ESSENCE - Ligaya Rabago - Visaya - The Freeman

For almost three decades, I have participated in every graduation ceremony at the University of the Philippines Cebu donning the fabled sablay. My late student, friend, and famous Cebuano designer Salvador Malto fashioned my three sets off-white Filipiniana gowns, which I wore to match the sablay. The first sablay I had in the late 1990s, the design and inscriptions were printed. It was in 2008 when I had it changed with embroidered version woven by the weavers from the Cordillera region. I have been using it for 14 years, I only ever had one sablay in all those years. In this way, I always keep it special and memorable.

Nevertheless, other colleges and universities already have their own sablays, and they most likely got the idea from the UP sablay. Theirs only differ in the designs according to the culture, traditions, and aspirations of their university.

I believe it is necessary to remind us of the importance and purpose of this academic clothing, as remarks on social media about it being worn at an award ceremony by someone who has never attended UP have lately made the rounds.

According to the UP Diliman Office of the University Registrar, the sablay replaced the traditional mortarboard (cap) and toga as the University's official academic garments after its presentation in 1990 and official adoption in 2000. It represents our nationalism and the importance we have on our own culture, both of which we learn at university. Traditionally worn for formal events, the name "sablay" refers to an indigenous loose robe that is simple yet elegant.

When used as a verb, "isablay" also implies to place anything valuable, such as a piece of clothing or fabric, on one's shoulder to show respect and appreciation for it. It has geometric and ukkil decorations. While triangles and chevrons, as geometric patterns, are prevalent design components across indigenous civilizations in the Philippines, the ukkil symbolizes the expansion of knowledge.

When should the sablay be worn? Given that the sablay is the university's official academic attire, it deserves respect. As a result, it should only be worn for academic events and activities, including awards ceremonies, commencement exercises, the installation of chancellors and presidents, the presentation of honoris causa, and other occasions where an academic costume is required. What to wear with the Sablay? Formal clothing should be worn with the sablay as a sign of respect for the official academic costume and to preserve the solemnity and dignity of the occasions when it is worn.

The following suggested dress code for females; ecru, beige, or cream would be the preferred dress colors. The preferred dress type would be one with sleeves, or if sleeveless, one worn with a shawl or bolero. Any length below the knee up to the ankle would be considered the dress length, and formal shoes would be worn. Barong tops for men should be ecru, beige, or ivory in color. Black formal pants and shoes would be appropriate.

It is understandable that there were numerous mixed messages when the academic costume was worn contrary to what it is intended to be because it is a long-standing tradition at the university. However, because the deed brings with it so much pride and respect, I cannot swiftly express my opinions or pass judgment. I can appreciate how proud one would feel to wear a sign of freedom, service to others, and academic excellence --values we all embrace and strive for. The academic costume, after all, stands for this significant meaning and greater goal, which is what we should really live by.

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