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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

entry arrow2:55 AM | Kindness Will Always Be Remembered

Like how most children know the friends of their fathers and mothers, I didn’t know much about Tito Proc, but I have known of him since childhood—and from my earliest memories of him, he has always struck me as a just man, one of the kindest I would ever know in this life.

I would learn later on that he was a close friend of the family because he had spent some time in the same Agusan del Norte town my father originated from, and from the stories he would tell me, they were fast friends. When my family finally came back to Negros Oriental to settle for good, first in Bayawan and later on in Dumaguete where I was born, Tito Proc—he was Cesing to many—had already become an important academic, and soon a major force in Silliman University. He would eventually serve the school for more than fifty years, the perfect picture of a true and loyal Sillimanian.

He was there in the audience, for some reason, when I had won some kind of contest in grade school, and I remember him taking me aside in one of those old classrooms in West City Elementary School, telling me that he was a good friend of my father’s, and that I should continue doing well with my studies, and that he expected me to matriculate in Silliman by the time I entered high school. He had said these things without a single trace of being patronizing. And from that day forward, I would think of him as a sincere man whose currency were kindness and a quiet kind of encouragement.

It didn’t sink in to me then that he was a man of importance: that he was a holder of Bachelor of Theology and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Silliman University and Central Methodist University, as well as graduate degrees from Union Seminary in New York, from Harvard University, and from San Francisco Seminary; that he was Acting President of Silliman during the first two years of Martial Law; or that he was its longest-serving University Pastor, from 1986 to 1999. I was a kid, and he was just “Tito Proc” to me.

In those days, when my family’s finances were particularly full of challenges, he insisted that everybody in my family should finish college in Silliman University, and wrote endless promisory notes in behalf of my brothers just in time for them to take their midterm or final exams. We were nomads then, making do of rented houses that were the very picture of humble living. We were quite poor, but we all eventually finished college in Silliman University, overcoming much in the process, and proving truly that education elevates the individual. I was luckier because I went through college when the family finally sailed through its darker days—but I’m not sure my elder brothers could have gotten the education they received were it not for good people like Tito Proc. And he was just “Tito Proc” all those years, somebody whose hands I made “mano” every time we’d visit his house in Amigo Subdivision.

When I finally came of age, it was with profound new respect that learned much of the man and his life. There are two stories I’ve come to know and made me admire Tito Proc more. One is of his tumultuous tenure as Acting President of Silliman University at a time when the entire country plunged into the darkness of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule. What a leader he must have been to be able to carry well, and with dignity and commanding presence, the concerns of Silliman and its students, faculty, and staff—even as the university got padlocked, and remained so for a stretch of time due to some notoriety as a hotbed of “radicals”—exactly the “scourge of society” Marcos was eager to root out and incarcerate.

Tito Proc negotiated for Silliman’s eventual reopening, while at the same time taking care to see to the needs of the faculty and students the military had picked up for interrogation and what-not. As Joel Tabada—the first Sillimanian faculty to be picked up by the military—once recounted to me, “Classes at the university were ‘suspended’ for the rest of the first semester. Dr. Udarbe became the acting president. But the experience made a man out of him as he faced the Martial Law people concerning the University. He ordered that double-deck beds from the Silliman dormitories be brought over and provided to the Provincial Jail for all the detainees, even if only about a third of the detainees were Sillimanians.”

Another story is something I learned from recent research we’ve done into the history of culture and the arts in Silliman, which we are doing for the Handulantaw coffee table book. (I am editor-in-chief, with the Tao Foundation and the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee as publishers.) When Tito Proc became Acting President, he inherited many of the projects that his predecessor, Dr. Cicero Calderon, was hoping to accomplish for the university.

One of these was Calderon’s grand ambition to build a Cultural Center in campus. Zara Marie Dy, writing about the Luce Auditorium for Handulantaw, wrote: “President Calderon recommended that a caretaker president be appointed for Silliman when he stepped down from the presidency. This president ad interim came in the person of Dr. Proceso U. Udarbe, whose term officially started on 1 June 1971. Acting President Udarbe was kept busy inaugurating and implementing the unfinished projects Dr. Calderon left behind. He raced to see the projects push through quickly in view of the inflationary trend of the times.

“One of his very first worries in 1971 was the delay in the construction of the Cultural Center. The funds had been promised back in 1968 by the Henry Luce Foundation of New York but the Cultural Center Planning Committee, composed mainly of the units which had their own interests in the Cultural Center, could not easily agree on space allocations, design and location of the Center, much less on the architect. The School of Music and Fine Arts, the Speech and Theatre Arts Department, the English Department, and Audio-Visual Department comprised the Committee, together with the Campus Planning Committee, chaired by the [dean] of the College of Engineering. This mix made for long meetings and stalemates.

“With financial exigencies weighing heavily against time, Dr. Udarbe decided to come to the helm and reorganize the Cultural Center Planning Committee. He became its chairman and steered it into agreement and action… By 28 August 1972, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Auditorium was held.”

These stories tell us what a strong leader Tito Proc was—a decisive visionary who knew when to act, and how to act.

As I write this, the news of his death has just broken out, right at the tail-end of Silliman University’s 112th Founders Day. May you rest in peace, Dr. Proceso U. Udarbe. Your kindness and your brand of leadership will always be remembered.

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