Monday, February 27, 2006

The Passing of Two UP Professors

Homage to two professors
THE OTHER VIEW By Elmer A. OrdoƱez
THE MANILA TIMES ONLINE, Saturday, January 07, 2006

THE thinning ranks of the generation that had known UP in both prewar Padre Faura and postwar Diliman campuses have been diminished recently with the departure of University Professor and National Scientist Alfredo “Fred” V. Lagmay of the psychology department and Prof. Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature Pacita “Pachot” Guevara Fernandez.

War interrupted Fred and Pachot’s studies in UP; they obtained their bachelor’s degrees after the war in rites held in the ruins of the Padre Faura campus. In December 1948 UP completed its transfer to the “brave new world” of the Diliman campus. We were pioneers in then mostly talahib fields and Quonset huts where classrooms, labs and offices were housed.

Fred and Pachot both survived the holocaust of Manila in early 1945, their families moving about with other hapless civilians caught in the systematic destruction of the city by both Japanese and American weapons. More than a hundred thousand civilians perished in the massacres by crazed Japanese marines and in the “friendly fire” of the liberators.

Fred himself was detained at the east corner of Taft Avenue/Padre Faura along with many other males where they were set upon with swords and bayonets. Slashed in the arm, he fell and pretended to be dead underneath a gory pile of inert bodies. When the Japanese left he crawled across Taft Avenue to the Philippine General Hospital where the staff hid him in the ground space under the building. His father, caught in another place, was less fortunate and died in Fort Santiago. Fred was one of those who testified during the War Crimes trial in late 1945. Pachot herself recalled how she hid some family jewels around her waist while the family with few belongings struggled to escape from the massacre and rape in the city.

I first met instructor Fred in 1950 in Diliman just as he was about to leave for Harvard. When I was introduced to him as the new Collegian editor, he sat with me in the Gregory Terrace bar and told me what he thought about the Collegian. He said that whenever a big national issue came about, the readers including those outside the campus waited for what the student paper had to say. “And when the paper was ready with a position, nothing in the world could stop it from saying it,” he said.

I knew then editor Renato Constantino in 1939 openly charged President Quezon with ambitions of becoming a dictator under his proposed “partyless democracy.” On our part, we devoted a special issue of the March 29, 1951, Collegian denouncing President Quirino for ousting UP head Bienvenido Gonzalez exercising academic independence in the choice of Senator Recto as commencement speaker. Fred’s words must have inspired us.

Upon his return in 1955 Dr. Lagmay (having studied under Dr. Skinner of Harvard) introduced behavioral studies in psychology and later became head of his department and honored as National Scientist. As a young instructor I gravitated to Fred’s circle of liberal colleagues like philosopher Ricardo Pascual, zoologist Agustin Rodolfo, political scientists Cesar Majul and O.D. Corpuz, literary scholar Leopoldo Y. Yabes, educationist Eleanor Elequin and others.

With them the junior faculty like myself, Armando Bonifacio, SV Epistola, Rony Diaz, Alex Hufana and students like Luis Uranza, Perfecto Fernandez, Benito Lim, Ruben Garcia, and Rey Gregorio formed the Society for the Advancement of Academic Freedom (SAAF) which took on the issue of separation of church and state at a time when Jesuit priest John Delaney was actively crusading against “atheism” in the campus.

A McCarthyite witch-hunt for communists (seen as atheists) initiated by followers of Fr. Delaney targeted the SAAF members. In response Fred as Collegian adviser caused the publication of a landmark book on academic freedom. Since then Fred and family (his wife Letty was a grade-school classmate) became closer to us. He was the quintessential nationalist liberal/libertarian. Goodbye, Fred. It was a good fight.

Pachot was an esteemed friend and colleague in English/Humanities. She pioneered in the teaching of humanities, and became associate dean of Arts and Letters and professor emeritus. Every birthday of hers close to that of my wife, she would send little poems or religious cards. Among the last we got was a poem “On my 81st birthday, 27 November 2003”:

“How shall it be when I / suddenly or quietly, am swept / by a soundless wind / into a faceless, weightless Void? / Perhaps I shall fall / helpless into airy space / enveloped by some boundless air. . ./ I’ll see no one, / hear no one, / touch no one / I’ve ever known before. / Yet perhaps, / I shall be free / from the many angled angst, / the inquietudes, / the absurdities / that used to weigh me down. . . . / Perhaps, the vast expanse of Void / will wrap me up / into a wholeness / my finite life has never known before—/ I may even call this Void / my God, and my Home!”

Farewell, dear and gentle Pachot. We know your only special son is in caring hands.


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