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Gen. Dela Rosa’s MSU Visit as Commencement Speaker First Semester, AY 2016-2017


Gen. Dela Rosa’s MSU Visit as Commencement Speaker: A Nostalgic Homecoming to What Once his Field of Dreams

by Rebekah M. Alawi


             Contrary to Wolfe’s claim that “you can’t go home again”, Gen. Ronald “Bato” M. Dela Rosa, PNP Chief, did come home to MSU last January 25, 2017. As he himself capped his Commencement Address with: “One never really leaves”.

             The occasion was the 52nd Commencement Exercises for the First Semester, AY 2016-2017 which saw some 1119 candidates for graduation going onstage for their prized diplomas. It was a long awaited homecoming for the top cop of the country who first came to MSU in the late 1970s and stayed for three years until PMA scholarship lured him to another “ magic mountain” – Baguio – to pursue his dream to become a soldier. That was thirty-five years or so ago.

              It was a nostalgic homecoming from the ascent to Marawi City, a stroll down Memory Lane. And indeed the tug of the past was too powerful for the tough crime buster to resist. He could not leave what was once his “field of dreams” without taking a peek at the room in Radia Indarapatra Hall where he burned the midnight candle as a partial academic scholar to get promoted to a full academic scholar, and to maintain his hard-earned full scholar status in the next two years. According to the crowd of witnesses that followed him, Bato met a student who reminded him of his roommate and the “comrade-in-arms” (or, to be more precise “comrade-in-crime”) Postrano (now an engineer working in the Middle East) and took time to pose for a photo op with the boy. 

                Postrano, as the Commencement Speaker shared with his audience, was his comrade-in-crime in a ‘little’ cheating which the two struggling students practiced on the innocent Prof. Bibiano Puyos, a Math teacher and proprietor of a boarding house for students, in their desperate effort to scrimp with their Php 300 monthly allowance (Php 400 for Bato as a Darangan member and Varsity player) and save some precious pesos to bring home to their families. As he narrated the Maschiavellian scheme, they took turns paying the Php30/mo. for the board; it was pay for one, but feed two. And this trickery went on for years on end. As the younger Bato saw it then, it was a “survival” tactic. Reflecting on it all, the General was convinced that Puyos was more discerning and saw through the cozy arrangement, but indulged their strategy because he himself had gone through the same struggle and he empathized with them. A month before his MSU-Marawi visit, bato sought out Puyos and in a poignant tearful reunion, had sacks of rice delivered to the latter’s residence in Iligan. It was less an act of atonement and more of a humble act of gratitude.

                The Commencement Speaker stressed that his own experience should be a conscientisizing reminder to all others never to hesitate to reach out to striving students in need, to be instruments of their triumph over adversity, to do a Puyos.

 Gen. Ronald "Bato"  dela Rosa and MSU System President Habib W. Macaayong, DPA with members of MSU Board of Regents and MSU Main Campus Officials.

Gen. Ronald "Bato"  dela Rosa and MSU System President Habib W. Macaayong, DPA with members of MSU Board of Regents and MSU Main Campus Officials.

From the Radia Indarapatra Hall, it was a few steps leading to the residence of the former Darangan doyenne, Prof Henrietta H. Ele, a veritable institution of the University. Like the generosity of retired Prof. Puyos, Ele’s kindness and motherly concern are impaled in Bato’s memory. The warm and tight bear hug he gave his Darangan mentor when they first met was just not enough for him. I was there, only two feet away from the scene, and I saw not the tough-talking PNP Chief that he projects on TV, but a returning son tenderly paying respects to an elder. The warrior is at heart a child. He searched her out in the crowd during the program. Bob Lim enlisted some stuff to locate the ‘person of interest’ in that crowd, but she had gone home. He could not leave MSU without seeing her again. As the Darangan performers of the Sagayan advanced to the stage, leaping and brandishing their swords, followed by a bevy of Darangan terpsichoreans during the presentation of the Plague of Appreciation and citation, Bato gamely executed a few steps of the war dance to the delight of the audience. It was his way of paying his compliment to the Darangan Cultural Troupe to which at the start of his address he posed a challenge: “I want to see if over the years they have maintained the high standards” that Prof. Ele obsessed about.

                I asked a contemporary, the University Marshall Nelson Ganacial, how Bato came to be called “Borloloy” by the Darangan girls who could mischievously tease him every time he passed by the Princess Lawanen Hall: “Borloloy, I love you!” Borloloy means acccessories and the connotes excess which could not be more contradictory to Bato’s Spartan discipline. The name, according to Ganancial who was singled out by the speaker from the officials on stage and lionized as an “icon of discipline”, explained that the moniker came from his nickname “Loloy”.

                Borloloy, like Odysseus, bound himself fast to his clear-eyed resolve to resist the sirens’ song and remain a scholar. He played deaf to the teasing, mock-coquettish calls from the windows. Having a girlfriend was a no-no –a luxury he could not afford. He saw the way other dorm mates or scholars went – playing the romantic Lothario, dates at the Garces’ store with its favorite ‘turon’ and the strolls on the golf course in the misty afternoons or foggy dawns – “O Paradise, O Paradise enow”, as the hedonist’s line in the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam goes. The consequence was predictable: eviction from the dorm on losing one’s scholarship and transferring to one of the private lodging houses in Barrio Mahirap. The flood of memories that carried Borloloy on its crest did not include ‘love memories’ – all those ‘sweet nothings’, promises of forevermore and stolen kisses in the rain, those seventh dawns, the ‘splendor in the grass, the glory in the flower’. That was no country for Borloloy, the callow youth but serious young man that he was. That chapter in his life he recalled with a shadow of fleeting, wistful smile. But to this he could only say “No regrets”.

                So Bato a.k.a Borloloy led the life of an ascetic – a monastic existence devoted to his studies, Darangan rehearsals which he dared not miss for fear of Prof. Ele’s displeasure, and regimen as a Varsity athlete. And his self-abnegation paid off. Every break or vacation, he would go home to Barangay Bato in Davao del Sur laden with “bring homes” and money saved from his allowance for his siblings and parents. He felt like a tycoon.

            In the more serious part of his speech, Bato’s tone grew hortatory. He named as cardinal virtues for struggling students Perseverance, which he defined as persisting or continuing to strive in any purpose or enterprise, despite difficulties, Discipline, Fortitude, and the Determination to pursue one’s dream. And, yes, hard work. He saw Dr. Mac Ati seated in the first row and praised the Vice President’s diligence as a student thirty-five years ago. He quipped: “His eyes had narrowed to mere slits from over-reading”. The soldier in him valorized commitment to God, Country, and Duty, in a way reminding the MSU graduates of their mission as catalysts of social transformation. Then he expressed his eternal gratitude to the Mindanao State University for molding him intellectually, morally and spiritually in his adolescence and for throwing him that ‘buoy’ to keep him afloat and tide him over to its safe harbor. His parents were too poor to send him to college in one of the schools in Davao City. It was MSU, a field of dreams for him, Postranos and countless other youths from poor families, that fanned his hope to realize his dream. He  urged the graduates to value their MSU training. Memories and the values that his MSU season imbued him with are forever. These are what remain when all else have passed, and are forgotten. 

               Of course, his Commencement piece would not be complete without him touching on his present mission, the war on drugs. He made an impassioned appeal to the graduates to avoid any kind of involvement in illegal drugs, which can be compared to a disease gnawing at the very foundation of the society, destroying not only afflicted individuals, but also their families, and the community. It ramifies like a virulent germ, spawning crimes or atrocities.

The Mindanao State University honored one of its noble sons, Bato a.k.a. Borloloy, with a rare citation: Outstanding Alumnus, Meritissimus. He did not finish his program of study in the University, but as MSUS President Habib Macaayong quoted from a song, “it is not the number of years he spent in these academic groves, but his love for the place and its people.” Then Prof. Macaayong was one of those whose advice was sought by Bato who found himself in a terrible predicament: to give us the three years invested in his program of study and the possibility of graduating cum laude or, maybe, magna cum laude, or to accept the PMA scholarship and fulfilling his dream to become a soldier. The former vividly remembers what would prove to be  a sage advice: “Gaining and maintaining an MSU full scholarship is rare. But getting a PMA scholarship is even rarer. Go and follow your dream. After all, you could come back anytime to MSU to finish your studies.” The audience roared their avid enthusiasm at the idea of Bato coming back to attend to an unfinished business.

So Bato did leave MSU for PMA. The rest is history. His three-year sojourn in MSU was enough for him to grow roots here, to learn to love the place and its people. And that is, after all, what matters to Bato who had hoarded a rich cache of beautiful memories that evokes the thoughts of Alyosha Karamasov in Dostoevsky’s novel:

You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a  great deal about your education, but some good sacred memory... is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days. And even if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may somtimes be the means of saving him.

On his fond memories of his MSU days, Bato can perhaps draw strength, inspiration and hope about  the good in man like Puyos’ kindness and quiet understanding or the ironhand but caring training of the perfectionist Prof. Ele whenever his faith reaches new depths in his lonely crusade for a better and safer world. And like Anne Frank, the most famous victim of the Holocaust, he may finally say that despite all the squalor and ugliness that man creates, there is still good in this imperfect, puny creature. And the world as still a beatiful world.

Borloloy, MSU loves you!
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