The Explainer: UP Centennial

That was UP’s alma mater song. The UP Centennial is about to come to an end. So it’s time to take stock of what is a momentous event for UP alumni.


I. A state nobility


If you look at any gathering of officialdom, both young and old, you’ll notice that many of our political movers and shakers went to the University of the Philippines.

Aside from business, the sciences, and the arts, it is in our political life, that UP has had a durable and at time, controversial impact on our development as a nation. That’s because the University of the Philippines, from the very start, was meant to provide the leaders of our country.

Our great revolutionary thinkers like Mabini believed that in contrast to the native ignorance fostered by the religious schools, there should be institutions for secular learning established by our First Republic. But those efforts never seriously got off the ground.

It took the First Philippine Assembly to pass legislation establishing a non-sectarian, secular, state university which would self-consciously produce the bureaucrats, professionals, artists and scholars a modern state needs to function.

There is a book, by Bourdieu, titled “The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power”

Bourdieu argues that the French preparatory schools – the schools that prepare students to take the concours and enter the grande ecoles – systematically produce an elite, noble class through their specific pedagogical or techniques and cultural mores such as the traditions enforced in the school.


First, the students in the school are segregated and isolated from the rest of society. Campus life, including dorm life, is a time socialization, but also, indoctrination.

This restriction, Bourdieu argues creates a monopoly of power which, “when recognized, is converted into a nobility”. This group practices magical shareholding – they claim the symbolic capital of the collective group and of each individual member. In the case of UP, there is the concept of the Iskolar ng Bayan.


Second, they have a common culture (slang, jokes, manners, and history transmitted through enculturation and hazing) that imparts a sense of social harmony and camaraderie that alumni continue to reference and use.  

Here, in the local context, enter your frats and sororities, clubs and orgs, the tambayan and rumble culture and all that it connotes, in terms of connections that can shortcut formal regulations later on in life.


Third, the teachers, who dedicate their lives to their students, teach specifically for the concours by primarily lecturing and piling work on their students.


According to Bourdieu, competition, survival, and efficiency are stressed; there is no expectation that the students will later remember or further research what they learn in lectures.

This general knowledge of the things the elite believes are good for people in powerful positions to know is more important than specific technical knowledge, which is taught at the university. Again, refer to the supposed nationalism and service orientation of U.P.


The jobs university graduates will get will require them to have technical knowledge, while the jobs graduates of the grande ecoles will secure will require them to have an elite degree, a piece of symbolic capital. A simple demonstration of this is one comment I overheard, when someone told another friend they’d passed the UPCAT: “Oh! You got into UP? You will have a good life.”

When we return, UP in our national life.


II. UP in transition


In front of every UP campus you will see this statue– The Oblation, sculpted by Guillermo Tolentino and commissioned in 1935 by Rafael Palma.

Rafael Palma, University President and the man who, perhaps, did the most to encourage UP’s reputation as a place not just for producing artists, scientists, bureaucrats, soldiers and politicians, but a place where a secular, republican and democratic, free-thinking society which cherishes academic freedom holds sway.

This culture has flourished, despite war, which ravaged its campus and alumni in world war 2 and despite dictatorship.

The first generation of UP students like Manuel Roxas or Carlos P. Romulo, were overwhelmingly American in orientation, preferring debate within the existing system to accomplish change.

The UP of the 1920s and 1930s in particular, became the training ground for a new generation of middle class leaders,  professional in orientation and not necessarily from the landed class that had controlled power.

The next generation, exemplified by Ferdinand Marcos, marked a transition in UP’s culture, less impressed with American ways of doing things, and who were discovering the violent underside, represented by the fraternities, of the system they were expected to inherit and lead.

So on the one hand people like Marcos learned to be clever lawyers, but also learned that to get ahead in life, the rules were bendable if you knew the right people.

By the 1960s, of course, the old assumptions that democratic discourse was the way to go, was being challenged. A new generation of young people were on the march, looking to Mao rather than Jefferson, and who questioned everything their elders stood for.

But even as the First Quarter Storm, radicalism, and revolutionary thinking, characterized UP in the 60s , that too, has receded into the past.

And so, this brings us to the meat of tonight’s show. What has UP accomplished to merit not only a centennial year, but a commemorative decade?

What is the future for a national, secular, university in an age of globalization and national degeneration?


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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