Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz, a significant life

CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress) - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - April 3, 2013 - 12:00am

Onofre D. Corpuz, 1926-2013. Former president of the University of the Philippines; former secretary of Education; founder and first president of the Development Academy of the Philippines; national scientist, professor of Political Science and emeritus professor at the UP School of Economics.

Each of these positions is one of awe. His legacy was that of a life of learning and teaching, leadership and example. In each role he held, OD (as he was called by friends and peers alike) made significant contributions to his country and to his countrymen.

“UP life.” OD belonged to the generation of Filipino scholars who received their college education after the war ended and the nation’s independence attained. His impact on the University upon his return from his Ph.D. in Political Economy from the United States in 1956 was immediate. He became the leading political scientist, a respected historian, an intellectual leader.

“Government service.” When Ferdinand Marcos was elected president, he chose bright young men into his official family. In his first term, he made sure that his cabinet was filled with experienced senior officials but backstopped by very knowledgeable undersecretaries.

Thus, OD Corpuz became the undersecretary of Education first to Carlos P. Romulo. He would succeed into the post of secretary when Marcos moved Romulo to Foreign Affairs. He resigned his post after some years at Education when his recommendee for a senior official was overridden by other considerations and returned to his academic roots.

But soon, he was harnessed back into government. He was asked to establish a training center for senior government executives to be known as the Career Executive Service. OD headed this institute which became the Development Academy of the Philippines.

Thus, was the DAP established. This could have been the premier academy for a continuing education center for career executives of the national government, a dream of public administration experts. This dream was derailed by changes in government priority when the CES as a concept was not fully carried through after the 1986 People Power change.

In 1975, after the term of Salvador P. Lopez, OD became president of the University of the Philippines. He led the UP to the end of that decade of relative political calm. But in 1979, he was harnessed again to serve as secretary of Education and continued in that post until 1984.

“Life of scholarship.” Less known to the general public are OD’s contribution to scholarship. He had devoted the peak of his productive life toward academic administration and government service. In some sense, the nation had missed the full flowering of a great mind in the service of Philippine scholarship! But his imprint in this is permanent and long term.

OD was a true scholar, meticulous, measured, and always searching. He spent enormous time poring through important Philippine historical records where they are kept – in various parts of the world.

Shortly after his return to UP, the new Institute of Public Administration (now NCPAG – National College of Public Administration and Governance) published his first book, Bureaucracy in the Philippines. This was his doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. It was a very careful study of the history of Philippine bureaucracy during the Spanish regime. Immediately, it set a high standard for historical scholarship in the country.

In the 1960s, he was commissioned by Prentice-Hall, an American publisher, for its series on “Modern Nations in Historical Perspective” to write, The Philippines, which was an introductory book on the country’s past and present. This brief book is full of insights on Philippine history, cultural, political, and economic. The book deserves to be republished.

In 1965, OD contributed to the text book project that I put together under the title, Economics and Development: An Introduction (UP Press). His chapter on Philippine economic history covered prehistoric, Spanish and American colonial periods and was an original piece based on research in libraries in Spain, England and the US.

It is fortunate that Dean Jose Encarnacion, Jr. encouraged him to find a sinecure at the UP School of Economics in his golden years (from the mid 1980s), after his administrative duties had come to pass and he had decided to devote more time for reflection. Thus, he taught economic history at the
school and, in the meantime, he concentrated on historical scholarship. That enabled him to finish his masterwork.

The two volume book, Roots of the Filipino Nation (Aklahi, 1989; then UP Press) was a major result of this endeavor. This is a masterwork of Philippine history. It traces the country’s past and how we evolved as a nation. In this history, the pre-Hispanic, the Hispanic and the American period of our past merge with the present.

“OD’s philosophy of teaching.” As UP president, he sent a message to faculty colleagues through a note on teaching, which, from excerpts, contained the following piece of wisdom:

“I told [my students] that learning required two basic skills: the ability to remember, and the ability to forget. You can’t learn anything without memory, and you would die emotionally or intellectually if you could not forget…. Which things to remember, what significance to give to them, and which things to forget or attach no significance to, I guess pretty much sums up my theory of learning…. “

“An uncommon man who lived simply.” At his wake, friends and former colleagues who greeted the family saw, beneath the urn that contained his remains, only a few mementos of the man: a picture of his investiture as UP president, a family photo, a snapshot of three motorcycles with OD and his two sons who shared the hobby, an archery equipment that was his athletic solace, and, finally, a framed hand-written letter of dissertation adviser, Harvard University Professor John Gauss, who wrote in longhand on May 8, 1956 from his 6 Follen St. home in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“My dear Mr. Corpuz,

“I cannot return this final section without telling you what a superb work I think this is, and even more how deeply I admire its author for the qualities with which this work was accomplished. To have done all this in a strange land – yet in some measure, for a half century related to your own, in the loneliness of absence from your family, seems to me a great achievement. I am glad that you gave me the privilege of seeing this work in its progress, and grateful for our association which will, I hope, continue in the years ahead, as colleagues.”

What a life!

My email is: gpsicat@gmail.com. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/


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