Oblation run and being bayani

The University of the Philippines (UP) at Diliman teems with community events during the Christmas season.

Christmas season in the Philippines begins in September, with “Silent Night” blaring and décor being sold in the shopping malls. But in secular UP, the season starts once the lights at the Quezon Hall are turned on in the first week of December. Being highbrow, UP eschews the singing of “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells.” Instead, UP stages Handel’s Messiah, assembling the system’s different choruses led by the globally acclaimed Madrigal Singers and the Concert Chorus.

The season’s celebration culminates in the Lantern Parade. But the Lantern Parade, a contest of floats and lanterns, is no longer exciting, having been dominated by the College of Fine Arts. Consequently, it has been excluded from the competition.

But the most anticipated event is the Oblation Run. It is a run of a group of naked fraternity men, the size of a platoon, from the Alpha Phi Omega (APO). The Oblation Run has a political color. It makes a statement about the most burning issue of the day. This year, the Oblation Run highlighted the tragedy brought about by Typhoon Yolanda.

In previous runs, the issues included human rights, social justice and agrarian reform, clean elections, right to education, and fraternity violence. In one episode, the run called for the ouster of Gloria Arroyo. On another occasion, the message was Erap’s resignation.

Whether the message gets through is another story. UP Diliman nevertheless gets delirious once the naked runners appear. The coeds, open and closet gays, barbarians (those who don’t belong to a fraternity), and other fratmen jockey for position to see, not hear, the message.

Will there come a time that the sight of naked men will no longer attract attention? If that happens, APO would have to think of a jarring novelty like having erect men run. But that thing is hard to sustain. Or perhaps, the fraternity can ask alumnus brod Jejomar Binay to run naked. But a Binayrun is going to be awful.

The tradition is close to 40 years old. It all began in 1977 — an event to publicize the staging of a play sponsored by APO titled Hubad na Bayani (Naked Hero). The play itself was political, exposing the human rights violations committed by the Marcos dictatorship. The regime subsequently banned the play.

However, it remains unknown to the public who founded the Oblation Run.

Nicky Morales headed the APO chapter in UP Diliman when the Oblation Run was born. The Oblation is to Guillermo Tolentino as the Oblation Run is to Nicky Morales.

After the senseless violence arising from fraternity rumbles, claiming the life of his brod Rolly Abad, Nicky nudged the fraternity to undertake productive and politically relevant activities.

Nicky’s main passion was not the fraternity but service to the people. He and older brother Boy (not Horacio of NDF fame) were activists who fought the Marcos dictatorship and espoused national democracy. Although APO was not part of the progressive coalition in campus politics, it had a core group of activists, consisting of Nicky, Boy, Chato Mariñas, and Mengie Cobarrubias, among others.

The UP was polarized in the early years of martial law, but even the so-called reactionary fraternities had their share of revolutionaries.

Ditto Sarmiento, the Collegian editor who died soon after imprisonment, was from Alpha Phi Beta. And, to Marcos’s consternation, a faction of his Upsilon Sigma Phi resisted his regime. Some resident brods led by Johnny Yabut and Louie Taylor (incidentally my high school pals) influenced their fraternity to cooperate with the anti-dictatorship student movement.

At that time, the Morales siblings wanted APO to join the activist camp. But traditional fraternity rivalry blocked APO’s entry.

Once, while we were peeing at the men’s toilet, Nicky requested me to convince the student movement’s leadership to support the candidacy of his elder brother in the 1975 Student Conference. I was sorry for not being able to help because I was not connected with the UP cadres.

I had known Nicky since our days in high school. He was one batch ahead of my class. He was one of a handful affiliated with the militant Kabataang Makabayan or KM. Unlike its friendly rival, the radical intellectual chic that was Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan or SDK, the KM hardly attracted members in our high school.

In 1972, KM’s activities revolved around Roland Simbulan and Nicky. They had contrasting personalities. Roland was the sage; Nicky was the doer. Roland sported a crew cut; Nicky had long hair. Nicky smoked the pot occasionally; Roland avoided it. When Roland moved out and was deployed elsewhere (he eventually completed high school in Pampanga), Nicky was left to man an almost empty fort.

I was reunited with Nicky and Roland in college. In my sophomore year, circa 1974, they recruited me to do organizing work among the workers and urban poor residents in Tañong and Barangka, Marikina.

But our clandestine organizing in the community was short-lived. It turned out that a semi-worker in our group was an informer.

Nicky was caught and jailed. Nicky told me later that I was among those wanted by the military. (The infiltrator only knew my alias.) Despite threats, Nicky never revealed the true identities and whereabouts of his comrades.

Soon after his release, Nicky resumed work in the movement. He became a pioneer of progressive consumer advocacy. He linked consumer issues to workers’ rights and to the broader political struggle.

Nicky gave special attention to the working class, to a great extent influenced by his father who was a prominent labor leader.

In 1979, Nicky again was targeted for arrest for using the labor and consumer group he formed to secure the permit for what then was the biggest workers’ indoor demonstration — at the Araneta Coliseum — attended by 30,000 people.

Nicky became a political exile in the US. He organized Filipinos and Americans to support the anti-dictatorship struggle at home. Upon Marcos’s downfall, Nicky continued to lobby at the US beltway, enjoining politicians to support the Philippines’ fledgling democracy.

Sadly, Nicky died of heart attack at the young age of 44.

In a letter dated December 1980 to Julie Amargo, the president of the Kilusan ng mga Mamimiling Pilipinas, who expressed concern over his safety. Nicky wrote: “At this point, please do not worry too much for my personal safety. History will take care of me.”

The good news is Bantayog ng mga Bayani, a non-partisan organization that honors the heroes and martyrs of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, has recognized Nicky.

Nicky’s role in initiating the Oblation Run is but one of the many facets that defined his short life. History has finally honored Nicky — for his steadfast commitment to free our people from tyranny.

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