City of Manila,  Quezon City

An Enduring Symbol of Offering (Second of a series)

Whenever one thinks about the University of the Philippines, the first thing that comes to mind is the monument that can be found on every campus of the university. You know, the one depicting a man looking up to the heavens and arms stretched out ready to whatever is set to happen. Of course, I am talking about the Oblation, which has become the symbol for UP since it was unveiled in 1930s.

As the monument and the name implies, the Oblation depicts the youth offering themselves, whether it’s their intellect, talent, or even their lives, for their country, a message the university aims to impart to its students.

Originally, the monument was not conceived to be a university symbol. In fact, the original idea behind the monument was conceived by then UP President Rafael Palma in the early 1930s as to give physical form to some of the lines of Jose Rizal’s famed last poem “Mi Ultimo Adios”

In fields of battle, deliriously fighting,
Others give you their lives, without doubt, without regret;
Where there’s cypress, laurel or lily,
On a plank or open field, in combat or cruel martyrdom,
If the home or country asks, it’s all the same–it matters not.

“Mi Ultimo Adios”, Jose Rizal (English translation)
The Tagalog translation of the line in Mi Ultimo Adios

There was also another inspiration for the Oblation which is a line uttered by one of the characters in Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo, Padre Florentino.

Where are the youth who will consecrate their golden hours, their illusions and their enthusiasm to the welfare of their native land? Where are the youth who will generously pour out their blood to wash away so much shame, so much crime, so much abomination? Pure and spotless must the victim be that the sacrifice may be acceptable. Where are you, Oh youth, who will embody in yourselves the vigor of life that has left our veins, the purity of ideas that has been contaminated in our brains, the fire of enthusiasm that has been quenched in our hearts? We await, Oh youth, come, for we await you!

“El Filibusterismo”, Jose Rizal (English translation)

Funds were raised to assure the completion of the sculptor, mainly from the students. At the same time, Palma tapped the services of the famed sculptor Guillermo Tolentino to realise the idea of the monument, giving form not only to the outstretched figure but also other elements such as the katakataka plant around the leg of the figure (symbolizing the deep-rooted patriotism of the people). Originally, the monument was supposed naked but given the scandal such a monument would arise during that time, a leaf was added to cover the “private parts.”

The urban legend would say often that the model of the sculpture was director-actor Fernando Poe Sr., also father of actor Fernando Poe Jr. But research suggests the model/s were Anastacio Caedo, Tolentino’s student assistant, and Caedo’s brother-in-law Virgilio Raymundo, using the former’s physique and the latter’s proportion. Interestingly Caedo himself would create a model of the Oblation that can now be seen in the campuses of UP in Manila and Baguio.

The original Oblation would be completed and officially unveiled in 1935 in front of the old Rizal Hall. It remarkably survived World War II which left most of the campus in ruins, prompting accelerated efforts to move the main campus up north to Diliman by 1949. The Oblation would figure in the move as well, though the old Manila campus would have an Oblation of its own years later.

The Oblation in the “new” Rizal Hall of UP Manila by Guillermo Tolentino’s mentee Anastacio Caedo
The Oblation in front of the Philippine General Hospital, AKA the “Centennial Oblation”

In the 1950s, plans were made to create a bronze model of the Oblation. Spearheaded by Guillermo Tolentino himself, the casting was done in Italy and would be officially unveiled on November 29, 1958 and placed in a plaza, now known as Oblation Plaza, fronting the administration building (now Quezon Hall) where it can be seen until today. The original Oblation was eventually placed inside what is now known Gonzales Hall, which was then the home of the old College of Fine Arts and Architecture.

The original Oblation at Gonzalez Hall (photo courtesy of I.R. Arenas)
The Oblation Plaza, an open space fronting the Oblation, first unveiled in 1974

The Oblation’s impact on the culture of the University of the Philippines cannot be stressed enough. Whether it was through events like the Oblation Run, where members of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity would run around the Diliman campus in the nude (albeit with covered faces) or through the university’s old volunteer education program the Ugnayan ng Pahinungod (Pahinungod is actually Oblation in the local tongue), the Oblation continues to serve as an inspiration to the youth and beyond to continue to offer their service to the country in one way or another.

Acknowledgements as well to the University of the Philippines, Wikipedia, Iskomunidad, and I.R. Arenas

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