Social Climate

O.D. Corpuz’s poker table

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I write to salute the great Onofre D. Corpuz, a most remarkable man, who passed away recently at the age of 86. In his career, O.D. was a political scientist, a public administrator—both as academic and as practitioner—a historian, an economist, and an institution builder, of the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) in particular.  At the necrological services for him last Monday at the University of the Philippines Diliman Catholic chapel, his many accomplishments for UP were recited.  I had to miss the DAP’s services for him the week before, due to a personal emergency.

My present work owes so much to the leadership of O.D. Corpuz.  Social Weather Stations, the private nonprofit survey institute, established in 1985, is a direct intellectual descendant of two DAP projects: its Social Indicators Project (1973-75) and its Social Weather Stations project (1981-84).  Another DAP project I directed, “Population, Resources, Environment and the Philippine Future” (1976-77), in partnership with the UP Population Institute and the UP School of Economics, already foresaw the current issues of overpopulation and sustainability of development more than a generation ago.

The most important lesson I learned from O.D. is about freedom, though I no longer recall his exact words (early during the martial-law period), and can only paraphrase them. Having freedom implies exercising it. If you believe in freedom to criticize the state, then do so, without guarantee of protection from the state. Freedom is internally developed, not externally granted.  Thus, living freely may involve taking personal risks.  Anyway, no one lives forever.

The multitalented O.D. was not only a scholar, a patriot, a civil servant, and a family man. He was also an intense sportsman, skillful and adept at whatever he fancied.

O.D. the archer could be relied on to formally open a sportsfest by popping a balloon with a single arrow, across the length of a basketball court.

O.D. the big motorbiker once said he had just driven from UP Diliman to DAP Tagaytay in 45 minutes.  “It was because of the rain,” he said with a grin, in faux apology. “Otherwise it would have taken me 30 minutes.”  He was a daredevil.

Once, O.D. had no immediate vehicle for going home from Tagaytay, so I offered him a ride in my VW beetle.  When he saw that it was a 1600 cc “super-beetle,” he insisted on being the one to drive!  Just for the thrill of it.  So I agreed to let my boss happily drive the two of us, in my car, back to Diliman.

But what I shall tell here is about O.D. the great pokerista.  In the ’70s and early ’80s, I played poker with him about once a week, an average of eight hours at a time, and occasionally for over 24 hours.  I slept only six nights in a week; O.D. presumably slept less.  The martial-law curfew was a perfect excuse for extending play till dawn.

Once, we played in someone’s office overnight, failed to exit the conference room before the employees arrived in the morning, and for the sake of appearances kept the door closed, and continued play until after the employees left in the evening.  Mrs. Rory Corpuz (dean of home economics, UP) deserves sainthood for enduring our addiction.  Thankfully, our many poker-orphans are now grown into adults without signs of permanent damage.

Among other top educators in the poker quorum were the late Salvador P. Lopez (UP), the late Waldo Perfecto (De La Salle), Noel Soriano (UP), and Abe Felipe (UP). It was an honor to be included; as the youngest, I readily served as organizational gofer.  The play was always fair, gentlemanly, and sportsmanlike; nobody got burned (well, not really).

My personal legacy from O.D. is the old poker table from his Makati office rented by the DAP, just before it moved into its own new building on San Miguel Avenue in Pasig.  (On that table, he had once trapped me into calling his big bet, with my three eights doomed against his three aces.) Since he was going to have new furniture in the new DAP, I asked if he had any plans for the table, and if not, could I have it?  Dear, generous O.D. said yes right away.

The table is my personal desk when I work at home.  It’s round, made of fiberglass, on a central pedestal.  It has a flat cover that detaches to reveal a felted center for cards and bets, surrounded by eight sunken slots for chips and markers. The table is black, the twin of a white one owned by Abe Felipe, another beloved crony.

(Historical note: President Elpidio Quirino’s poker table, now in his Vigan museum, was custom-made with seven chip-drawers, obviously for seven players.  How can a round table be divided exactly into seven? The easy solution is to allow each player a given space along the table’s edge, multiply the space by seven, and then order a table of that circumference.)

I like a full table.  Seven players is ideal, but I like eight almost as much, and even prefer eight to six.  But I’ve played in as big a group as 14, using only one deck of cards, on a rectangular dining table, as well as one-on-one on a mere coffee table with O.D. himself—one night in DAP Tagaytay, when he simply felt like playing, and the only poker player around was yours truly, ever ready.  (Once upon a time I always had poker chips—and a pool cue—in my car.)

Recently, I agreed to help write a Philippine chapter for a global history of well-being.  My first reading material, now ready on the black poker table, will be O.D.’s history, “The Roots of the Filipino Nation.”

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Contact SWS: or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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