September 15, 2011

Looking back

IF your La Sallian boss or employee seem to be spending an extraordinarily lengthy amount of time on the computer these days, blame it on the new Facebook group, Taga-La Salle Taft ka kung.... The group page has been so hugely successful, I fear that the next GDP growth slowdown will be blamed on it.

I will not mention here which CEOs, business executives, faculty members of De La Salle University (DLSU)huli kayo!—or writers (apparently there are a great number of us in the industry) have been regularly posting on the page (or lurking, sneaky you!), but suffice to say that there are quite a lot of interesting names posting over there (even during office hours, hala!).

How very apropos that this group was set up as the university is currently celebrating its 100th year in the Philippines. I’m sure whoever set it up—and no one still has owned up to it—it may not have been his ultimate aim to commemorate the university’s centennial anniversary. But the group does serve as a fond remembering of what life was like at the university during his or her respective era.

For those like me who graduated from DLSU in the late ’80s, the entries have been quite an eyeopener, in terms of history. I entered the university in 1983, 10 years after the first 100 coeds were allowed to enroll there. A number of the girls apparently started off as cross enrollees from nearby schools and later ended up graduating a La Sallite, or La Sallian, as we are now officially known. (In 1973 it was still a “college”; De La Salle only became a university in 1975.)

Aside from the entry of the coeds, one of the more remarkable facets of university life was the existence of the colorful clique called the “Bench Boys”—and no I’m not talking about Ben Chan’s well-endowed PH Volcanoes. According to the entry of one of its founding members, blogger Tony “Lebron” Atayde, it was the coeds in 1973 who gave that title to the men sitting on those benches across the university gym entrance.

“The Bench Boys started when Chito Sta. Romana called for a boycott and brought out the benches from the gym to block the passageways. The next day the benches were still there and some of us got three or four and put [them] across the entrance of the gym so we could see the co-eds walk by.”

From the witty postings on the Taft group, the apparent function of the BBs then was to rate the coeds in terms of gorgeousness, pull down the pants of some fellow students they took a fancy to, and generally make mayhem, hehehe. Cute nila, ’di ba?

The most famous BB, of course, is one Eduardo Manzano—yes, the very same celebrity host/actor we all know and love, and who was also a founding member. Oopsie. If I unwittingly just gave away Manzano’s age, I apologize. Anyway, ’di naman halata. Mukhang 24 pa naman sya. haha.

Atayde also points out that some of them were able to watch The Beatles performing at the Rizal Coliseum while perched on the rooftop of the college building. Wow. And all this time, I thought “The Beatles in Manila” was an urban legend, along with the group being chased and mauled by Marcos’s goons.

During my time, there was still a quota followed, with women kept at I think only 30 percent to 40 percent of the university population. I guess the old Christian Brothers feared DLSU would eventually become a “girls’ school” if women were allowed to be enrolled unfettered. (Sorry, guys, we women are just naturally brilliant at everything we do, hahaha.)

By then, the antics and celebrity status of the Bench Boys had virtually faded, replaced by the sushal kids at the Pebble Wash, the super-active inhabitants of the SPS building, and the cute Engineering boys at the main canteen. In fact, the most famous BB in the ’80s was not even a student but Jacinto Pascual, a.k.a. Mang Jack, the discipline officer. (The DOs would usually sit on the painted benches across the gym, their office being just a few steps away.)

Many would say that you are not a true La Sallian unless you knew Mang Jack (the older alumni would of course disagree). With his guttural voice that could boom from the Chess Plaza to the Pebble Wash, he was such an entertaining and yet comforting fixture in the university. Despite his diminutive height, count on Mang Jack to be the first to break up a fight (or as some have attested, joined the fight as well, hahaha).

“Parang Tatay,” a father figure to all, was how one alumna perfectly described him on the Taft page. He would take pains to take you aside and try to persuade you to give up your errant ways, as some alumni now confess. I heard he finally retired in 2007, after 30 years of service to the university, but still attends our UAAP games versus that-other-school-along-Katipunan-Avenue, pumping his fist in the air like the true La Sallian that he is! (In testament to his popularity, Mang Jack has his very own fan page on FB, say n’yo?)

Another famous figure on campus was Dr. Emerita Quito, chairman of the Philosophy Department in the ’80s. She was in every way the stern but remarkably intelligent professor students alternatively feared and craved for. In fact, it was quite difficult to get into her class because of such a high enrollment demand. Every class session was a challenge to look at issues and ideas in another way, e.g., “Does God exist?”

For a Catholic university, we had quite a liberal academic curriculum (for one, we studied Liberation Theology), and discussions in our Liberal Arts classes were quite exhilarating and provocative—that is, if you had the right professor.

When Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was shot on the Manila International Airport tarmac in August 1983, the students, long insulated from the political goings-on in the real world, suddenly woke up to the seeming cruelty of the Marcos dictatorship.

I cannot forget regularly watching the video of Aquino’s descent from the plane and hearing the words shouted “Pusila! Pusila!” reverberating through the AV room’s speakers, right before he was shot. Prof. Salvador Gonzales, an Aquino classmate, would break down and analyze the said video many times over. During another university forum, we listened to Butz Aquino and fellow Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (Jaja) members speak about his brother’s death and its impact on his family.

The next year, four of us decided to form an independent party to run—and successfully won—as sophomore representatives for the Liberal Arts students in the Student Council. Maybe it was just our way of expressing our discontent too, and wanted to try to make a bright-eyed difference in the lives of our fellow batchmates.

Perhaps because of the political chaos riling the country those years, it was the first time a left-leaning party won the presidency of the Student Council, which was typically, prior to Aquino’s demise, conservatively-run. The lean and confident militant Hernani “Nani” Braganza (now mayor of Alaminos, Pangasinan), in 1984 led a slightly dysfunctional Student Council crew to the very first tuition barikada in protest of that year’s tuition hike.

(Later in life, meeting ex-Student Council officers of the University of the Philippines, I learned that they were “imported” by Braganza as reinforcements to the barricade because there were not enough La Sallians who actually joined the effort. Not surprising. Most students who studied in DLSU could actually afford to do so, Braganza included, so instead of joining the barricade, they went to watch a movie, ate at nearby restaurants, or played billiards, etc.)

Then as Corazon Aquino declared her intention to run as president versus the strongman Ferdinand Marcos in the 1986 snap elections, we had quite a few mock polls which the widow handily won.

The vice president of choice by the students, however, was not Aquino’s partner Salvador “Doy” Laurel, but old man Arturo “Turing” Tolentino. I guess we were more respectful of the political track record and expansive experience of the seeming kindly old man, which could only serve Tita Cory well. (It was quite an experience for me jostling with foreign photojournalists to try to get a good photo of Tita Cory when she spoke before her fellow Kulasas during the campaign at the St. Scholastica's College campus nearby, along Leon Guinto St.)

The People Power revolt over, the day after February 25, with Tita Cory already sworn in as the new president, I remembered rushing to the La Sallian office at the SPS building, and with colleague Amelie, disposed and flushed down the toilets any publications or leaflets that could be misconstrued as subversive. I guess I still had a Marcos hangover and half-expected the dictator or his cohorts to make a strong comeback. Well, better to be safe than sorry! But what an exciting time that was!

While this undercurrent of political dissent kept rumbling, DLSU President Bro. Andrew Gonzalez (RIP) and his fellow university officers were closely watching over us, arms folded, allowing us to do our thing. But I knew they were ever ready to jump in when things threatened to get out of hand.

I visited with Brother Andrew quite a bit, and chatted with him on a few occasions, and found him to have a humorous streak, that is, if you could keep up with his expansive English vocabulary. I will always be grateful to Brother Andrew for having invited me to join the DLSU Communication Arts faculty (although I stayed only for one trimester). His usual dig at me, long after I graduated, was: “Stella! Are you still an Arnaldo?” Geez.

While I had ridiculous fun at DLSU, I can’t call it the best time of my life, as some people may view their college days. (There would be better times, as I got older.) But nonetheless, DLSU will always have a special place in my mind and heart.

I appreciate how being an alumna virtually opened doors for me in my career, allowing to me connect with many CEOs in the local business community, as well as Cabinet secretaries. To this day, upon meeting other alumni for the first time, even if belonging to disparate eras, there is the shared knowing and positive feelings for the old Alma Mater. Animo La Salle, indeed.

Some gems from “Taga-La Salle Taft ka kung...”:
Nakasakay ka sa elevator sa SJ building na good for three people only! (pero walo kayo!)

Kumain ka ng chicken barbeque sa loob ng La Salle! (Yes, Aristocrat was our canteen concessionaire.)

Kumakain ka ng Syfu’s BBQ sandwich sa parking lot (where McDonald’s now stands.)

Marunong kang magpaikot ng bolpen o lapis sa mga daliri mo (a.k.a. “The Twirl”)

Kung familiar ka sa PA announcement all over the campus “let us pause for a while and remember that we are in the most holy presence of God” at 12 and 6 pm. (the Angelus)

May ka-block kang member ng That’s Entertainment. (In my time it was Gary Valenciano and Rina Reyes.)

Nung bago ang LRT ang pang-alaska mo sa mga Atenista ay ganito...“La Salle: LRT, kayo: TRICYCLE.”

Ang PE teacher n’yong lalaki ang unang nagpauso ng pekpek shorts!

Ang highest grade mo ay 4.0, ’di tulad sa ibang universities na 1.0. We La Sallians know our Math.

Pumapasok ka na sa eskwela sa buwan ng Mayo, samantalang ang mga ibang kaibigan mo, nagbabakasyon pa.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Sept. 9, 2011.)

1 comment:

Nadine Bernardino said...

this is a very informative blog. Thank you! But however, I wanted to know more about the tuition increase lol. What happened next? and why did it happen?