Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Story Behind APO's Oblation Run

We never thought that our fraternity's promotional stunt in the 70's would turn out to be what it is today – an institutionalized (although still not official) spectacle which major television networks and even foreign ones like CNN have turned into a frenzied media event! And like many successful events, it has generated many different and sometimes conflicting accounts on its origins.

Thank goodness the Oblation Run’s originators, my fraternity, the UP Alpha Phi Omega (APO), can attest to the one true history of the masked faces in the run of the brave and bold. I am proud to have been right in the thick of it in the 60s and 70s. Back then, our frat regularly sponsored movies, plays and even musicals. These were undertaken basically as fundraising efforts, but a socio-political link arose during martial law, particularly in the mid-70s. Sakada, a film dramatizing the plight of seasonal workers in a sugarcane plantation sponsored by APO at the UP Theater in 1976, is an example. And then of course there was Hubad na Bayani, which has come to be inexorably linked to the Oblation Run. Hubad na Bayani is a movie (not a play, as some accounts have it) by Teloy Cosme and Robert Ylagan (a.k.a Robert Arevalo), starring our own fraternity brother, Menggie Cobarrubias. More because of their paranoia than anything else, this was banned from regular theaters by the martial law board of censors. UP, however, with its long and venerable tradition of liberalism, allowed APO to sponsor the movie’s showing in September 1977.

I was in my third year at UP, and APO. I was also one of my fraternity’s officers, having been elected Auxiliary Chancellor for that school year. In one of our meetings leading up to our movie premier, I remember our Grand Chancellor Nicky Morales, pushing for a specific social agenda for the project. Hence, in support of the mood then, we resolved to donate one peso for every ticket sold to the Roll Back Tuition Fee campaign fund. As this move would take a sizeable chunk of our projected revenues, we needed to ensure that the project would be as successful as possible, to go beyond breakeven. However, our ticket sales were not going very well, extraordinary measures had to be taken. In those days, streaking, which is what the Oblation Run is, was becoming an increasing occurrence in many university campuses in the United States, though other more public venues were not exempt. Some of us might still be young enough to recall a streaker flashing peace sign during the televised 1974 Oscar Awards. Whether we were consciously adapting this phenomenon of the times or not, the fact is, we conceived the first Oblation Run as a promotional gimmick for Hubad na Bayani. It was no easy task, and it was a scheme that could easily backfire. Smack in the middle of the martial law years, the APO had the UP Police Force to contend with. Some of our brothers could easily end up detained in some military stockade, naked! At that time, mobile phones, which could have made coordination so much easier, were ore in the realm of science fiction than in reality. But planning and execution still had to be extremely precise, and the run could not be publicized until the last minute so as not to alert the authorities. Getting caught was not an option.

Despite the risks involved, the two intrepid brothers volunteered, and earned the undying admiration of the fraternity. To this day, their identities are only known within the fraternity. Ten minutes before the run, with watches carefully synchronized, APO brothers were dispatched to all four floors of what was then known as the AS building to inform the students and professors of what was about to take place. An APO brother’s car pretending to have mechanical problems blocked the road by the main library to hold off the police. Another car with the same ruse likewise blocked the road by the faculty center building. Still another vehicle carrying the streakers was parked at the curbside of the front parking lot by the library. I was stationed at the parking lot with another brother, Caloy Encarnacion, who was looking out with his camera ready. Behind him, a group of students were exclaiming to each other, “Totoo nga siguro! ‘Di ba APO siya?” At the designated moment, the door of the car with the first oblation runners flew open and out they came, whooping and hollering, arms flailing up in the air, giving a good show to the audience at the AS building, faces wrapped with t-shirts to conceal their identities. They ran towards the faculty center, pausing momentarily in front of the main steps doing various poses as the onlookers cheered them on. Upon reaching the end of the AS parking lot, two motorcycle-riding fraternity brothers picked them up and whisked them away. As it turned out, the cars that blocked the road were unnecessary. The police could not react fast enough within ten minutes of the event’s announcement.


From the respectable attendance of Hubad na Bayani’s showing at the UP Theater that fateful year, the Oblation Run proved itself to be a compelling marketing tool. It became an annual affair since, held as part of the celebrations of APO’s Service Month every August. With the authorities becoming more and more tolerant with each passing year, the Oblation Run evolved into an unofficial tradition of the university. It was eventually moved to December 16 (or the Friday before if the date falls on a weekend) in the 1980s until the present to highlight the foundation day of APO worldwide. In the recent years the Oblation Run has effectively highlighted social and political issues that otherwise may not have been given as much prominence in the media. Certainly, at the very least, it is a testament to the UP culture of thinking and acting out of the box despite the odds, and being successful at it.

By Brother Armand Padilla, APO-Eta (74-03553), AB Social Science

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, in commemoration of UP's 100th year Celebration

*photos courtesy of Bro. Dindo Delobrino of Omega Chapter

Apolly yours,

Bro. Cicero 'Ching' Danseco
Beta Tau-1987-13840
APO Beta Tau AA
APO Phil Gatekeeper

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