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A HUNDRED years ago, the Dominicans were given a piece of property in an estate called Sulucan. It was an open field bounded by a railroad, a racetrack, a leprosarium, a prison, two churches, and an estero or creek. The name ?Sulucan? is often related to the Tagalog word sulok, ?corner.? But in an early 17th-century dictionary, the word also connoted finding a space in another?s home; hence, naqiqisoloc, ?living in somebody else?s house.? Sulucan could have arisen from the growing numbers of people scrounging for a corner on the fringes of industrializing 19th-century Manila.

What kind of community did the Dominicans get themselves into? The Sulucan property occupied land formerly maintained by the nuns of Santa Clara monastery for their upkeep. Throughout the 19th century, this was a land of ricefields and marshes, whose tenants would converge on feast days at the town center of Sampaloc where today?s Earnshaw and Bustillos Streets meet, dominated by the twin churches of Our Lady of Loreto and of the Venerable Third Order. The whole area was effectively under Franciscan influence. The nuns of Santa Clara, the friars at Loreto church and the members of the Third Order all adhered to the Rule of Saint Francis. The Franciscans operated a printing press within the Third Order?s perimeter. They also ran the Hospital of San Lazaro for lepers far across town, whose buildings still stand in the compound of the Department of Health along Avenida Rizal (which was formerly called Dulumbayan, ?end of town?). Just east of the leprosarium was a racetrack, whose crowds of cheerers and jeerers have morphed into the ?usiseros? of SM Tayuman. At the beginning of ?End of Town? street was the Bilibid Prison (aka Manila City Jail), whose denizens can still be espied from the Doroteo Jose Station of the MRT. Across the prison was a theater, called alternatively Teatro de Bilibid or Teatro Zorrilla; until recently it was the site of another theater known to generations as Cinerama (it?s now Isetann). Across the northeast end of the nuns? estate ran the Manila-Dagupan railroad; in maps of the early 20th century, nothing else appeared north of the track (that is, the area approaching Quezon City.) As the train moved south, it crossed the ancient Estero de Sampaloc. A road from the Loreto Church crossed the Estero and then the tracks to Balic-Balic cemetery, the burial grounds of the parish. Along the way, by the banks of the Estero, was an enclave known as Gardenia, where Japanese maidens standing by red lanterns disturbed souls or calmed them, depending on one?s point of view (Mayor Lacson later drove the ladies out of town, and the Ospital ng Sampaloc sanitized their residence).

The Santa Clara nuns disposed of their estate at an auction, and the land was parceled off into blocks in one of the city?s earliest subdivisions. One of the buyers, Francisca Bustamante Bayot, donated a sizable chunk of her property to the Dominican fathers just when they were looking for expansion space outside the Intramuros campus, which after 300 years was quite congested. The lot, equivalent to 24 city blocks, had four sulok and was bounded by streets named España, Forbes (now Lacson), Dapitan and Quezon (only later changed to P. Noval). A creek ran through the middle of it, running roughly from the present College of Fine Arts to the Hospital, and it was crossed by a solid stone bridge. A cornerstone for this new University was laid in December 1911, the highlight of the institution?s 300th Anniversary celebration.

Dominican engineer-builder

The push to develop the Sulucan site came only several years later. The project was handed over to Fr. Roque Ruaño, a Spanish Dominican who had graduated at the top of the first graduating class of the UST?s Faculty of Engineering in 1912. Fr. Ruaño had already conducted meticulous research on earthquakes all over the country, and had built Dominican houses in Baguio and Lingayen. Though work started in early 1923, Fr. Ruaño had spent the two previous years stockpiling building materials. Cement and iron bars were procured from Tokyo where prices were down as a result of World War I. A snag in payment was graciously solved by a loan arranged by Dr. William Burke, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine. The materials were stored in various warehouses, including the basement of the Santa Catalina convent across Forbes Street.

The Sulucan strata consisted of fine sand and loamy clay heavily interspersed with land and marine shells, a situation where the land layers moved at different directions during a tremor. This prompted Fr. Ruaño to combine two methods of laying foundations: Isolated piers were linked with a continuous slab foundation, so that the structures above would sway independently of each other during an earthquake. In five years, 200 workers from Pampanga slowly raised 40 separate small towers that provided the basic framework of what is today?s Main Building (it was called ?New Building? then, there being no other edifice in the campus). Fr. Ruaño kept revising his plans, the latest after a trip to Tokyo in 1926 where he observed the effects of the recent earthquake there and in Yokohama. This masterpiece, in a style nobody has yet given a name to, was opened to classes on July 2, 1927, way too early in the opinion of its workaholic builder. The school attracted students from all over the country and the business of schooling sprouted all over the area. UST, whose Main Building?s façade launched thousands of bed spaces, is certainly the mother of all sulucan.

The Main Building was constructed a meter higher than España Street (that difference has been lost now with the constant overlays on the street). Its most dominant feature was a 50-m tower surmounted by a cross that for a time marked Kilometer 0 before it was replaced by the Rizal Monument. The tower was not just an ornament: It contained tanks of water for the hydraulic engineering laboratory located on the top floor. The country?s first Catholic radio station, DZST, also began its maiden broadcast from the fourth floor of this building in 1950; it ceased operation in 1963 when it handed over its franchise to Radio Veritas.

Fr. Ruaño provided pedestals on the parapets for statues of saints, but this final touch was only added years after his untimely death in 1935. On the silver jubilee of the Main Building, the first statues representing Faith, Hope and Charity were hoisted on their places over the central façade. These three theological virtues?Tria Haec, as they are called?symbolically surmount the clock. Their inspiration is taken from the apostle Paul?s classic admonition to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:13): ?So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.? Ten other 10-ft tall statues joined them by the middle of 1953. These represent the classic philosophers Plato and Aristotle; St. Augustine; the Dominicans St. Albert the Great, St. Raymond of Peñafort and Vincent of Beauvais; the playwrights of comedies Lope de Vega, Aristophanes and Molière; and the playwrights of tragedy Calderon de la Barca, Sophocles and Shakespeare. The concrete figures were created by Riccardo Francesco Monti, a professor at the UST Department of Sculpture who found refuge here when his native Italy was under the Fascists.

The opening of the Main Building gave the Intramuros campus the chance to unload its overcrowded halls. The Library, with its centuries-old holdings, was moved to Sulucan and occupied the northeast flank, where classes in Civil Law are now held. A spacious gymnasium rose along the side of P. Noval street; inaugurated in 1932, it is the second oldest building on the campus. Gov. General Theodore Roosevelt graced that occasion on Aug. 28 by tossing the first ball between junior contingents of the UST and the University of the Philippines. Apart from athletics, it housed the ever-larger graduation ceremonies and was a popular concert hall as well. This new venue allowed for the conversion of the Paraninfo, the lofty assembly hall in the Main Building, into a Museum. A Museum of Natural History was formally established in the Intramuros building in 1871, as an adjunct to the newly founded Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy. Its relocation to Sulucan amplified the collections to include numismatics and works of art, especially those of the students and faculty of Architecture and Fine Arts. On March 7, 1933, the University celebrated the feast of the death of its patron St. Thomas Aquinas (traditionally the last day of classes) with the inauguration of the swimming pool behind the gym; President Manuel Quezon was guest of honor.

UST Central Seminary

At about the same time that the gymnasium was being built, construction began for the new Central Seminary, which was also to house the University Church and the Fathers? Residence. Both gym and seminary were designed by architect Fernando Ocampo, a graduate of Civil Engineering at UST and one of the founders of the University?s School of Architecture and Fine Arts. Although his designs had to be approved by Fr. Ruaño, Ocampo was able to imbue his creations with original interpretations of the Art Deco style then in vogue. On Oct. 7, 1933, the Auxiliary Archbishop of Manila, Most Rev. William Finnemann, SVD, consecrated the marble altar?itself donated by President Quezon?in the newly finished church. (During the Japanese Occupation Bishop Finnemann was taken prisoner and thrown into the sea off Mindoro by the invaders, and the cause for his beatification is underway.) On the 12th of the next month, as the climax of that year?s University Day, the Archbishop of Manila, Monsignor Michael O? Dogherty, solemnly blessed and dedicated the new Central Seminary building. The seminarians moved into their new quarters by Christmas. What was often called a ?chapel? in the Seminary became the church of the Santisimo Rosario Parish when it was canonically established on April 26, 1942.

By this time, Manila had fallen to Japanese forces, and the Sulucan campus had been turned into an internment camp for Allied prisoners of war. It said that about 10,000 prisoners entered the corridors of the Main Building during the three years of Japanese Occupation. At the war?s end in 1945 the Intramuros campus was bombed to rubble. By a twist of fate, the University?s oldest documents and most precious works of art (not to mention the miraculous image of Our Lady of La Naval) had already been transferred to the Sulucan campus since before the beginning of the war, investing the school with a mine of heritage resources. The statue of Miguel de Benavides, founder of UST, survived almost unscathed (save for a bullet hole in the back) and it was relocated from its plaza in the walled city to the rotonda in front of the Main Building in 1946. The remaining stone blocks of the ornate archway of the old building were taken down and numbered for re-assembly in 1955 in the entrance garden by the España gate. It is now known as the Arch of the Centuries. Today?s freshmen excitedly file through the Arch on the first week of classes, and on Graduation Day the ?survivors? exultantly march out of it.


Stop! So much history, you might say. It?s so heavy and boring, why can?t we just leave it to the experts and move on? The word heritage is taken from the Latin heri, ?yesterday,? + tango, ?(I) touch.? Why touch yesterday? Perhaps, if we are sensitive enough, yesterday?s experiences become today?s lessons for us. Thomas Aquinas could not have written his Summa without the works of his teacher, Albert the Great, who tapped the works of Aristotle, who preserved the works of his teacher Plato.

Just like its mother campus in Intramuros, the Sulucan lot is angled in such a way that its front faces the southeast. That is, the rising sun warms the Arch of the Centuries much as it lit up the original façade 400 years ago. Both Intramuros and Sulucan campuses followed principles laid down by Philip II in the Laws of the Indies, that building blocks were to be aligned so that one side of the street enjoyed some shade at any time of the day. This, in turn, was wisdom passed on from ancient norms of living around the Mediterranean. The Philippines along with the Iberian colonies of both Americas benefited from such learning.

The University of Santo Tomas has slowly perceived the fragility of heritage. In spite of all it went through, UST considers itself blessed in that so much of its history has been left intact. A Cultural Heritage Studies program was developed in 2001 for the Graduate School. Students are taught research and documentation, cultural mapping, heritage management and the like. They are given a hand at curating exhibits, restoring paintings, and transcribing documents at the Center for the Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics. This Center was established in 2003 as the University?s outreach arm for heritage concerns around the country. The Antonio Vivencio del Rosario UST Heritage Library was inaugurated in 2006 to contain the rare books previously kept in other departments of the University. Very recently, the venerable History Department was revived. The staff of the University?s Museum and Archives have their hands full attending to researchers from all over the campus and in fact from all over the world. Effectively, UST heritage personnel are collaborating with the country?s bishops in conserving and promoting Philippine church cultural heritage. All of this homework culminated in 2010 when the National Museum declared the Main Building, the Central Seminary, the Arch of the Centuries and the campus? Open Spaces as National Cultural Treasures. Such a distinction is the highest national award for the Philippines? most important structures, artworks and artifacts. Undoubtedly, many more items from the University?s collections can be identified for similar recognition.

When UST settled in Sulucan, it was like a voice calling out in the wilderness. Today that voice is more nuanced, as the wilderness has taken many other forms. Despite the obvious push for heritage conservation, the historic houses in the district are slowly being replaced with modern condominiums, designed by UST graduates. The shade of the eponymous sampaloc tree is nowhere to be enjoyed. What about the benefits that a university education is supposed to bring? Looking at a map, UST appears as a diamond in a heart framed by the leprosarium, the prison, and the site of the vanished houses of pleasure. What about this other sort of Tria Haec? Will students be encouraged to sell their photocopied textbooks in exchange for alms for the poor, as St. Dominic did?

Here lies the ever-present challenge. All these monuments, artifacts, documents and traditions are yardsticks that remind us how much was done and point out what still has to be done. Benavides? school has clearly carved its own sulok in the life of the country and of the region. As UST folk strive to be sensitive to others? needs and to observe the Dominican motto Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare?To Praise, To Bless, To Preach?may the University of Santo Tomas continue to grow as a true sulucan, providing hospitable habitation for the highest aspirations of the people of God.

Regalado Trota José is Archivist of the University of Santo Tomas and professor in the Cultural Heritage Studies program of the UST Graduate School.