Commentary

A tribute to O.D. Corpuz

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HONOLULU—The recent passing of Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz, popularly known as O.D., saddens thousands of colleagues, scholars, and former students he had worked with in his long and productive career as one of the best minds the Philippine academia has produced.

A highly respected and prolific academic, O.D. wore many “hats” during his lifetime—president of the University of the Philippines, university professor, professor of political science, minister of education and culture, founder-president of the Development Academy of the Philippines,  and director, chair or member of boards, councils and programs too numerous to mention.

Graduating magna cum laude from UP in 1950, O.D. belonged to that “best and brightest” postwar generation which gave the then newly relocated state university in Diliman much of its golden years. He left for the United States for graduate studies, earning an MA in public administration and a PhD in political economy, both from Harvard. His doctoral dissertation, which would later be published as “The Bureaucracy in the Philippines” (1957), became the definitive scholarly work in that particular field.

Unfortunately, I was not one of O.D.’s students because he was mostly away during my undergraduate years in Diliman. But I had already known him by reputation, and when I joined the faculty of the UP College of Public Administration (now the National College of Public Administration and Governance) in the mid-’60s, I used his “Bureaucracy” book as a major reference for the courses I taught. He had written another book, “The Philippines: The Modern Nations in Historical Perspective” (1965), which was an excellent companion piece for his earlier book on Philippine bureaucracy.

O.D. was an interdisciplinary scholar long before the term was invented in the annals of social science. In addition to his specialty in politics and public administration, he was a historian, philosopher and a specialist in culture, economics and society. In 1997, he came  out with another book: “An Economic History of the Philippines,” combining politics and economics. He seemed to be always writing way into retirement.

Subsequently at the University of Hawaii in  Manoa, where I was teaching courses in Philippine politics and Asian Studies, O.D. came out with what would be his magnum opus: a two-volume book titled “The Roots of the Filipino Nation” (1989). Reading it was a daunting intellectual experience. Unfamiliar with much of the material in it, I had to read it thoroughly and digest its essence for my students to understand.  I would duplicate hundreds of pages from the two-volume set, which was clearly beyond the reach of most students. I remember telling O.D. one time when I was in Manila, that a shorter one-volume edition would be ideal for classroom use.

Speaking of which, Dr. Bernardita Churchill, retired UP professor of history and president of the Philippine National Historical Society which publishes the Journal of History, says that the two-volume book is an important history of the Philippines from its early beginnings through the end of the Spanish period. Churchill adds: “Using a tremendous number of historical sources, it is unlike many published general histories of the Philippines. O.D. Corpuz wrote not only about major historical characters known in national history, but also those in the provinces and towns whose histories have been submerged in the history of the ‘big men’ in the nation. One sees in this history how the center (national history) and the periphery (local/regional history) both contributed to the making of the Filipino nation.”

I meant to focus on O.D.’s academic scholarship in this commentary since space limitations prevent me from getting into the other aspects of his career, such as his role in the early Marcos regime as administrator and bureaucrat, which didn’t sit well with some quarters. O.D. had written a brief essay, “Liberty and Government in the New Society,” which was interpreted as a defense of the martial law declaration.

But let me quote from my late UP colleague, Prof. Jose Endriga, who wrote the chapter on the Corpuz-Soriano “bifocal administrations”  in the volume edited by Dr. Oscar Alfonso commemorating the 75th anniversary of UP’s  founding, which was published in 1985. Endriga speculates that O.D.’s essay  “remains on theoretical grounds alone, as the first defense of the martial law regime.”

In that essay, O.D.  had offered a “theory” that Filipinos at that point in time needed to “liberate” themselves from “Western-derived concepts of liberty and government.” Endriga speculates further in his chapter that such a philosophy “might mean an alignment of the activities (of UP) with the ‘priorities of the regime.”’

Note that Endriga used “might,” which requires further analysis of O.D.’s famous essay during that turbulent period in our contemporary political history, which is another commentary altogether.

University of Hawaii at Manoa Professor Emeritus Belinda A. Aquino was an undergraduate English major, faculty, visiting professor and vice president for public affairs at UP in 1989-1991.

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