ruins or makeshift quonset huts originally built by the US army.

The postwar problems facing UP at that point made the necessity to move much more urgent than it initially was. The university had to seek US funding not only to rebuild the damaged properties but also start constructing new buildings in both Manila and Diliman campuses. Thanks to the funding, work was able to proceed on building new structures in Diliman in time for a move set for 1949.

The Oblation as it is being transported to Diliman (photo courtesy of the UP Diliman website)

The move would finally happen on February 12, 1949, in an event called “The Exodus” by some in the UP community. While it was not actually an exodus as some UP units like the College of Medicine stayed in the Manila campus since it admisters the Philippine General Hospital, it did mark the end of the Manila campus’ tenure as the “administrative center” of the university. The move was marked by a motorcade which carried not only the key university officials but also the Oblation monument that was originally in Manila and has come to symbolize the university.

Marker commemorating the “Exodus”, installed in 1974

The brewing storm and the “Commune”

As a university that espouses freedom of speech and expression, UP has long been known as a hotbed for activities that are “adverse” to the government. While there have been so many examples of such activities past and present, perhaps none was more highly-charged than the events of February 1-9, 1971, during which radical UP students erected a barricade along University Avenue, ostensibly in support of the jeepney drivers who were holding a strike against increasing gasoline prices.

This would become known as the “Diliman Commune”, in which many radical students and faculty members tried and eventually failed to hold on against the police which were eager to put the barricade down and restore order. Eventually, a number of students and teachers were arrested. And one student, Pastor Mesina, died in the midst of a melee that occurred when a mathematics professor opened fire because he was not able to pass through the barricade.

The barricade of the Diliman commune (photo courtesy of Review Points)

Towards a “Federalized” University

From 1949 up until 1972, the Diliman campus was the sole administrative center of the entire university, not only overseeing the various colleges and institutes in Diliman, but also in Manila, Los Banos, Baguio, and Cebu, among others. As each campus grew in population, it soon became a challenge to manage each of them.

There were also issues raised regarding the authority the administration in Diliman had over other campuses outside Diliman. In 1972, the College of Agriculture petitioned to be a separate institution in itself from UP due to allegations of the budget being withheld and proposed programs being disapproved by the Diliman administration.

To address the growing resentment and to ensure a better administration of the university, the decision was made to make Los Baños an autonomous campus in the same year, the first campus of UP to be declared as such.

More efforts towards decentralization would be made in 1979 with the establishment of a University of the Philippines system of autonomous units and campuses, independent of Diliman. The first to become “autonomous” was the University of the Philippines in the Visayas, which was formed as a “constituent university” of UP and formed from the merger of the Iloilo, Cebu, and Tacloban campuses (though Cebu would become a constituent university of its own right in 2016). The old Manila campus would follow suit as a constituent university in 1982.

On March 23, 1983, UP Diliman became a constituent university in its own right. This would mark the first time Diliman would have its own administration apart from the UP system’s which is still based in the same campus, and the same building, as Diliman’s. As such, all developments happening the campus would be under the purview of the UP Diliman administration, though the UP System still has involvement in some matters from time to time.

To be continued…

As the piece on the Diliman Commune is admittedly a bit lacking, you can read further on this event and read differing viewpoints here and here

Acknowledgements as well to the University of the Philippines, University of the Philippines Diliman, and Iskowiki

One Comment

  • GJ


    Great article. One little correction, though: UP Los Baños was the first autonomous university within the UP System, which was established in 1972 as a response to the UP College of Agriculture’s attempt to secede from the university. The UP Gazette shows the Board of Regents debating the new structure of this decentralized UP System, debating how powerful the campus chancellors would be relative to the university president, and all that.

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