MANILA, September 2
, 2004  (STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay - Few people know this (and why should they?) but my favorite late-night pastime is to trawl eBay (www.ebay.com) for all kinds of interesting stuff – one man’s junk, another man’s treasure, as old-time collectors used to say. I discovered and signed up with eBay seven years ago on the lookout for vintage fountain pens, and I’ve since made over a hundred transactions on-line, not only for pens but also for Apple computers and computer parts, Volkswagen accessories, books, CDs and, most recently, old wristwatches. I’ve amassed a fairly respectable eBay feedback rating of 81, which means at least 81 people I’ve bought from and sold to around the world have left a good word for me, as I did for them.

As I’ve written before and written elsewhere, eBay can be a shopaholic’s paradise, with over a million items on sale at any given time (among them, at least 65,000 wristwatches and 4,000 fountain pens). But like any Eden, it has its fair share of serpents – scammers who know and use every trick in the book to part you from your money without giving you so much as a "thank you" in return – so don’t take this as a blanket endorsement of the website and its auction system. As the world’s biggest open marketplace, eBay deserves more than any other bazaar to have a huge "Caveat emptor!" splashed across its portals, and the novice is well advised to look around, observe, ask questions, and hold off on grabbing that "rare Roman coin!" or "genuine Titanic souvenir!" or "six-megapixel digicam for $50!" The old common-sense rule applies: If it’s too good to be true, it most probably isn’t.

That said, there are real bargains and wonders to be found on eBay by the patient, the vigilant and the just-plain-lucky. And the best finds don’t have to be sparkling jewelry or some digital toy discarded by the over-blessed.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I let my fingers wander over to one of my quiet or passive collecting interests – old Philippine newspapers, magazines and what collectors call ephemera, the paper trail of ancient events and celebrations like the 1937 Eucharistic Congress and the 1966 Beatles visit to Manila. (What I do is use "Philippines" as my basic search term, then exclude things I’m obviously not looking for, like "Barbie doll" and "yo-yo".)

The hand-painted postcards are always a treat to look at, as are the photographs of pre-war Philippines, the 1920s carnival queens, maps of long-vanished districts and the covers (not to mention the contents) of such faithful childhood companions as Hiwaga Komiks and Tagalog Klasiks. The fun of this kind of browsing is that you don’t even have to bid for or to buy the material, unless you have some special reason to; clicking on the pictures will download them to your computer, for your lasting enjoyment. I’ve built up a collection of digitized Philippine postcards (well, the images, at least) this way without having to spend a cent for them.

My most recent find was something I couldn’t possibly pass up – a good copy of the Philippine Collegian, Vol. 1, No. 15, the issue of Tuesday, Dec. 12, 1922. It was being offered by a dealer selling his wares under the eBay alias of "dekada collectibles" (mine is, unsurprisingly, "penmanila"), and it was available right here in Manila. I felt a special attachment to the item – one, because I’m as fanatically UP as they come (blame my BSE ‘56 Mom for playing the 78 rpm version of UP Beloved as my lullaby), and two, it had been my burning ambition since high school to join the staff of the Collegian (I did, in my freshman year; but that’s another story).

Four bids were made – thankfully, none higher than mine – and after an exchange of e-mails I went to see the seller, who turned out to live in UP Village just 15 minutes away from me, a very pleasant man in his 30s named Angelo Bernardo, Jr. who had traded his MBA for a business in old books, coins, bottles, and papers. (I couldn’t afford the assignment of copyright signed by Nicanor Abelardo in 1929, but you can call Angelo at 921-6361 if you think you can.)

I could hardly contain my excitement when he brought the student newspaper out; though yellowed (and what wouldn’t be, after 82 years?), it looked clean and crisp. I was too thrilled to open it up and read it right there, so I waited until I was home to turn the pages.

It was the "Special University Day Number" of the Collegian. That in itself was big news to me; I never even knew we had a University Day falling on Dec. 12.

The first page opened to a message from a very proper-looking E. A. Gilmore, Vice-Governor and Secretary of Public Instruction and chairman of the Board of Regents (and, presumably, the fellow who gave his name to Gilmore Ave. in Greenhills), calling for "loyalty to the University of the Philippines as an institution; loyalty which rises above persons and personalities, and sees only the larger purposes and ideals."

This was followed by greetings from UP President Guy Potter Benton, Dean Jorge Bocobo of the College of Law, Dean Maximo Kalaw of the College of Liberal Arts and Director Mariano del Rosario of the School of Pharmacy. (Bocobo’s and Kalaw’s pictures have them looking no older than 22 – Kalaw was, in fact, 30, and Bocobo 36 in 1922.)

Bocobo, touted as "the foremost dramatist in the English language nowadays," had written a play titled The New Leader just for University Day, to be staged by the University Dramatic Club and topbilled by Concepcion Hidalgo and Lorenzo Tañada (to reappear in the issue as a cadet lieutenant and soccer goalie); also in the play was one Ramon Sunico. The play was scheduled for the surprisingly late hour of 9:30 p.m. – but only because the other highlight of the day, the Grand University Popular Ball, had been set for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Cadet Armory, prior to a parade to the Ayuntamiento, once "the grandest building in Intramuros" (remember, folks, UP was in Padre Faura then, not Diliman), where "the University will greet the Legislature and the Governor-General."

A full-page advertisement from Erlanger & Galinger Inc., dealers of Victor phonographs ("La Voz del Amo"), offered records of the latest dances – the Kicky-Koo Kicky-Koo fox trot and the Oogie-Oogie-Wa-Wa fox trot, among others. Another ad enticed visitors to Los Baños to try the College Lunch at the Cocoanut Grove. Crispulo Zamora of 351 R. Hidalgo in Manila reminded UP cadets that they were "the sole manufacturers of buttons and insignias" for cadets in Manila, Los Baños, and Cebu.

The UP Women’s Club invited students to its booth, which featured "The Fishing Pool… What is that? Ask the rat and ask the cat. The Club refuses to tell what that is until you get into it. We know they are speaking of baits, rods, fishing lines, cupids, etc. But what in the world do they want to fish?"

Eugenio Lopez, president of the Academia Española of the College of Law, solemnly praised UP as "the very embodiment of Filipino Unity." Florentino Ocampo, Chancellor of the Philippine Barristers, noted less sonorously that his election "was, as usual, followed by the customary ‘Blow-Out’ at the Panciteria Pekin."

An assistant professor of English by the name of Carlos P. Romulo opined that "A university is not a confessional. It is not an institution for conversion. It should not attempt to impose any given faith. Its glory should be in its freedom."

Francisco Santiago (best known for his Pakiusap and Anak ng Dalita) composed a special song for the issue, Ang Pag-Ibig, the full score of which occupied pages 16-17.

The issue’s "The Poet’s Corner" featured the lyrics of what were most likely five finalists for the official UP hymn: Alma Mater UP by Gerardo Monden; Our Loyal Song by Tomas Maglaya; UP Banner by Zosimo Maceda; Service Song by Jose Romero"; and, yes, UP Beloved by Teogenes Velez, which had obviously won because it was already on the program.

Modesto Farolan, former associate editor of the Collegian turned practicing journalist, contributed an article berating newspapers for offering "nothing but their personal opinion nicely enjoying the protection of a stolen privilege."

A chart revealed that UP’s student enrollment had risen "From 48 to 4,675 Students in Sixteen Years," 669 of them in the College of Agriculture and 620 in the College of Liberal Arts. But the School of Fine Arts topped them all with 751 enrollees.

An item caught my eye because of its uncanny familiarity: "Governor-General Makes Recommendations for UP Support." A committee appointed by President Benton had determined that the UP needed an annual income of P5,000,000 for its proper upkeep, with provisions for a gradual increase. The committee complained that "The support granted at present is by no means commensurate with the demands upon such an institution, and compensation to our faithful and hard working faculty personnel, generally speaking, is shamefully low."

The issue’s editorial, presumably penned by editor-in-chief Paulino Ybañez, carried the same theme: "As we observe this day, however, let us not forget the vital problem confronting our institution. We refer to the creation of a permanent source of income to guarantee its successful functioning. For fluctuating legislative appropriations from year to year would prevent our university authorities from formulating a definite institutional policy and developing a statesmanlike university program."

An even more interesting piece was contributed by Paz T. Policarpio, then a student at the College of Education (and later mother of my own Shakespeare professor, Sylvia Mendez Ventura). "With the expansion of the institution," she observed, "the management of affairs has necessarily become more complex; questions about the administration and the professors’ salaries have come up. This question has, therefore, arisen: ‘Should not the University Charter be amended to meet present demands?’ Bills to this effect have been introduced in the House of Representatives and there have been articles in the local press about the need of revising the Charter, particularly that part relating to the composition of the Board of Regents."

At that point, I had to pinch myself to be convinced that I was reading something from 1922, not 2004.

I’ve had some bad days both in Diliman and on eBay, but the day I found this time capsule can’t have been one of them. Thanks, Angelo, for the rare pleasure and a real bargain.

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Send e-mail to Butch Dalisay at penmanila@yahoo.com.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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