PGTW: Burning an eternal flame

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 14 August 2014, Thursday

Burning an eternal flame

For the first time in two years, the University of the Philippines men’s basketball team – the UP Fighting Maroons – scored a win, sending the UP community into ecstatic celebratory mode.

That same night of the victory against a rookie-laden Adamson University team, a bonfire party was held in the Sunken Garden at the Diliman campus.

UP faculty, students, and alumni like myself gathered in front of the fire, if not physically, then in spirit, warmed by the outpouring of joy over the breaking of the 27-game losing streak in the UAAP tournament and pride over the achievement of the long-suffering Maroons.

Netizens erupted with comments for and against, the latter deflected by a UP alumnus with an old joke delivered with the typical UP attitude – “Other schools are wondering why we made a bonfire although it’s not a championship win. Well, that’s why they are the ‘other’ schools.”

The bonfire as a symbol of celebration was a spontaneous gesture. A photo of the event show UP Chancellor Michael Tan at the Sunken Garden, grinning broadly as the bonfire is set up. Students, faculty, and other folks mill around. When the fire is lit, its light shines on what seems like hundreds of proud and happy faces.

The bonfire scene was even immortalized by UP instructor Ervin Bino Santos as a Lego tableau, complete with a Lego minifigure wearing a tiny UP sablay.

The UP bonfire was used again, just a few days after the UAAP win – this time to mark the capture of General Jovito Palparan Jr., who was in hiding for three years; he is allegedly behind the abduction of UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.

Although the UP administration did not give their permission for this, the organizers went ahead with the bonfire anyway, burning tree branches and an effigy of Palparan.

Some points: in response to those who wonder why we had a bonfire even if this wasn’t a championship win, where does it say in the rules that you can’t? Traditions and rituals are socially constructed; we make them up as we go along, with the consensus of the group. If enough people go along with an idea, it comes to life.

This was how People Power happened – an idea caught enough imaginations, it was the sort of response that people were looking for to convey their disgust with and anger against the dictator’s regime, and enthusiasm for the idea reached the tipping point, taking it from the abstract into physical manifestation.

UP has cultivated a culture of nonconformity, one that constantly questions and reforms and acts. It goes against the trend if the trend does not make sense nor serves a purpose. It is flexible. It can adjust and bend if need be, but remain firm and unyielding when a stand needs to be taken.

The bonfire is a symbol – in UP’s case, it was used as a symbol of victory and celebration, and as a symbol of indignation. It is a symbol of players overcoming their fears and defeats to forge a much-awaited win. It is a symbol of the thirst for justice and the need for closure.

It is what we make it to be.


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