[Read in behalf of the School of Economics during U.P.’s tribute to O.D. Corpuz, 1 April 2013, Church of the Holy Sacrifice, UP Diliman Campus.]

Good evening. On behalf our dean, Ramon Clarete, and the rest of the faculty and staff of the U.P. School of Economics, I extend our deepest sympathies to Dean Aurora Corpuz and the rest of the family of our late colleague, O.D.

It was through the wisdom of Pepe Encarnación that O.D. Corpuz became regular faculty at the School of Economics in 1990 and it will be forever be to our institution’s honour that it was from there that O.D. ultimately retired from the University in 1993 and thereafter became emeritus professor of economic history.

It must be admitted, however, that Pepe’s proposal to appoint him at the time struck many of us in the academic personnel committee as being somewhat unusual. After all, from what we knew of O.D.’s academic reputation—and few of us had even met him—his forté had been in political science, history, and perhaps public administration. So it might have seemed more appropriate that he should be accommodated in these departments. Pepe justified his recommendation, however, by saying that O.D., after all, held a doctorate in “political economy” from Harvard and that O.D. had already had a past connection with the School—he had written the chapter on economic history in the well-known anthology on economics and development put together by Gerry Sicat and Pepe himself in 1965. Pepe may also have hinted that in that period of post-EDSA I euphoria, someone like O.D., who had been a prominent pillar of the Marcos regime, might have attracted unwanted controversy in other departments of the University. Notwithstanding our mystification at the time, we trusted Pepe’s judgement and O.D. did come to the School of Economics.

It was my impression—though I may be wrong—that what O.D. Corpuz wanted above all at the time was a quiet intellectual home. And this was the atmosphere the School was fortunately able to provide. We knew then, even as we played the part of host, and as O.D. dutifully handled even undergraduate classes in economic history, that in fact O.D. was after bigger game, that he was always bound to address a wider public than just economists, and at that stage of his life he was working towards a larger intellectual legacy.

Unlike some whose reputations also survived the Marcos period, however, O.D. did not use his time at the University to become a public intellectual. He did not give facile comments about current affairs; he did not presume to second-guess or critique contemporary policy. And least of all did he seek to self-justify his or others’ past role in government, or even in the University. It was always with some reluctance that he would offer an opinion on issues of the day, frequently confining his comment to at times enigmatic historical references. On the rare occasion he agreed to write on a current issue, it was mostly to place it in an historical context: for example, that rice self-sufficiency was a foolish goal, considering how the Philippines had been a net importer for most of its history.

To many, this reticence to become topical and “relevant” was odd and unusual, especially for a person who had reached high public office and could therefore presume to speak with some authority on practical affairs. Nor could it be attributed to a secret guilt by association with the Marcos regime—for others who had even been far more tainted had already managed to resurrect their careers in politics and business in an ever-indulgent and forgiving Philippine society.

O.D. may have led other lives, but when he came back to the University, he was determined to do only one thing: to become a scholar. The year before he rejoined the University he had already competed his monumental two-volume Roots of the Filipino nation (1989). This was to be followed by an Economic history of the Philippines (1996), his translation and annotation of Artigas’s Glories of the Philippine Revolution (1997), and a history of the battles of the Philippine Revolution (Saga and triumph of the Philippine Revolution 1999). This was a prodigious output by any measure, especially given his years. He also urged others—though always only in his soft-spoken manner—to follow his example and to read, appreciate, and elucidate Philippine history. Upon learning that I knew some German, for example, he encouraged me to look into translating Albert Kolb’s (1942) massive geographical work on the Philippines, as well as to redo the English translation of Jagor’s Travels, which he found unsatisfactory in many respects. He was a man who seemed to be in the greatest hurry to write down, to record, and to interpret past events in the time that was left to him. Some may ask why.

It is a mistake to think that O.D. in this phase of his life had suddenly just decided to don another of his many available attires on a whim or as a show of his own versatility. It was not, as some might think, a desire to lose himself in the past. Rather he was working deliberately and systematically at a larger task and purpose. I believe his decision to re-assume the scholar’s garb and the historian’s role was the result of his own deep questions regarding the country’s recent past and a sense of foreboding about its future direction. After all, the initial optimism and promise of the authoritarian Marcos period—which O.D. had hinted at in his early work The Philippines (1965)— had obviously not been borne out as the regime sank in the morass of its own corruption. On the other hand, it was obvious that the post-Marcos period was no less fraught with national discord, political instability, and venality. For a man who deeply loved his country, the country’s future course would have been a source of grave concern.

I think it was O.D.’s belief that the way forward could only be found if one recalled the original idea and the possibility of the Filipino nation itself, hence the “roots” of the Filipino people, hence his harkening back to the idea of Filipinas, as he preferred to call the nation. It therefore becomes comprehensible why at this time he turned again and again to that purest moment of the nation’s history—the period of reform and the Revolution—when Filipinos were unselfish, self-sacrificing, united in purpose, courageous in the face of gravest danger, and filled with hope for the future. His scholarly work in history should not be understood, therefore, as just a masterful web of fact and narrative—which it is—rather it is also a gentle but continuing exhortation. It was a way for O.D. to think himself through to a path of deliverance for the country he so deeply loved above all. Implicitly he was telling Filipinos not simply to wallow in their present troubles, but rather to look at how they were, and what they dreamed then, in order to realise what they could still become.

O.D. felt implicitly that a lack of national cohesion and solidarity—a casualty of the pettiness of family, faction, and class—was the main reason for the nation’s failure at collective action. And it was this that he wanted to document and nail down in his scholarship for future generations to ponder. He did not pretend to have final answers to all the questions that concerned us in the present. Instead he showed what he thought was an even deeper problem, and pointed to where we should begin to look if we are to address it.

The School and its students were fortunate to have caught O.D. in that phase of his life when he was above all a scholar. He led multifarious lives and will be appreciated by many for various deeds, but we at the School believe that in the end it is his intellectual legacy and commitment to the nation that will endure. It sets an example that fully vindicates Pepe Encarnación’s decision to welcome him to the faculty. We came to know him; we learned from him; and we loved him.

Paalam, O.D., mula sa aming lahat sa iyong School of Economics.

Salamat at mabuhay ka.

Ikumusta mo na lang kaming lahat kay Pepe.