Confessions of a 20-something Thomasian hermit

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Jan 2 2011

By Anthony Andrew G. Divinagracia

Anthony Andrew G. DivinagraciaIf memory serves right, the only time I wore yellow (or rather gold) as a UST student was when I covered the 2006 UAAP basketball finals between the overachieving Tigers of Pido Jarencio-fame against the Norman Black-led Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Sporting a hue of the University’s tri-colors proved rewarding at the time, with the Tigers upending the heavily-favored Eagles in that pulsating Game 3 clincher, which needed five extra minutes to decide.

You see, in a “marketable” league such as the UAAP, colors wave the unseen hand of commercialism by promoting the anomaly of “school spirit.”

Likening our fleeting sense of school spirit to what he termed as “Pacquiao nationalism” during one recitation period, one of my Political Science professors exclaimed: “Thomasians lang ang mga taga-UST kapag nananalo tayo sa (UAAP) basketball at cheerdance…Nung nagka-hepa outbreak nga dito, ‘pag tinanong mo kung taga-UST sila, kahit obvious naman na dito sila nag-aaral, ide-deny pa.”

That notion was shared by peers in the Varsitarian, who covered the UAAP ahead of me. During the “dark ages” as they eerily call it, the UST gallery “teemed” with empty seats and perhaps the whiff of indifference towards a team bound for the cellar alongside the pre-Henry Sy National U and the perennially marooned UP.

“Kami lang yata nagtitiyagang manood sa mga loser na ‘yun e kasi kailangan,” one Varsitarian sportswriter said.

Another one butted in, jesting: “Buti na lang crush ko isa sa kanila.”

Motives fuel actions, a professor in Political Theory once told me. So much for the Varsi sports team’s professional and personal tolerance in those years of dearth and despair.

Yet what enticed me to figuratively wear black, gold, and white goes beyond calculated preference or guesswork.

“Kasi dito nag-aral lolo ko e. Idol ko ‘yun kaya dito na lang din ako,” was my superficial and convenient reply whenever I’m asked why I chose to be in the Pontifical University.

The academic grind was manageable, except, of course, for anything related to numbers. Read: Math. Read again: Algebra. And cracking the x’s and y’s for a student who enrolled in a supposedly Math-less course, to my dismay, proved harrowing as ever.

With the disappointing quiz grades piling up, studying became less and less motivating, at least for one subject. So much for motivation and action.

Or was it miscalculation? Could be. Because---save for the kind of M.A.T.H. I know (i.e. merienda, almusal, tanghalian, hapunan)---I’m not really good in Math.

Looking back (hindsight is always 20-20), was it simple miscalculation that I took a year-long leave of absence to heal from an illness that was more emotional than physical?

Was it likewise terrible miscalculation that I decided to bolt out of the confines of family and home to end up toiling for deliverance than forbearance?

Was it somehow acceptable miscalculation that I drew myself into a personal wager, vowing to remain in UST if…(oh, the big IF)…if I pass the Varsitarian exams?

Nagkataon lang ba? Or have I just unconsciously broken bread with destiny (at least in the first 20-something years of my life)?

“Sayang! Sana lumipat ka na lang sa…(clue: the so-called “hotbed” of activism, the exact opposite of this known “bulwark” of conservatism). Mas bagay ka dun,” one of my cousins, pun intended, told me.

“Mas bagay ako dun?”

“Ayaw mo ng uniform ‘di ba?,” he reminded me. “Reklamador ka pa. Mas bagay ka talaga dun. Isa pa, hindi ka naman madasalin e.”

Ouch.

But believe it or not, it was here in UST where a Neanderthal Catholic like me learned how to pray “properly”, courtesy of one Philosophy lesson on pleasure, starring Adam and Eve.

“Di ba kayo nagtataka kung bakit hinanap pa ng Diyos si Adan at Eba pagkatapos nilang kainin yung forbidden fruit sa paraiso?,” our professor asked us. “Kung tutuusin dapat alam na n’ya kung nasaan sila kasi nga Diyos siya ‘di ba?.

Ergo: God “cannot” see us whenever we sin. Ergo: No matter how hard we pray to seek His graces, He “cannot” heed our petitions unless we first ask for His forgiveness. That’s the only way for us to “resurface” before Him.

And by forgiving kinship-generated prejudice, the One Up There has generously enabled me to “resurface” here (where I now dig inspiration for this piece). For what?

TO EARN.

Not just bills and billing.

Chicks and critics.

Money and honey.

Protectors and detractors.

Opportunities and importunities.

But a college degree.

…And a Varsi pedigree.

TO LEARN.

Plato and his (?) Republic.

Aristotle’s logic, ethics and the timeless dictum: “Nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses.”

Leonidas and Thermopylae.

Hobbes’ Leviathan and man’s state of nature.

Tocqueville and the townships that became the backbone of Democracy in America.

Hegel and the geist of history.

Marx, human alienation, and the Manifesto that shook democracies to their knees.

St. Augustine and his “walang masamang tinapay” rule (i.e. Everything that is is good).

St. Thomas Aquinas, the five proofs, the hierarchy of angels and demons, and one Summa teaching that refused to escape me to this day: “A man who does not exercise commits a sin of omission for neglecting the body which is the temple of the soul.”

The eight circles of hell and the great traitors in Dante’s Inferno.

Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote from Sancho Panza’s occasional histrionics.

Nick Joaquin.

Power and supervision, and the many publics according to the Local Government Code.

The UNCLOS, the controversial baseline rule, dual citizenship and dual allegiance, the Bill of Rights, and a little about everything in the Constitution.

Innenpolitik and realpolitik. Hard and soft power.

Mabini and Recto’s nearly “ruler” (i.e. parang ni-ruler kasi puro uno raw) grades.

Rizal---a wilted apologist, a jilted reformist, and a halted separatist.

Generation X. Generation Y (or was it “why”). And Generation Z (or rather Zzzzzzz…)

And how to be called “Anthony” (or “Tonying”).

TO UNLEARN.

Life outside of sheltered realization.

Strife within naked introspection.

***

Just early this year, the National Museum has named four historic landmarks in UST as National Cultural Treasures.

In many an occasion, especially alumni homecomings, Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., the University rector, has never ceased to remind fellow Thomasians that “like the historically-renowned landmarks found within the confines of our Alma Mater, you also deserve to be called National Treasures”.

These National Treasures, the rector added, had been part of every Thomasian’s life, whether they admit it or not.

Sharing my Thomasain life along with these “treasures”, I must confess one of my frustrations in UST was not being able to partake in the so-called Rite of Passage as a freshmen student. The morning before passing through the Arch of the Centuries, a professor caught me napping in class and ordered me to stay for a special one-miss-you-die type of recitation about the history of the Philippine Constitution. That afternoon grilling of sorts coincided with the Rite of Passage.

Not a believer of the so-called (and so-feared at least for non-graduates) “curse” of the Arch, I also prematurely exited that centuries-old portal. A semester later, I found myself in academic hibernation no thanks to a treacherous illness. Hence a disrupted University life and a delayed graduation. Thankfully, I lasted to deserve this writing privilege as a legitimate alumnus.

Entering the Main Building shuttles me back to the days when I have to put up with the long enrollment queues, occasionally cranky office personnel, the registrar’s office, which unintentionally misspelled my surname, and the myriad of ghost stories told and retold by duty guards plying in the wee hours of the night.

But there are also interesting things that remind of the Main Building, like the grand staircase where I slipped a number of times as an intermittently drunken and often hurrying lad…

…the paintings on both lobbies of the main door and the Civil Law entrance,

…the now-dismantled portraits of UST’s alumni greats, the life-sized sculptures on the fourth floor,

…and the cross tower where I managed to sneak in as a posturing tour guide,

…the Office of Public Affairs, and, of course, the old Room 112, which served as the former V office before moving to the Tan Yan Kee Student Center.

Despite failing to enter the Central Seminary by fate or circumstance, the “PMA of the Catholic Church” remains one of those affinitive University spots for me with the fascination about the Dominican Order, the miracle of La Naval, and its roster of saints, notably Dominic, Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, Martin de Porres, and Lorenzo Ruiz still in mind.

And how can I forget the University’s open spaces, most especially the Benavides Park (where I once lied before the Founder, telling him I don’t want to stay here anymore) and the Lover’s Lane (where I wrote letters and recited pick-up lines for the women dearest to me)?

Let me add the Engineering building, where I discovered the value of “manual labor” literally and figuratively, the St. Raymund’s building where I waged my personal academic Armageddon against conformity, mediocrity, and lethargy, and the Central Library, where I enjoyed leafing through archaic books, periodicals, and newspapers in between naps and sobs.

….And the V.

***

A love-struck yet hard-luck friend once desperately sought my advice about courtship, and in effect courting Thomasian colegialas. But knowing my limits as a self-confessed ligaw-tingin/tamad, I just simply encouraged him to keep on checking out these UST ladies, considering that…

“Sa 40,000 na mga estudyante dito, mga 20,000 yung babae tapos mga 10,000 yung magaganda.

Sa 10,000 na ‘yan, 5,000 d’yan ‘yung single. Sa 5,000, mga 3,000 d’yan ‘yung pwede mong mabola. Sa 3,000 na yan, mga 1,500 d’yan ‘yung Ok ang ugali at mga 1,000 naman d’yan ‘yung pwedeng makakasundo ng mga friends at parents mo.

Siyempre, mga 500 d’yan ‘yung wala kang makakaribal (‘pag linigawan mo), at mga 300 naman d’yan ‘yung hindi ka paasahin. Sa 300 na ‘yan, kalahati n’yan ang hard-to-get lang pero may pag-asa ka naman.

Sa 150, mga 70 d’yan ang nagger, pero mga 40 naman sa kanila ang malambing. Sa 40, mga 20 nga yung malambing pero demanding naman. Sa 20, mga 10 d’yan ang pwedeng sagutin ka at 5 naman ang papayag na magtagal kayo.

Sa lima, tatlo d’yan ang wife-material, pero syempre, sabi nga sa Marriage and Family natin, ISA lang ang puwede mong pakasalanan. OK?”

***

Of the close to 50,000 (living) souls in the University, I was privileged to have met some of them

whom I never thought really existed at all. Now, I’m happy to have them enshrined in my Thomasian memoirs. I hope the feeling is mutual.

Hazel. Raychel. Dominique. Janine. Sarah…

***

“When was the last time you attended confession?”

What a question.

Should I tell the truth? But not doing so is tantamount to lying. A half-truth perhaps? It’s half-lying as well, and still lying nevertheless.

“Naku, matagal na po, father. Hindi ko na po maalala e, pasensya na po,” was my shameful reply before wrapping up my last confession seven years ago. To this day, I haven’t gone to confession for all the stupid reasons I could muster. My bad. Heaven forgive.

Beyond church walls, there stood peerless and ageless my other faithful “confession”---the V’s “Confession of faith”. But that is another story.

***

Pardon me for the lengthy recollection. I have intentionally did so as a form of self-assurance, squeezing out everything my sleep-deprived memory can recall at this point so that if ever amnesia or Alzheimer’s gets in the way four or five decades later, I’ll still have something tucked in one of my dusty shelves to help me re-gather the past…My mothballed Thomasian past immortalized in the (once) glossy pages of this Varsi-inspired (and conspired) memoirs.

I just hope these memories serve right now. V

*Anthony Andrew Divinagracia was the executive editor and editor in chief of the Varsitarian from 2007 to 2009. He also served as associate editor and writer of the Academia, the official international bulletin of UST. He graduated with a degree in Political Science and now works as story supervisor for TV 5’s morning show Sapul sa Singko.