by Raymund Liongson
Reproduced from The Fil-Am Courier,
Cover Story, October 16-21, 2007 issue
Anyone who attends the University of the Philippines develops a sense of affinity to an iconic figure of a naked man with outstretched arms and head tilted up --
The dictionary defines "oblation" as an act of offering something, such as worship or thanks to a deity. To UPians, The Oblation is "a symbolic gesture of sacrificial offering of service to country and humanity which has become the major rallying point for all kinds of dissent, protest actions, and social criticism." Unlike Auguste Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker, which depicts a man glued to his chair in sober meditation, The Oblation is an image of one who has found enlightenment, sprang from his seat, and ready to offer his best. It mirrors the perfection of creation -- from the ideals of freedom, human dignity, and equality to the values of reverence, selflessness, and humility.
How did The Oblation become the icon of UP?
In 1935, Rafael Palma, the first Filipino president of the University of the Philippines, commissioned Guillermo E. Tolentino, a Filipino sculptor and National Artist, to interpret the second stanza of Jose Rizal's "Mi Ultimo Adios" into a monument that would symbolize the University's spirit and ideals. As translated by Encarnacion Alzona and Isidro Escare Abeto, the second stanza of Rizal's famous farewell poem written in Spanish goes:
The Oblation also expresses the ideals of freedom and human dignity -- the cornerstone of justice and peace. With outstretched arms and open hands, free from shackles and bondage, the Oblation is a reminder of the sanctity of freedom, without which oppression and exploitation are natural consequences.
On the fields of battle, in the fury of fight,
Others give you their lives without pain or regrets,
The place does not matter: cypress, laurel, lily-white;
Scaffold, open field, conflict or martyrdom's site,
It is the same if asked by the home and country.
The product was a 3.5 meter-high masterpiece made of concrete and was painted with a bronze finish. Professor Tolentino describes the symbolism of The Oblation as follows:
"The completely nude figure of a young man with outstretched arms and open hands, with tilted head, closed eyes and parted lips murmuring a prayer, with breast forward in the act of offering himself, is my interpretation of that sublime stanza. It symbolizes all the unknown heroes who fell during the night. The statue stands n a rustic base, a stylized rugged shape of the Philippine archipelago, lined with big and small hard rocks, each which represents an island. The "katakataka" (wonder plant) whose roots at tightly implanted on Philippine soil, is the link that binds the symbolized figure to the allegorical Philippine Group. "Katakataka" is really a wonder plant. It is called siempre vivo (always alive) in Spanish. A leaf or a piece of it thrown anywhere will sprout into a young plant. Here, it symbolizes the deep patriotism in the heart of our heroes. Such patriotism continually and forever grows anywhere in the Philippines."
On November 30, 1931, the cornerstone of The Oblation was laid. Eight years later, Gregoria de Jesus Nakpil, widow of Andres Bonifacio, unveiled the Oblation and dedicated the monument to the national heroes at the UP Padre Faura campus where it stood until 1949 when it was transferred to the Diliman campus in Quezon City. Originally, the statue was completely naked, but it was modified by former U.P. President Jorge Bocobo with the addition of a fig leaf to cover the genitals. The sculpture was funded by the U.P. students of 1935-1936, and was presided by Potenciano Illusorio and Jose B. Laurel, Jr., presidents of the student council during the first and second semester respectively. The transfer of the Oblation to its new home served as the highlight of the move from Manila, which is historically referred to as the Exodus. The sculpture in front of the Quezon Hall at Diliman was installed facing west, purportedly a tribute to the American roots of the University. In 1950, the UP Board of Regents ordered that the Oblation be cast in bronze. Under the personal supervision of Professor Tolentino, the bronze was cast in Italy. On November 29, 1958, on the occasion of the University's golden jubilee, the 9-foot tall bronze Oblation was unveiled in UP Diliman, in front of Quezon Hall -- exuding a matchless welcome to everyone entering the campus. The original Oblation is now located in the Main Library (Gonzales Hall), the former site of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
Freedom, Human Dignity, and Reverence
The Oblation also expresses the ideals of freedom and human dignity -- the cornerstone of justice and peace. With outstretched arms and open hands, free from shackles and bondage, the Oblation is a reminder of the sanctity of freedom, without which oppression and exploitation are natural consequences. Stripped of the trappings of wealth and material possession, the Oblation reveals the core meaning of our human existence -- human dignity. It is this sacred gift and human right that give us the courage and the inner strength to carry on the battle and struggle not only for ourselves but for humanity -- regardless of color, gender, tongue, and creed. It is this recognition of and respect for the dignity of every human being -- especially the inarticulate and disadvantaged -- that we are able to muster the audacity to speak out, raise of hands in protest, and take necessary action in times of tyranny and repression. With outstrethched arms and open hands, the Oblation signifies readiness and willingness to embrace not only the nation but the world, prepared to present the best a person can offer. And with the "breast forward in the act of offering himself," the Oblation echoes selfless dedication. -- "All mine to give." With the tilted head looking up to the heavens, the Oblation is an expression of reverence to the Supreme and Divine. In all its nakedness, it is an embodiment of humility and respect both to the Creator and for every fruit of creation.