Sculpture 12: The Original Oblation
Integrally attached to the identity of the University of the Philippines is the sculpture Oblation. Or, nowadays, it can be the other way: attached to the Oblation is UP.
The corroding statue that everyone beholds in front of Quezon Hall in UP Diliman is not the original. (The greenish corrosion actually adds to the beauty of the statue.)
The original is located way beyond the back of Quezon Hall – inside its mirror building, the Gonzales Hall (the Main Library), formerly home to the School of Fine Arts and Architecture.
Part of my series on the iconic Oblation, and in commemoration of UP’s 108th year, I am posting my previously unpublished photos of the statue.
Here are essential information about the Oblation.
- The sculpture is an interpretation of the 2nd stanza of Rizal’s “Mi ultimo adios”.
- It was made in the studio of Guillermo Tolentino in Retiro Street, Manila (now named N.S. Amoranto Street in Quezon City).
- The original is made from concrete; later, a replica made from bronze was cast in Italy.
- It first stood in front of Rizal Hall in the (original) Manila campus of UP in Padre Faura Street. (There was no Diliman campus that time.)
- It was originally completely nude. UP President Jorge Bacobo suggested to cover it with a fig leaf.
- The models for the sculpture were Anastacio Caedo, Tolentino’s student, and Vergilio Reymundo (yes, that’s the spelling), Tolentino’s brother-in-law.
- The cost of the sculpture was Php2,000, taken from contributions.
The sculptor Guillermo Tolentino, later honoured as National Artist, described his work 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 on a rustic base, a stylized rugged shape of the Philippine archipelago, lined with big and small hard rocks, each and everyone of which represents an island.
The katakataka (wonder plant) whose roots are 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. Hence, it symbolizes the deep-rooted patriotism in the heart of our heroes. Such patriotism continually and forever grows anywhere in the Philippines.
The 3.5 meter height of the statue stands for the 350 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines. The rocks on t he base of the relic were taken from Montalban (Rizal) gorge, site of the fierce fighting between Filipino guerillas and the Japanese army during the second World War.
Below is a timeline of how the Oblation came into being:
- UP President Rafael Palma commissioned Guillermo Tolentino, later a National Artist, to make a statue symbolizing the Filipino youth.
- The monument was inaugurated on 30 November 1935 and was unveiled by Gregoria de Jesus Nakpil, who was the widow of Andres Bonifacio, later married to composer Julio Nakpil.
- It was transferred to the newly opened Diliman campus on 11 February 1949 in a motorcade.
- On 29 November 1958, a bronze replica was unveiled. The original was kept at the School of Fine Arts and Architecture (now Gonzales Hall).
- It was requested in 1961 that the original be transferred to the newly opened UP College Baguio. Although UP President Vicente Sinco initially granted the request, the sculpture was declared “too frail” to be transferred.
The Oblation was first regarded as a dedication to the national heroes, a “monument to heroism”. Proof of this was the date of inauguration. The date 30 November, although known as Bonifacio Day (Act No. 2946 s. 1921), “was also held to commemorate anonymous heroes of the nation … .” So in practice, National Heroes Day was also celebrated on that day during the early years of the country. (You can read “National Heroes Day“.)
In Bacobo’s speech at the inauguration, he said:
For certainly such a monument as this which embodies Rizal’s ideals and high vision, Bonifacio’s indomitable fighting spirit, Luna’s military talent, the political philosophy of Mabini, and the supreme patriotism of all the unknown compatriots who have died in a thousand battlefields, I say a monument of such high symbolism is of great spiritual value on this campus where we strive especially to cultivate the spirit of patriotism. (Quoted by R. Cañete from a dissertation by C. Bacobo-Olivar)
Later, the significance of the Oblation would evolve to symbolise freedom and activism. Ultimately, the connotation of the Oblation as a sacrifice still remains. After all, the word oblation means “an act of making religious offering”. Similarly, the sculpture embodies offering or sacrificing oneself for the people or the country.
Cañete, Reuben. “From the Sacred to the Profane: The Oblation Ritualized,” Humanities Diliman 6, no. 1–2 (2009): 1–20.
Gonzales, Narita Manuel. “All about the Oblation.” in U.P. Diliman: Home and Campus, edited by Narita Manuel Gonzales and Gerardo Los Baños, 294–296. Quezon City: UP Press, 2010.
Romualdo, Arlyn. “Discrepancies in Dates: the Unveiling of the UP Oblation,” UP Newsletter, May 2011.
Salvador-Amores, Analyn. “Sculpted Landmarks at UP Baguio.” University of the Philippines. Published on 6 February 2013. <http://www.up.edu.ph/sculpted-landmarks-at-up-baguio/>.