University of the Philippines Los Baños

CULTURE amid science parallels the bamboo’s zenith of its lifetime: flowers. Rare. The supreme white crown of the world’s tallest grass.

In like manner, culture in the University of the Philippines Los Baños, the country’s “tallest” institution of higher learning in the applied sciences, is becoming the University’s crown of distinction. Unique. This verdict of history, hardly heralded by reason of humility, marked its seminal seed when the College of Agriculture was founded on Friday, 6 March 1909. The old UPCA from which UPLB grew, had American scientist-educators who used a central factor in science education and culture – language.

Dean Edwin Bingham Copeland and his fellow pioneer professors, extended the American culture of altruism. And the Filipino pioneer students exercised their culture of assimilation. The confluence of these two cultures, where culture is a “people’s way of life, simple or complex,” followed a continuous growth. Through the years, the traditional seven arts – architecture, dance, film, literature, music, theater arts, visual arts – were appended for a new phrase called culture and the arts.



The Baker Hall miraculously survived the brutality of WWII – its eclectic exuberance kept unscathed. Other buildings were not as lucky. Fortunately some arches have stood their ground in their original grandeur. Other structures, like kiosks, have been renovated. Through the years, centenarian trees, mainly on the lower campus, were felled to give rise to so-called modern buildings for academic, cultural, and scientific purposes. A Thai temple and a Japanese arc have cleared the once bucolic landscape aesthetics around D.L. Umali Hall. The presence of these two structures may be viewed as a continuation of the Filipino culture of assimilation.


The curtains were raised when the UPLB Filipiniana Dance Troupe performed its dance debut in the 70s, followed by semestral dance concerts. Muslim motifs, colors, and dance steps were recorded in situto become parts of the Troupe’s repertoire from Abra to Zamboanga. Soon, they were performing in nearby provinces. When UPLB Sandayaw Cultural Group was founded on 2 July 2004, culture on campus was further enriched.


Some Filipino film classics were shown at the D.L. Umali Hall. However, poor acoustics put an end to such shows. Decades later, film marked its reentry in the form of a subject in the Department of Humanities.


Poetry, essay, novel, and short stories by resident faculty, students and staff, as well as off-campus and established men of letters, formed the literary lode, which the UPLB community patronized when presented, sometimes under candle light (poetry readings) for dramatic effects. The foreign students on campus, representing some 32 flags, participated in some of the presentations to their great “honor” (their world) for having been finally recognized by UPLB, through the UPLB Committee on Culture and the Arts, for their rich culture. These happened during the time of Chancellor Emil Q. Javier. From the ‘80s onward, some professors added glitter to the crown of UPLB by winning major literary awards such as Palanca, Francisco Balagtas, Pedro Bucaneg, Leona Florentino, etc.


Music hit and took hold of a resounding note when the UPLB Choral Ensemble (UPLB CE) performed its world premiere in Essen, Germany, followed by performances in Brussels, Belgium in 1996. The CE always held their audiences in awe each time they essayed in seamless harmony German, French, and Spanish songs, which they committed to memory. Two years later, they shared in song and dance the blessings of the PH Centennial in Adelaide and Sydney, Australia. In concert halls and university theaters, the singers were always rewarded with resounding applause and prolonged standing ovation the moment they erupted into the vigorous strains of “Waltzing Mathilda,” which is not a waltz but a 4/4 allegro folksong.

Within the year, the UPLB CE was handpicked by the organizers of an international choral competition in Spain. In one contest piece, in Spanish, they bested the 14 other foreign contestants. The UPLB CE was as in a crescendo mode when it cut its first compact disc – an unprecedented milestone in culture and the arts in UPLB. This rich harvest of accolades was amassed during the time of Chancellor Ruben L. Villareal and UP President Javier.

With a completely new batch of singers (none of whom had any previous formal choral training like their predecessors), the UPLB CE continued the choral tradition of choral excellence with their sonorous blend of sopranos, tenors, altos, basses/baritones. They “invaded” the Asian circuit, and came home with their trophies of triumph as 1st prize winners.

Flashback. In the mid-60s, absolute and program music by Filipino and foreign composers, intrumentalists and/or vocalists, hit the airwaves through DZLB. The radio station, noted for its balanced magazine format, actually anticipated what was to be known, decades later, as broadcast arts.

Theater arts.

Theater arts enjoyed all features of rural theater: rural setting, Filipino/Tagalog script, local dramatis personae, light and set designs, costume, and directing - in a word, the works. Technology transfer, environmental concerns, the dichotomy between social contrasts and constructs calculated to uphold human dignity above penury, were dramatized by the collegial body of UPLB. A dependable talent source was the Department of Humanities.

Visual Arts.

The visual arts, particularly sculptures and paintings, have been parts of campus culture and the arts early on. “The Tao” and “Mariang Makiling” were to be joined by another “Mariang Makiling,” “The Philippine Pegasus” aka Tamarau that is endemic in Mindoro, “Marya Makiling,” and other monumental figurative and abstract sculptures. The “Mariang Makiling” with game was a project of Chancellor Raul P. de Guzman.

At the UPLB Gate stand two pillars decorated with mosaic mural depicting some of the highlights of UPLB. This mural, a project of Chancellor Abelardo G. Samonte, is the first of its kind on campus. A colorful toast to the autonomy given to UPLB after the declaration of Martial Law in 1972.

Almost a quarter of a century later, UP President Javier and Chancellor Villareal put their persuasive powers to work on Mr. Antonio Nocum to co-sponsor a huge mural on the theme “The Los Baños Spirit.” The mural, done by grUPo, is now permanently displayed at the lobby of the D.L. Umali Hall. It depicts the University’s past and present achievements, and its future trajectories, with the Oblation, as the central figure, facing rightward for UPLB to continue moving on its IRE – instruction, research, extension.

Always in the right direction.

And UPLB moved on culturally during the watch of Chancellor Luis Rey I. Velasco. The Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts came into being. The lower campus marked the initial phase of a new landscape aesthetics with truncated concrete jars and flowering trees. Starting under the term of Chancellor Velasco and carried on the term of Dr. Rex Victor O. Cruz, almost all the streets have been renamed after Filipino and American scientist-professors. Above their names are ancient Tagalog syllables to showcase that we as a people had a language millenia before 1521. Incorporating the ancient syllables on the road signs is a stroke of linguistic and historical genius

The author Dr. Zafaralla (5th from L) is a retired professor of Humanities, Creative Writing, Critical Writing, and Communication Arts at the Department of Humanities. He is author of several books; and former Chair of the UPLB Committee on Culture and the Arts. He is at present a professiorial lecturer of Humanities, Art Education, Philippine Literature, and World Literature at the Pamantasan ng Cabuyao.