It all began last week with my fellow chancellors at UP. With the term of the current president, Alfredo E. Pascual, coming to an end in February, the chancellors began to “plot” not a coup but a very special tribute timed for our Presidential’s Advisory Council meeting on Jan. 17, 2017.
The idea was to present one of those trophy-like awards, with the citation assigned for writing to an Inquirer columnist. We agreed to exchange ideas—by e-mail because the chancellors are located all over the country—on what would go into the citation, based on our own experiences of working with the president, while the trophy would be designed in Cebu.
I thought about the planned trophy and mentioned my reservations. I’ve seen too many of these awards gathering dust in dusty corners of the house or office. I’ve even seen some being sold in second-hand shops. In SM Megamall one weekend, I stopped dead in my tracks once when I passed by such a shop where a trophy with UP’s iconic Oblation (“lalakeng hubad” or naked man to many taxi drivers) was selling for P40,000.
The president deserves something better, I said, something he will keep and treasure. I thought of Toym Imao, whose public artworks—always with social messages—have become a familiar site in UP Diliman. He has also come to be known for his light installations, and I mean light as ilaw like the grand ones we had over the Christmas holidays, emanating from the Oblation and around the campus oval.
The other chancellors liked the idea, but we were starting from scratch. What could Toym put in the trophy, which I thought would be at most a foot high?
This would have to depend now on the proposed text or citation. I had asked the other chancellors to send me their thoughts. They did so dutifully, keeping a subject heading that warned: “Secret! Not to be forwarded!”
Meanwhile I was playing with the word padayon, which is found in all our Visayan languages. A favorite word with the president who uses it mainly to mean “Onwards!” which in Tagalog and other local languages means “Sulong.”
In addition, though, as I described in a column last year, padayon also means working together such as two people carrying something together, or even an entire team. Padayon is tied very much to the notion of movement, of taking a journey together, the “dayon” close in its meanings to “dayo.”
I e-mailed my thoughts to Toym, to get him started with the artwork. He liked the padayon theme.
Meanwhile my fellow conspirators were still sending in their experiences and what struck me, especially from our younger constituent universities, was how the president had encouraged them to explore new programs. It was the president, too, who guided UP Cebu, which had barely survived a serious crisis, to stand up again and move forward. From a campus of UP Visayas, it had become an autonomous college and, just recently, a separate constituent university.
Padayon, I thought, and then, one day, panday popped up in my head. Our brain circuits are amazing, sometimes going into dormancy only to light up with the right connections. I am sure one circuit was linguistic, tuning into the alliteration of panday and padayon.
But I am sure panday came to my mind, too, because I had been handling medical anthropology classes with discussions of amulets and talismans or anting-anting. One of my students had submitted a term paper around the theme of traditional healers who use metal objects. Fortuitously, she called right before the Christmas break, asking for a consultation before heading off for home in Mindanao, where she hoped to look into metals and metalwork.
When she came in for her consultation we were able to go into more discussions about the panday who is indeed a revered figure in many communities, especially among national minorities.
Kris and gongs
The panday, blacksmith, is popular in local folklore. The Bagobo say that Mt. Apo, our highest peak, is guarded by Apo Sandawa, a blacksmith-deity.
Even today the panday inspires. We have Fernando Poe Jr.’s “Ang Panday,” based on a story of Carlos Caparas. There he plays a blacksmith, with his balaraw, a mere dagger becoming a sword by supernatural intervention, which he uses to fight evil. I found out only recently that there is a current popular television series starring Jericho Rosales, with themes similar to those of FPJ’s movies—defending the poor and the oppressed.
My mind went into high gear over the break, thinking of how exemplary leadership comes close to the work of a good blacksmith. The ability to imagine what can be crafted, the mixing of crude ores to produce an alloy, the application of the right amount of heat to produce objects of utility and beauty.
A good example is the kris, found throughout Southeast Asia, used not just as a weapon but as a symbol of rank and status. There is an entire folklore about the kris—how it is produced, how it gives power to its owner, even how it has a life of its own, sometimes even turning on its owner.
Metal has figured importantly, too, as musical instruments—locally, in our gongs, the gangsa of northern Luzon, the kulintang in Muslim Mindanao. The panday’s skill resonates in the quality of music coming out of these instruments.
Metal objects are spiritual, too, vested with powers of protection as with the anting-anting; and transformation (e.g., the sick becoming well with metal musical instruments being played to invoke spirits and bring communities together).
No wonder the panday is also perceived as powerful, a healer as well as someone who officiates in religious rituals.
The panday is indeed a good model for leadership, the panday-leader being someone who uses passion, patience and perseverance to bring out the best in people and move institutions forward—taking us into the connection of padayon and panday.
I dashed off an e-mail to Toym about panday and that inspired him. “Inspire” is an understatement because last Friday, as I began to panic about our deadlines, he sent me his finished artwork, which was a sculpture and not just a trophy. It was an awesome rendition of several themes: a base that was both anvil and a seafaring vessel, the Oblation at the helm, and padayon spelled in baybayin (pre-colonial Filipino scripts). Traditional okir patterns created a sail for the ship. Also incorporated into the sculpture were stylized renditions of the brain, of the heart and of the Philippine flag, a way of affirming UP’s commitment to use heart and mind, in the service of the nation.
The day before the presentation we had to smuggle this magnum opus into Quezon Hall, up into the board room, holding our breath until the president arrived. If he had asked what the veiled “thing” was, we would have answered the Santo Niño, or the Nazareno.
Thus was the “Panday Conspiracy” at UP was hatched for a leader who shaped minds and hearts and who, like a goldsmith, knows the importance of strength and resiliency as we handle one of the most precious of resources of our nation: our iskolar ng bayan.