UP Diliman, QC | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

UP Diliman, QC

/ 02:06 AM February 27, 2015

There are two ongoing exhibits at the University of the Philippines Diliman that emphasize how its past and also its future are so intertwined with that of Quezon City.

One exhibit, “Shared Heritage,” is curated by architect Gerard Lico and consists of blown-up photographs of Quezon City and UP Diliman. The similarities in the buildings are not accidental, reflecting a convergence in the visions of the city’s founders as well as UP Diliman’s prime movers.

Quezon City, created by an act of the National Assembly, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. President Manuel Quezon was concerned that the old capital, facing the sea, was going to be vulnerable to foreign invasions. He was right about the vulnerability but, ironically, it was mainly ground warfare, the Battle of Manila involving American, Japanese and Filipino soldiers, that destroyed the old city. We are commemorating the 70th anniversary of that battle this year.

Quezon himself died in exile in the United States during World War II, but his dreams continued, with the nation’s best architects brought in to design the city and its government buildings, including UP Diliman, as a showcase of the modern Filipino.

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The dreams included affordable housing for the working class and civil servants, and this was reflected in the way the city grew as “projects”—a term still used to refer to districts, such as Project 4 or Project 6. Diliman itself provided the core for a model site for low-cost residences, renamed Barrio Obrero (laborer).

Long before environmental conservation was even being discussed, Quezon City was already being planned as a garden city. Project 1, now Roxas district, has streets named after flowers.

Modernist

Lico, in his curator’s notes for the exhibit, notes that the architecture in Quezon City and in UP is almost anticolonial, trying to establish a modern Filipino identity.

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The layout of the core of UP Diliman is itself a marvel, with the pioneer buildings meant to be mirror images of each other. The oldest “twins” are Malcolm Hall (College of Law) and Benitez Hall (College of Education). Built from US war rehabilitation money were Quezon Hall (the main administrative building, with the famous Oblation) and Gonzales Hall (University Library), as well as Melchor Hall (College of Engineering) and Palma Hall (College of Social Sciences and Philosophy).

“Hall” is almost a misnomer, borrowed from the US tradition of naming academic buildings. The “twins” of UP Diliman are grand edifices with high ceilings, bold columns.

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UP Diliman followed the green vision of Quezon City. Its core has the oval, used by hundreds of people daily for jogging, biking, or just appreciating nature. The oval is lined with acacia trees planted by the pioneer batches of students who were unaware that some 60 years later, we would discover that the trees, not being endemic or native species, would be so vulnerable to typhoons.

Also within Diliman is a different housing project that isn’t numbered like the rest of Quezon City’s. These were the houses, mainly bungalows, built for faculty members. The first of these bungalows were huge, built on large lots of 1,000 square meters. Right outside the campus are UP Village and Teacher’s Village, the names reflecting for whom the houses were originally built.

Also in “Shared Heritage” is a blown-up image of a newspaper clipping describing the houses in UP Village and their cost: an astounding P30,000.

As with Quezon City’s other residential projects, the housing for UP faculty was meant to draw people to move to the new capital. UP was established in 1908 in Manila (the area around the Philippine General Hospital) but had run out of space. A new campus in Diliman was part of the rationale for creating a new capital. Originally allocated nearly 1,000 hectares, a UP Diliman would give more space for expansion.

Diliman’s advocates had to contend with the contrarians, or people protesting the new campus with dire predictions that it would not work out in the new area. UP Manila remains and is the center of the health units and Philippine General Hospital, but Diliman grew to become the largest constituent university of the UP system, its architecture reflecting dreams, including some which have not been quite fulfilled.

Birds of UP, QC

The other exhibit reflecting UP Diliman and Quezon City’s intertwined lives is “Bagwis 2,” composed of photographs. The first “Bagwis” was launched last year, consisting of birds photographed in UP Diliman. It was meant to educate the campus communities on the importance of Diliman as one of the last, if not the last, refuge for birds in Metro Manila. Birders or bird-watchers flock to UP Diliman, spending hours on end waiting to spot different birds, more than 100 species of which have now been reported from the campus.

“Bagwis 2” is curated by three UP Diliman professors—Reuel Aguila, Bert Madrigal and Mando Somintac—and features the work of the same photographers in “Bagwis 1.” This time, though, the birds come from all over Quezon City, to emphasize that there is a larger corridor for the birds, both migratory and native. Right next to UP Diliman’s campus is La Mesa, another vibrant ecological hub.

The photographs in “Bagwis 2” are not as large as those in “Shared Heritage,” but they are stunning in their colors. I was fortunate to be guided by the photographers, with Mando Somintac giving more time to explain how they did their work, the way the birds’ flight paths extend beyond Quezon City and into Manila Bay, and how interest in birding has grown.

Bert Madrigal, from the College of Human Kinetics, now offers a very popular course, taken as physical education, on birding. (I used to join these bird-watching groups, and I can tell you it’s as physical as physical will be.)

After the killing of a bittern in UP Diliman’s lagoon, various environmental protection groups are now working with UP to draw up an advocacy and educational program for our faculty, students, staff and, most importantly, the residents.

But there’s more to all this than birds. I keep reminding our faculty and students that UP Diliman is only a steward. There was life in Diliman long before UP came along. The name itself, Diliman, comes from a fern that grew abundantly on trees. Perhaps the fern’s name also reflected how the trees made the area quite dark, dilim, which provided excellent cover for the revolutionary Katipunan, which was active in the area.

It will not be easy to safeguard the shared heritage of Quezon City and UP Diliman, but an excerpt from President Quezon’s speech before the National Assembly in 1939 might inspire us: “I dream of a capital city that politically, shall be the seat of the national government; aesthetically, the showplace of the nation—a place that thousands of people will come and visit as the epitome of culture and spirit of the country; socially, a dignified concentration of human life, aspirations and endeavors and achievements; and economically, a productive, self-contained community.”

UP Diliman belongs to Quezon City, and to the dreams and visions of Quezon.

(“Shared Heritage” is at UP Theater until March 9. “Bagwis 2” is at the National Institute of Physics until March 16. This Saturday, too, UP Pep Squad has performances at UP Theater at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Carillon will be songs from the First Quarter Storm, at 5 p.m.)

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TAGS: exhibits, Quezon City, university of the Philippines diliman

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