Wednesday, January 18, 2012

For Ma'am Ophie

This morning I learned about an online petition that's begun to make its rounds in the Philippine literary circles.  It's meant to make the University of Santo Tomas (through the Rector Rev. Fr. Rolando V. dela Rosa, O.P.) fulfill its promise of re-opening the UST Creative Writing Center and renaming it after Professor Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, its co-founder and director, to honor her legacy.

I'm lifting this bit off the petition's background:

In November of 2010, the University of Santo Tomas, through Rector Magnificus Reverend Father Rolando V. Dela Rosa--during the necrological service of professor, academician, literary critic and Filipino poet Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta--announced the following:

1) The University of Santo Tomas Creative Writing Center, of which Professor Dimalanta was the co- founder and director, would soon be re-opened.

2) That the UST Creative Writing Center, when it re- opened, would be named after Professor Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, to honor her legacy.

The latest news, from reliable sources, is that the University of Santo Tomas is withdrawing the second part of its promise--for reasons that are still unclear.

The petitioners therefore call on the University of Santo Tomas to stay true to its word and keep its commitment.
 Sigh.  I think the University has become too obsessed with the Quadricentennial celebrations (and maintaining its 'oldest university in Asia' tag, which I don't think anyone else will contest anyway) that it has forgotten--or dismissed as a passionately-said promise in the midst of collective mourning--what would be a great thing to look forward to.

I was in my junior year in high school when I first met Ma'am Ophie.  The UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies extended an invitation to our school organ's staff for a writing workshop, and off we went.  During snacks one afternoon after the workshop, I remembered Ma'am Ophie calling someone to come in the Center and introduce us to the Thomasian Writers Guild.  That's how Mervin and I met.  For the next year Mervin and Fel, the president of "Tweegee," would help us form our very own Junior Thomasian Writers Guild or JT (at least, that's how I shortened it).  We attended poetry readings and events at the CCWS and got to know (and interact with!) Filipino writers.  I attended college at the Faculty of Arts and Letters in the same building as the CCWS, and I dropped by whenever I could, usually with members of the TWG and/or staff of The Flame, our college journal.

It always smelled of coffee.

And Ma'am Ophie would always find the time to entertain us, to answer our questions, to send us off literary events, to encourage us to write--to write well.  If she wasn't there, the junior associates of the Center were, and we would often soon find ourselves making merry, discussing lit and other sh*t elsewhere, usually at the "batcave".  But write we did, some of us well enough to make it to Ustetika, then the national writing workshops, then Palanca.  I could also dare to say those were the glory days of the Thomasian studentry's creative writing.

I remember a lot more about the Center and Ma'am Ophie.  I wasn't able to hear much about the Center's activities after I graduated and even while I worked in UST (not the Center's fault; I was really out of the loop at this time).  It was Joseph Saguid who texted me when Ma'am Ophie passed away.

I was there during the necrological services at the UST Chapel in November 2010.  I did hear the Rector announcing the planned re-opening and renaming of the creative writing center.  I applauded, not only because it was for Ma'am Ophie, but also because it would bring Thomasian creative writing back to life.  In a university where it seems all energies are focused on PR and sports, an institutional support system for aspiring writers is a really good move.

I signed the petition.  I hope you will, too.

Here's the link to the petition, it's also at the top right sidebar:


From the bottom of my creative-writing-and-literature-loving heart, thank you.  Many added thanks if you could share the love, spread the news to your friends!

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