Nemesio Prudente was that rare brand of educator and administrator who was able to combine order with change, establishment and activism, and reform and revolution. He was as tireless as the freshest activist in fighting for democracy in his country, even as he led what would eventually become, under his administration, the country’s largest state university. He has been hailed a nationalist and visionary by his colleagues.
He took his elementary and high school education in the Philippines, and his undergraduate and graduate studies in California, USA. He worked for a short while in the States then returned to the Philippines to teach graduate and undergraduate courses at the Far Eastern University. He was appointed dean of the FEU graduate school in 1961 and served for a year. In 1962, he was appointed president of the Philippine College of Commerce (PCC), a post he held up to 1972, when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and Prudente went into hiding.
PCC students and friends called him Doc Prudente. He was a highly respected figure in campus. He was a conscientious president. Side by side with his students, employees and teachers, he held pickets and rallies demanding from government the release to the school of the land it was standing on. He hounded Congress for a bigger PCC budget. He built structures for the PCC Main Library, and for the engineering and mass communication colleges. He found space to hold the graduate school and the college of hotel and restaurant management.
But best of all, Doc Prudente believed in and lived a concept of education that was activist as well as critical. Professors as well as students would stop by his office to engage him in debate and discussion. Under his administration, PCC became one the most active schools in the early 1970s, where students were urged instead of prevented from joining student activities. PCC students flocked to the student protests that ended in the First Quarter Storm of 1971.
He engaged activists in discussions ranging from economy to social science to political economy. He discussed reform and revolution with them. He also butted heads with other brilliant debaters like Blas Ople and Benigno Aquino Jr.
Like most civil libertarians in the late 1960s and 1970s, Doc Prudente spoke publicly about what he saw was the increasing repression of the Marcos administration. He was an active supporter of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines and the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties. He was not cowed by threats of arrest or detention. He was, in fact, among those arrested by Ferdinand Marcos when the latter suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1971.
He was eventually released, then arrested again when Marcos instituted martial law in 1972. Doc evaded arrest this time and went immediately into hiding. In the underground, he helped build the resistance network against the dictatorship. He was one of those who helped prepare the establishment of the National Democratic Front. He was eventually found and arrested, detained in a number of military camps and safehouses for six years.
When the dictatorship was abolished in 1986, Doc resumed his legal activities, accepting an appointment as president of the old PCC, now renamed Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He held this post until he retired in 1992. He put on his administrator’s coat and put in much-needed reforms at the state university. But his activist spirit remained alive. He once opened the campus to scores of villagers escaping from militarization, earning him the military’s suspicion that he was hosting communists in his campus.
He continued to publicly condemn human rights violations occurring in what was supposed to be a newly-democratic government. For his efforts, Prudente survived two attempts on his life, the first was in November 1987 when his lawyer was killed, and the second in June 1988, less than a year after the first, when three of his companions were killed. Doc himself was severely wounded in the second attempt. In 1999, or 11 years later, five policemen were convicted for the second ambush.
Doc’s courage, passion and ideals were no secret to PUP students, and many of those who were students during his administration vow that these qualities are “forever embedded” in them because of his sterling example.
Doc’s writings include “The Revolutionists” and the “Quest for Justice,” sharp commentaries that help raise awareness and give insights about the gravity of the problems besetting the Philippines.
Even as he grew older and sicker, Doc Prudente kept his life simple and his needs basic. Knowing he was sick, he had left instructions on how he wanted to go. There was to be no pomp, no ceremony, not even a wake. He wanted to be cremated wrapped in a mat, not confined in a coffin. Honoring his request in spirit if not in form, when he died from complications arising from a prostate operation, his family had him cremated wrapped in a shroud and in a cardboard box the day after he died. No wake was ever held. Doc was 81.
BORN : December 19, 1927 in Rosario, Cavite
DIED : March 28, 2008 in Cavite
PARENTS : Mamerto Prudente and Felicidad Encarnacion
SPOUSE/CHILDREN : Ruth Y. Garcia / 3
EDUCATION : Elementary: Rosario Elementary School, Cavite
Secondary: University of the Philippines High School; Cavite Provincial
College: US Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York (USA)
Postgraduate: San Francisco State College, San Francisco, California
(USA); University of Southern California (USA)