The Explainer: La Salle Ateneo Rivalry

That was a video we looted from Youtube, and it shows an Ateneo-La Salle Game ending up in a free for all between players and students from both sides.

Tonight we’d like to focus on the La Salle Ateneo rivalry, as the debaters of both schools set out to do verbal battle on this station later this week.

Why do do the Green Archers always aim their arrows at the Blue Eagles? The history of a rivalry, and how it’s more ancient than you think, is our topic for tonight.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. Us against Them


To show you how silly school rivalries get, recently my friends from the Ateneo de Manila sent me this picture, from the UAAP games:

Not being either an Atenean or a Lasallian, but out of respect for the memory of my dad, who went to La Salle for grade school and part of I high school, I decided to send my Ateneo friends an equally meaningful picture.

I titled it, The Pride of the Ateneo.

Obviously, they weren’t amused.

But then, the cleverest response came not from Ateneans or LaSallians, but from AMA Computer College, of all places:

It says, “Dito ka na. AMA. Mas madali pang ispell.”

Funny, no?

Now tonight isn’t about the histories of De La Salle University and the Ateneo de Manila University. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, why do Ateneans and LaSallians have this rivalry that transcends academics? It’s a cultural thing.

It actually starts early in Spanish colonial times, when the Philippines was carved up between the religious orders. A Dominican, the late Pablo Fernandez, wrote his “History of the Church in the Philippines,” chronicles the arrival of the various religious orders.

The Augustinian Recollects arrived with Legazpi’s expedition, and promptly established San Agustin.

The Franciscans arrived on June 24, 1578.

The Jesuits arrived September 17, 1581.

The Dominicans arrived on July 21, 1587.

The Recollects arrived in May, 1606.

Much later came the Vicentians in 1862, and the Benedictines last of all, in 1895.

Of these orders, only two engaged in the task of establishing institutions for secondary and higher education. Of course, from the earliest times the religious orders set up primary schools, but the serious organization of secondary education along modern lines began in 1865, with the recognition of two schools as, essentially, modern high schools and which also offered the Degree of Bachelor of Arts.

These schools were the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, which dates its foundation to 1620, and the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, administered by the Jesuits since 1859.

The monopoly of granting academic degrees for higher education, however, was given to only one institution, the University of Santo Tomas, established in 1611.

All three institutions –Letran, the Ateneo, and UST- were located in Intramuros, which, with its looming old buildings and narrow streets, was a delightful place for a rumble.

If you go through accounts of 19th century students, mostly handed down in oral histories in families of alumni, you’ll find the emergence of a battle that was basically, something familiar to us, today.

The Jocks versus the Nerds. The Jocks were the Letranites, and the Nerds were the Ateneans, and add to this, the hot-blooded nature of the mestizos that tended to go to school in Letran, and you can imagine what happened.

Think of it this way, the exemplar of the Ateneo was, of course, Jose Rizal, who, as he was marched off to his execution, did his alma mater the honor of pausing to look at the Ateneo, and sigh about the happy memories he had of the place.

Letran, on the other hand, would produce people ranging from Aguinaldo to Quezon, aggressive people of action.

But these were fights that took place, because the schools were in the same neighborhood, and so ambushes were bound to happen.

But by the 1930s, Ateneo had moved out of Intramuros, and why is, that around the same decade, the main fight between schools became the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry?

Let’s backtrack a bit, to the year 1911. In that year, a new religious order, not of priests, but brothers, arrived, with a teaching mission. That order was the Christian Brothers. They founded a school named after their founder, St. John Baptist La Salle.

Why would the country need yet another religious order setting up yet another school?

One reason, of course, was that the Dominicans, the Jesuits, the Benedictines and all the others remained thoroughly in the hands of the Spaniards.

Under the New American order, you couldn’t have medieval-minded Spanish clergymen educating the sons of the wealthy and well-connected, could you?

So the Christian Brothers set up their school, and attracted to it, two kinds of people, mainly. Mestizos, the sons of the men of prominence in politics and business who’d previously gone to Letran, and the Chinese Filipinos who then, as now, were people of consequence in commerce.

It was only a little later that Ateneo de Manila, in turn, shifted from the control of the Spanish Jesuits to American Jesuits, and they, in turn, concentrated their efforts on attracting the wealthy and well connected in the professions of law, literature, and so forth.

And this explains why for older Filipinos from our wealthy and professional classes, mestizos and Chinese Filipinos interested in commerce went to La Salle, and their peers interested in law and writing went to the Ateneo. The Jocks moved to La Salle, the nerds stuck to the Ateneo.

But not being neighbors, the opportunities for gang warfare diminished, so where did the rivalry between Letran and Ateneo turn into the rivalry between La Salle and the Ateneo?

We owe that rivalry to basketball, and that’s what we’ll tackle, when we return.


II. Eagles and Archers


Besides throwing bottles and engaging in fisticuffs, it’s the cheers and jeers and the bellowing of alma mater songs, that are the focus of school pride. And so, that Youtube video of Ateneans and LaSallians hooting at each other at a game.

As we saw in the previous portion, it took the development of an arena, for the warriors of schools to seek glory and triumph for their schools.

There are two arenas for testosterone-laden confrontations, and those are the NCCA and the UAAP.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was established in 1924. It was here that La Salle and Ateneo battled each other until the Ateneo de Manila University left the league in 1978 due to violence, and La Salle left after a riotous game with Letran in 1980.

The University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) was established in 1938 and has been the venue for the annual DLSU-ADMU confrontations since they both resumed fighting in the same arena in 1986.

But Francis Manglapus, son of the late Raul S. Manglapus, reminded me that in the 20s to the late 30s, the main rivals at the NCAA were Ateneo and San Beda. He says a highly emotional La Salle Ateneo game right before the War, sparked the open rivalry between Ateneo and La Salle.

My conjecture, and this is only a guess, is that prior to that, the main rival of La Salle had been Letran, both with heavily mestizo populations at the time, while as two nerd-dominated institutions, San Beda and Ateneo were natural, rivals, too.

And so, it was basketball, not debating, not academics, that provided a means for schools to engage in permanent rivalry.

And it’s interesting that we have visual proof of what Francis Manglapus told me, because you can date the mascots of perennial rivals Ateneo and La Salle to the 1930s, too.

Ateneo’s Blue Eagle,

And La Salle’s Green Archer are basically more interested in fighting each other than any other school and any other mascot.

And we see it, too, in three songs that characterize three different eras.

Letran’s song, is clearly one from the Spanish era, and is perhaps the oldest collegiate alma mater song in the basketball games. I’ve been hearing it every year since our family goes to Letran every August 19.

Here it is:


Alma Mater, Letran esplendente !

Beloved Mother, Glorious Letran!


Como el sol es tu gloria, sin fin,

As the sun is your glory forever,


Y perfuman los lauros tu ambiente

And the laurels give aroma to your air


Como exhala su aroma el jasmin

As the jasmin breathes off its fragrance.


Orgullosos de ti y de tu historia

Proud of you and your history


Nuestras almas desde hoy juraran;

Our souls from today shall swear;


Conquistar por tu honor nuevas glorias

To conquer for your honor new glory


Y jamas olvidarte, Letran !

And never to forget you, Letran!


The next oldest and which would have been a hallmark of an older rivalry, the Letran-Ateneo fight, is Blue Eagle, the King, which the Ateneo website tells us  the King  was  written  during  the  1939 summer vacation, by Raul Manglapus. He  tried it out first  on  friends  in Baguio, then when  classes  re-opened he  had it performed  by    baritone  Serafin  Garcia  before  a Committee  of   Faculty  members and Student leaders.

The   music   was  transcribed  and  orchestrated  by Maestro Lucio  San Pedro,   noted  Filipino composer, who was then  the  Ateneo bandmaster.  Blue Eagle, the King was  immediately    and  unanimously   approved,  and was  sung  by   the  students for the first time at a convocation.

Here’s a rare recording, in New Orleans Dixieland style, of Raul Manglapus and the Executive Band, performing his composition, Fly High, Blue Eagle the King.

But the song, of course, can’t be appreciated to full effect without lyrics, so here’s a contemporary version by the Blue Babble Battalion, complete with –ugh- electric guitar:


Fly high!
Blue Eagle fly and carry our cry
across the sky,
Cast your shadows below
Swoop down on the foe
And sweep up the fields away!

Fly high! Over the trees
Make known through the breeze
Our Victories
Spread wide each wing
For you are the King
Blue Eagle the King!

Oh the Eagle’s the king of them all.
And his blue feathers never will fall.
For the Blue and the White
And the Eagle’s in flight,
Ateneo will fight today!


As for La Salle’s song, it’s of a more modern vintage. Adie C. Pena kindly provided information on La Salle’s song.


The melody of the La Salle Alma Mater came from San Joaquin

Memorial (then a La Salle school in Fresno, California) where Br.

Stephen Malachy FSC was assigned in the 1950s.


Br. Malachy brought the melody to the Philippines and, with the help of Br Bonaventure Richard FSC, made the song more relevant by revising some of the lyrics.  Jess Gallegos of DLSU HS64 remembers Br Malachy, with the aid of his small harmonica, teaching them the song during a graphics class in their sophomore year (1961).

The song was first performed during the high school graduation ceremony of Mr. Gallegos and his batch mates in 1964.

The following year, the song was sung at the NCAA games.

A former Sports Editor of “The La Sallian,” Vancouver-based Dante Acuna wrote recently that the Alma Mater was introduced to the sports crowd during the 1965 NCAA basketball season.  Mapua Tech  had beaten La Salle by one point but as deflated as the LaSallites were, everybody stayed to sing the Alma Mater; Acuna wrote that a at its final crescendo of “hail hail hail”, he felt a big chunk of the disappointment being washed away and replaced by a fierce pride in his school and in the athletes lined up on the court, their heads held high.

Incidentally, Dante added: “(I)t was La Salle that pioneered the practice of a school song at the end of sporting contests; after a few years, other NCAA schools started jumping in with their own.”

And so, here’s La Salle’s song:

Hail, Hail?

Alma Mater

Hail to De La Salle!?

We’ll hold your banner high and bright,

?A shield of green and white.?

We’ll fight to keep your glory bright,?

And never shall we fail,

?Hail to thee our Alma Mater!?

Hail! Hail! Hail!


According to Adie, older alumni remember singing “Cheer, cheer for old De La Salle” (based on the Notre Dame song) in the 40s, 50s and even well into the 60s. In the 70s, they remember two songs that were introduced — “Oh When La Salle Comes Marching In” (based on “When the Saints Come Marching In”) and “Go La Salle.”

Among those songs, “Go La Salle” is the only one sung today by the younger generation.

For the historical record, and because we played 2 version of Blue Eagle The King, here’s the video they made of the old song, “Go La Salle.”


Now do our theories, dating back to Intramuros rumbles, American de-hispanicization of the schools, and the NCCA and UUAP, hold water? We’ll ask our guests when we return.


My view


Pat and I didn’t go to La Salle, we didn’t go to the Ateneo, we both attended UP where she finished and I did not. But we all need spirit, family pride, school pride, pride in our city, province, and most of all, country.

The World of Felix Roxas, published by the Filipiniana Book Guild, has interesting accounts of the Ateneo in the 19th Century. And Carlos Quirino, of course, has published a thorough history of De La Salle. Every school, in fact, has its history and you should know the history of your school.

All I can say is whatever banner you hold high, hold it up with courage, yes, but also, with honor. Fight, but fight clean.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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