A security guard woke me up at around 1:30 a.m. last Friday, very calmly telling me, “Sir, may sunog, Ang FC.” (There’s a fire. FC.)
The words “FC,” Faculty Center, hit me like a shrill fire alarm. Not just a building, or rooms, FC was a place loved and cherished by several generations of UP communities.
I rushed out of the chancellor’s residence and could see the billowing smoke, and flames leaping into the air. Within a few minutes I was at the site and was shocked to find the entire third floor, where I had a room, already a blazing inferno. There were already several dozen people at the site, mostly younger faculty and students living on campus. There were tears, one faculty begging, “Wake me up please, wake me up.”
Fire trucks came one after the other, sirens wailing; at one point we had some 50 of them. The Bureau of Fire Protection declared “fire out” 10 hours after the fire started, but small fires would reignite for the next three days.
Let’s look back now and see what lessons we can derive, for and beyond UP.
The building, inaugurated in 1969, has been described as designed in the German Bauhaus modernist tradition, a simple box without frills. Its exterior was very “male,” very concrete. It was named Bulwagang Rizal, again suggesting fortitude with a core, the Claro M. Recto Conference Hall… think of Recto and you think of fiery nationalist speeches.
But for several generations of UP Diliman students and faculty, I am certain Bulwagang Rizal was, simply, “FC” and the Claro M. Recto Conference Hall, “FC conference hall.” Moreover, it was always more “female,” a nurturing place.
FC was radical in many ways, including the conference hall being the site of many important meetings and workshops. Former president Francisco Nemenzo, in an interview with UPDate magazine in 2014, recalls how, even during martial law, this was the safest place to talk about anything, without fear of being arrested. The conference hall saw discussions on everything—from such topics as a proposal to change the name of the country to Maharlika to the retention or not of US bases in the Philippines.
FC was also radical in its move away from a common faculty room—still the norm in educational institutions throughout the country—to individual rooms. This arrangement provided privacy and solitude, allowing faculty members refuge, a place for reflection and creativity. The fire destroyed everything: research notes, drafts of theses and dissertations of younger faculty doing graduate work, essays and articles, letters, paintings, musical scores, scripts for plays, books.
Faculty talked about losing hard-to-find books, author’s autographs and, even more importantly, warm dedications from friends and loved ones who gave the books. Alas, the books and the papers—which included examination “blue books” and term papers—allowed a small fire in one room to spread quickly, engulfing nearly the entire building.
Despite the private rooms, FC encouraged people to connect. The building was always alive, people socializing, mentoring, debating, “istambay” (standing by) and more—oh, but if the walls of FC could only speak of loves found, loves lost.
Walking through FC, if you saw an open door, you’d peek in with “kumusta” and go on. Or invite yourself in. Or try to coax the faculty out, to take a break. Closed doors were inviolable—I was always reluctant to even knock, unless there was a particularly urgent issue.
The need to socialize would go into the night. Officially, there was a curfew at 10 p.m., sadly observed more in the breach, when guards had to shut down the electricity for safety reasons. Stragglers had to leave our rooms in pitch-blackness, holding on to each other like you did dear life (or love), and hoping not to trip on one of the many cats that had come out of the woodwork ready for another performance of their own version of the rock opera.
All our colleges have their own faculty rooms but there was always just one FC, which was originally built for the largest academic unit, “AS” or Arts and Sciences, when it was just one college. That included the arts and letters, social sciences, philosophy and math. The natural and physical sciences were housed in nearby Pavilions.
Even after AS was divided into three colleges, the faculty stayed together for several years. As the numbers grew, FC came to symbolize a faculty member’s progress (or lack thereof) in the hierarchy. New junior faculty and lecturers shared, as many as 6- to an 8-square-meter room, taking turns using the room like bed-spacers. You waited, and waited, for retiring faculty, who would free a room that you still shared, but at least with just one faculty, until finally, close to your own retirement, you got your own room.
FC wasn’t just about faculty. Alumni have flooded social media with their memories, of the more generous mentors, giving time, or lending out books pulled out from stacks that went from the floor to the ceiling, even window ledges.
Through the years plans were made for transition. Math faculty moved out several years ago to a National Science Complex, where they have their own building. Half of the social sciences professors moved to a new faculty center in 2011. The remaining four departments are scheduled for new offices in the renovated Pavilions this year. The College of Arts and Letters faculty were supposed to move across the campus to the College of Engineering’s Melchor Hall, but have been delayed pending completion of a National Engineering Complex.
There have been inquiries from alumni about fund-raising, especially to rebuild, for which we are all grateful. But let’s go slow here since we’ve long had the plans for new faculty rooms and centers. The fire simply changes the schedules.
Some 250 faculty and staff are being moved into common rooms for now, which may be as well to allow group support. The psychology department has been on standby for more personalized therapy.
The UP system and UP Diliman are working out support to replace equipment of the departments and faculty. The bigger losses—archives, for example—are where public support is needed. I will provide details in future columns on how the alumni can contribute.
FC’s walls and some first-floor rooms are still there, with extremely restricted access as investigations continue as to the cause of the fire, and structural integrity is assessed. Meanwhile, we continue with fire preparedness, despairing at times with the tremendous challenges.
The media and less kind souls have feasted on the fact that this is UP Diliman’s third fire in as many years, probably unaware of the horrors of the “small” but terrible acts of human negligence. The food court fire was caused by a gas tank exploding because a concessionaire left it to an inexperienced staff to connect the hose. The second fire, in the bowling alley, happened because “rowdy” staff forgot an old and overused rice cooker.
We are grateful to all who have stood by, including members of the University Student Council who were there from the night of the fire to the continuing events to rebuild.
We are grateful no one was injured in this fire. The cats, beloved and maligned depending on the faculty, did evacuate on their own, although Itim, Puti and Adik are still around, doing their rounds.
FC the building will probably be reinvented, still a haven for teaching and learning. The indomitable spirit of FC is something else, to be carried on in the hearts of faculty, staff, students and alumni, wherever we might be.
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