It is bittersweet to mark the retirement of two of our dear colleagues—Dante Canlas and Ruping Alonzo—both of whom have done so much to shape the course and define the tone of the School of Economics through many decades. Between 2011 and 2014, we shall be losing eight of our most senior faculty, fully one-third of our colleagues. So there can be no doubt, we are in the thick of what we all saw would happen: a changing of the guard. Even as we remember and celebrate our colleagues’ contributions, therefore, we cannot avoid that this should also be a time for reflection upon the School’s past and future.

On a personal level, I share with Dante Canlas that special bond of having the same adviser in Pepe Encarnacion. (You can see the indelible stamp of lexicographic preferences in our dissertations.) Dante is the most senior member of that subgroup of our faculty members who received their entire economics education from the School and stayed to teach in the faculty. Stella Quimbo calls these the jologs of the faculty. At one point Dante once voiced his silent apprehension to me over the fact that more of our brightest graduate students were pursuing their graduate degrees abroad. He said Pepe always believed the brightest—like himself and me—ought to be encouraged to take their degrees from our programme. I happened to take a more sanguine view that diversity was good, although rather immodestly I did not dispute his point about our being the best students.

For me nonetheless it is a source of quiet satisfaction and reassurance that the School’s Ph.D. programme continues to contribute at a high level to that unbroken line of jologs or import-substitutes. I count more than one-third of our faculty in that group (Orville, Stella, Aleli, Dockoy, Joy, Toby, Jeff, and Maggie). It is also good, I think, that we are not the majority. This group, of which Dante is the first representative, continues to hold its own, notwithstanding the shift in our priorities for publications and a more international reputation.

Dante’s role in the School and in the nation’s life are well-known—they would be even better-appreciated if not for his exasperating modesty and preference for doing his work quietly and keeping a low profile. As NEDA Director-General—and Ruping was there to help him—he quietly waged policy-battles that kept the nation’s house in order, notwithstanding the winds that buffeted the nation’s political landscape. He stayed in his post and kept faith with his country despite the personal affronts he endured from the political leadership then (including his one-time dissertation advisee).

In the event, Dante remained true to that School tradition that high government position should never get into your head. Government (public) service is merely a desirable phase in an academic’s career, not the other way around. So he dutifully returned to the School after his NEDA stints.

Back in School, Dante has been a constant guide, a source of institutional memory, and a vigilant conscience. It is his opinion, grounded in tradition, that has provided a healthy check to what may at times be overly ambitious or new-fangled initiatives. As a result, I believe, the internal debate in the School’s committees has been enriched and better-balanced, for our common good. This type of wise and well-meaning counsel is something that the School will sorely miss.

Let me now turn to Ruping Alonzo. Like Dante, Ruping is an “old-timer” in School, a true denizen who has probably physically spent the most time on campus: he spent a lot of time in his office—until leaks and water damage recently limited the time he could spend there. There was even an extended period that he boarded at the old PCED Hostel. This gave him unprecedented time and opportunity to spend with students and the staff, which explains the special bond he has always had with them. (Some would say this is in fact a strong chemical bond: CH3CH2OH). He played vigorous basketball against students (at one point this faculty team included Dante, Mahar Mangahas, Vic Paqueo, Ernie Pernia, and Ben Diokno); he went on extended field trips with his beloved PDE students and personnel; he hung out with the staff on extended drinking sessions, and was a constant and regular attendee of faculty’s post-Friday seminar outings—from Phases 1, 2, 3, and up to 4. (For the ill-informed, Phase 1 refers to the after-seminar cocktails, and Phase 4 refers to the 2-3 a.m. lugaw snack needed to sober up. What Phase 3 was, we prefer to keep to ourselves.) In short, the School has constituted a great portion of Ruping’s life, a fact that his good wife Mel has had to accept and endure. (I should mention that Mel herself is an alumna of the School; Ruping and I share that common bond of having met our respective wives in graduate school.)

Ruping’s presence in the School has contributed in a vital way to making the School not just a business-like gathering of professionals and co-workers, but of friends who genuinely enjoy each other’s intellectual and personal company and who look out for each other. One must also not forget Ruping’s example of personal concern and intervention in behalf of our staff, reminding us all that beyond employees and superiors, we are also fellow human beings. This aspect of our communal life has somewhat diminished more recently as more of us have had to devote more time to our own families and careers; as our physiques have become less fit for basketball, or extended drinking bouts, and nights out on the town. I think, for the School’s future health, however, its younger generation may need to find a similar reason or occasion for engaging each other.

It has also helped that Dante, Ruping, and many of us in that cohort have gone through many trials and fought splendid battles both within the University and outside it, many of which proved important to our country’s development. The most significant of these was probably the creation of the School’s public voice, during the dark days of martial rule and repressed criticism. I am referring, of course, to the “White Paper” episode and thereafter, when members of the School faculty finally found their collective voice. On many occasions then and thereafter, we had to debate real issues among ourselves in order to come out with a common position. I still distinctly remember the heated arguments around a paper titled “A time for hard decisions”—after the coup launched by Gringo Honasan against the Cory government—when Ruping and Pepe were on one side of the argument of keeping taxes, while many other colleagues were against. (I think I remember it because Room 301 was filled with cigarette smoke, courtesy of Pepe and Ruping, among others, which all of us happily and unknowingly breathed in.) Notwithstanding the heated arguments we engaged in, and now looking back, one realises that was in fact an exhilarating time, when we talked in loud voices to each other and debated real issues because we needed to come to a deeper consensus.

I compare some of the common position papers our generation has written with some of those economists put out in the U.S. (especially in relation to the current financial crisis and recession) and I find that the latter are shallower and more superficial—and for that reason less effective—since they are reduced to a common denominator among people who already have preconceived ideas and are unwilling to learn from each other. In the case of Dante’s, Ruping’s, and my generation, we were willing to compromise, to argue, to win, but also to be defeated at times, first since we were always confident that, in the end, we would remain friends and colleagues in the School, and second, because our goal was never to prevail individually but to give the best collective advice we could give to the country. It may have been because we genuinely liked one another that we were unafraid to take differing positions and also unafraid to become persuaded by each other. I suppose this is a final lesson to keep in mind for those of us who must stay behind to hold up the torch of the School of Economics.

For teaching us these lessons in the life of our community, Dante and Ruping, we applaud you and thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. And not just because it is also Valentine’s Day, we can say: we all love you.

14 February 2014