The University of the Philippines (or UP) was established in 1908 during the American occupation (1898-1946), with its Manila campus along Taft Avenue. However, the Diliman campus was established in 1949 as part of the great exodus of people and schools from Manila to the newly chartered Quezon City, right after World War II. The rolling hills of the Diliman District, named after the trees found in that area, covers 493 hectares; in which it provided ample space to develop the many colleges and other services of the UP System.
The UP campus is sandwiched between two major thoroughfares: Katipunan Avenue (now called Pres. Carlos P. Garcia Avenue) at the east and the Commonwealth Avenue to the northwest. The main entrance to the campus is the University Avenue (or popularly called U Ave), which branches off at the Philcoa area (Philippine Coconut Authority), of the Commonwealth Avenue. The University Avenue is an 800 meter stretch of open road, which gives a grand visage of open skies and the UP administration building at the end of the journey. Before the U.P. transferred to the area, the stretch of the University Avenue was once part of the Balara Airfield, used by the American military.
Around a hundred meters for the U Ave entrance are two massive structures flanking each side of the road. These are the 1966-67 concrete sculptures “Tribute to Higher Education”, by the National Artist for Sculpture and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture, Napoleon V. Abueva.
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
On the sculpture on the southern lane of the University Avenue, there is a long wall facing west, with two sets of images. The first group is a group of images that give recognition to the Christian, Moslem and animistic cultures of the Philippines; as represented by the Bible, the okkir carving of the Maranao people, and the Bulul rice gods and Ling-ling-O fertility pendants of the Ifugao people. The second set features images of our pre-colonial history and our Chinese heritage. On the eastern face, there is a collection of images representing various academic disciplines offered by the UP, along with a stylized symbol of the UP mascot, a parrot, in the okkir technique of the Maranao people. On the northern face of the sculpture is a sole figure of an ancient chieftain, a datu, along with symbols ancient Filipino cultures, including the Tagalog script, the Baybayin. In a side panel features an ancient tribal elder relating the oral traditions of the people.
On the sculpture along the northern lane of University Avenue, there is a long wall facing west with three sets of images. The first set of images is a collection of symbols that feature the sciences and philosophical studies, as represented by the Greek philosopher, Socrates. The second set of images is dedicated to the performing arts: dance, music, singing, and theater. The third set of images features the disciplines mastered by the Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal; which include astronomy, medicine, painting and sculpture, literature (as represented by his novel: Noli Mi Tangere), and even fencing. On the western facet of the sculpture, there are images showcase campus life; which show two students dating, a student playing basketball, a student participating in a civil activity, a student leader orating, and a student studying under the a sun. The northern face of the sculpture is divided into two sets. The first set contains a naked man and woman facing the east, towards the UP administration building. The second set contains symbols of other academic disciplines offered by the UP.
And going further up the road, there is a set of monumental jutting triangular structures also flanking the two lanes of the University Avenue. These are Napoleon Abueva’s 1962 “UP Gateway”, which also double as a waiting shed for commuters waiting for a jeepney ride going in or outside of the university. The design of Abueva was inspired by the paper airplane made by children.
On the southern lane right beside one of Abueva’s gateway pieces, there are Ildefonso Marcelo’s 1960 adobe sculptures “Bathing Female Nude” and “Captivity”. Ildefonso Marcelo was a student of Napoleon Abueva.
Ildefonso Cruz Marcelo (1941-unknown) studied sculpture at the University of the Philippines in 1962, under Napoleon Abueva. Marcelo took further studies at the University of Hawaii and Pratt Institute, New York. Marcelo has created many works during the 1960s, and won several honors such as the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1961. However, there is very little known about his works after the mid-1960s.
Across the road is Ildefonso Marcelo’s “Contemplation”. This is part of a set of three sculptures that speak of the striving of the human spirit. The other two are “Captivity” on the other side of University Avenue, and “The Challenge” at the UP Main Library.
At the end of the University Avenue is the university administration building, which was designed and completed in 1948 by the National Artist for Architecture, Juan Felipe Nakpil. Known as Quezon Hall, it was named after Manuel L. Quezon, the second president of the Philippines.
Juan Felipe Nakpil (1899-1986) was the son, of the musician and composer, Julio Garcia Nakpil 1867 -1960) and Gregoria Álvarez de Jesús (1875 – 1943); who were known for their efforts during the Philippine Revolution (1896-1898). He initially took up engineering at the University of the Philippines, then he later studied architecture at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts, in France. After working for several architectural firms, Nakpil eventually opening his own architectural firm in 1930. Nakpil’s most noted works are San Carlos Seminary, Iglesia ni Cristo Riverside Locale (Now F. Manalo, San Juan), Capitol Theater, Captain Pepe Building, Manila Jockey Club, Rufino Building, Philippine Village Hotel, the Quezon Hall and Gonzales Halls of the U.P., and the Rizal Shrine in Calamba, Laguna. Nakpil was given the honor of National Artist for Architecture in 1973.
In front of the Quezon Hall is the Oblation Plaza, which was designed by Nathaniel John Gerochi Dueñas, in 1974. And at the end of the plaza is the sculpture of the 1st National Artist for Sculpture and teacher of Napoleon Abueva, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino’s “Pahinungod, Oblasyon” or “Oblation” for short, which has become the symbol of the University of the Philippines itself. The “Oblation” was inspired by the second stanza of Dr. Jose Rizal’s letter “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Last Farewell), written in 1896, before his execution by the Spanish authorities.
Tolentino sculpted the “Oblation” in 1939, and was installed in the Manila campus along Padre Faura Street. After the devastation of Manila in World War II, the UP administration decided to move the statute to the Diliman campus, in 1949.
A grand motorcade accompanied the sculpture from Manila to Diliman in 1949, and it was installed inside the Main Library. A copy of the statue was cast in Italy in 1950, and was later unveiled in 1958, as part of the celebrations of the U.P. Golden Jubilee.
Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890 -1976) is a classical sculptor who was named National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1973. Tolentino took his art studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and later at the Ecole de Beux Arts. In 1926, he started teaching at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and he would later be given the position of director. Tolentino sculpted the University of the Philippines’ most recognizable emblem, the “U.P. Oblation”, as well as the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City. He was also awarded the UNESCO Cultural Award in Sculpture in 1959, Araw ng Maynila Award in Sculpture in 1963, Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1967, President’s Medal of Merit in 1973, and the Diwa ng Lahi Award in 1972, before given the highest honor as National Artist.
Tolentino designed the “Oblation” based on the physique of his student Anastacio Tanchauco Caedo and the proportions of Virgilio Raymundo. Toletino and Caedo shared a fondness for body building, which lead to his choice for the model. Caedo would later become an accomplished sculptor himself, and he was later given permission by Tolentino to cast the “Oblation” for the other UP campuses; specifically statues found in UP Manila and UP Baguio.
Anastacio Tanchauco Caedo (1907-1990) graduated from U.P. School of Fine Arts; under the tutelage of National Artist, Guillermo E. Tolentino. During his apprenticeship under Tolentino, the two took to body building as a means to understand the human anatomy and strengthen their bodies for he very physical work of sculpture. This love for body building led Tolentino to fashion his opus “The Oblation” after Caedo’s physique. Later Caedo made name for himself by sculpting many religious works for the Jesuits at the Ateneo de Manila and busts of the National Hero Dr. José Rizal for many of the Philippine Embassies around the world. Caedo was nominated three times as a National Artist of the Philippines (in 1983, 1984, and 1986); which he turned down, to avoid the politics in the art world.
Another student of Tolentino, Napoleon Abueva was also authorized to cast the “Oblation” for the campuses of UP Los Baños, UP Iloilo, and UP Tacloban.
The only “Oblation’ that is not a cast of Tolentino’s original sculpture is Fidel Araneta’s 1957 version, found in UP Cebu.
The next “Oblation” to be set in a UP campus is the 2008 version by Grace ‘Gigi’ Javier, which was installed as a part of the UP Philippine General Hospital (UP PGH) centennial celebrations, in Manila.
The latest “Oblation” in 2016 version by Dr. Gigi Javier Alfonso, for the latest UP school: University of the Philippines Bonifacio Global City, in the city of Taguig.
Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso is the chancellor of the University of the Philippines, Open University. Alfonse first graduated from the U.P. College of Fine Arts, then took her MA Humanities in Art History and Ph.D Communication, University of the Philippines. Alfonso has garnered many honors, as she has specialized in many disciplines such as: Photography, TV Directing, Film and Video Production, AV Management, Visual Communication, Film Theory, Film Criticism, Film Research, Sculpture, and Painting. For all her work at the U.P and other professional institutions, she has been bestowed the title of University Artist II, by her alma mater.
Last 2015, the “Oblation” became part of Toym de Leon Imao‘s installation “Dingas: Adhikaing Diliman, Adhikaing Bayan“, which was part of the annual UP Christmas celebrations and Lantern Parade.
Abdulmari “Toym” de Leon Imao (born 1968) comes from a family of artists. He first took up architecture at the University of the Philippines, but the call of the arts was too strong and he became a sculptor. Later he took his Masters in Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art as a Fulbright Scholar. Aside from sculpture and installations, Imao has also done production design work for theater and film.
The “Oblation” is a symbolism of a person’s act of dedicating himself for the country, and that very symbolism was taken into heart by the UP students as it became the hotbed for radical activism against the Marcos dictatorship (1965-1986). Now the present crop of UP students face a new battle, as they look to the future and offer themselves for the peace of our country and the world.