In barricades embattled, fighting in delirium,
Others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom.
The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:
Gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom
Are equal if demanded by country and home.
The second stanza of Jose Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios translated above by National Artist Nick Joaquin has inspired many Filipinos to deeds both great and noble for the nation’s sake. Of all its fruits, however, perhaps none has been more firmly molded into the Filipino psyche than the Oblation.
Since its cornerstone was laid down in 1931, National Artist Guillermo Tolentino’s masterpiece has served as a rallying point for selfless action for the public interest, as well as the most recognizable and enduring symbol of the University of the Philippines (UP). Commissioned by then-UP President Rafael Palma, the Oblation is a tangible representation of Tolentino’s interpretation of two of Jose Rizal’s writing’s—Mi Ultimo Adios and A La Juventud Filipina. The statue is an elevation of sacrifice on a pedestal, indicating a “clarion call for the youth to engage in the rigors of change and progress.”
The Oblation’s unveiling during National Heroes Day introduced a figure into Philippine society rich in nationalist symbolism. The statue’s height of 3.5-meters symbolizes three and a half centuries of Spanish colonial rule, while its pose of self-offering represents Tolentino’s interpretation of Rizal’s second stanza above—in particular the “unknown heroes who fell during the night.” Furthermore, its base is a stylized representation of the Philippine archipelago, with rocks from Montalban Gorge to highlight its cultural and historical significance.
The katakataka or “wonder plant” (Brophyllum pinnatum) symbolizes the heroism of the Filipino people. Seeing that segments of the plant thrown anywhere would “sprout into a young plant,” Tolentino viewed the plant as a symbol of a patriotism that continually grows in different places throughout the country.
Since the Oblation’s move from Padre Faura to Diliman on February 11, 1949 as part of UP’s transfer to a larger campus, the campuses that would compose what we now know as the University of the Philippines System would see the rise of their own versions of the beloved figure.
Renowned sculptors and artists, among them National Artist Napoleon Abueva, Anastacio Caedo who was also one of the models of the original statue, Fidel Araneta, and former UP Open University Chancellor Grace Javier Alfonso, would eventually make their own interpretations of the legendary figure in different constituent universities. Wherever it is to be found, the Oblation remains a symbol of strength, resilience and freedom of thought for UP and its graduates.
Email the author at [email protected]