Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Character that is Bobo

Note: This is article is a result of a research that almost cost me my cadetship. I am not able to publish it someplace else because of the trouble that I had to go through but then again its a pity in people can not read this so here it is)

Each issue of the Corps Magazine is a reflection of the culture that has been shaped by the kind of training that the cadets have gone through. The opinions are more often related to leadership, excellence and other related topics that are usually the kind of ideas that they are injected in everything that they are doing inside the academy. The feature stories are results of the cadet’s ability to tell stories about their seemingly strange life and coupling it with the kind of entertaining flavor that does not only enliven the tale but also aims to put out the notion of cadets being rigid and automatons. This is also true with the literary page. More often, readers comment that the stories of cadets are usually those of lost love and longing. The reason for that is because these are the emotions that the cadets experience being far from their loved ones and enduring the hardships of training. And of course, at the end of each issue comes the endeared cadet character that has stood the test of time – Uncle Bobo.

The Legend that was BOBO

When the first cadet publication (then known as the Kaydet Gossiper) was launched in June 1937, it was a mere mimeographed publication intended to be published weekly among the Corps of Cadets. It became a hit among the cadets that soon even its name was a matter of consensus among the still small cadet corps, thus by popular vote the official cadet publication was renamed The Corps, the name that it still carries to this date.
When World War 2 broke out and the Academy was closed down, those in the publication joined the war halting the existence of the magazine. When PMA reopened in 1947, the Corps Magazine was also resurrected and soon after Uncle Bobo was introduced. He was to become the cadet character that is not only to identify with the magazine but also to all the cadets who have been at one time his classmates.

Through the years, he has evolved into someone who is not only a character but has somewhat became “everybody’s uncle.” Perhaps there is no other character that is easily identified with PMA and its cadets more than Uncle Bobo. In later years, with the acceptance of women into the Academy, he was given a female counterpart through Tita Anita, who basically carries the same features as that of the original Uncle Bobo.

What does Uncle Bobo Represent?

Ironically the character was intended not to be representative of PMA. As one cavalier would put it “Uncle Bobo was a satire of cadet life and someone we used so we can laugh at ourselves, at our systems, at our regimented lives. He was something we all wanted to become if we weren't so bounded by rules and regulations and all that stuff. He was NOT meant to be a symbol of what a cadet should be. Look, anyone who thinks that Uncle Bobo is representative of what a cadet should be is taking himself and Uncle Bobo too seriously.” This is especially evident with the name Bobo which literally means in Filipino as dumb. Cadets can not be dumb for in fact cadets are expected to be the cream of the crop among the Filipino youth.
Maybe it’s because of the Filipino culture, but nonetheless it is actually the satirical nature of the character that has gained his popularity among the magazine’s audience. He has a belly that is non existent to majority of the cadets. He has always managed to remain a cadet despite of having gone through all the “near-dismissal” experience possible and later on he attributes this to the fact that all the generals out there were at one time his classmates. He wears the chevron of a Supply Sergeant which is in fact one of the lesser ranking positions in the Corps among the graduating cadets.

Generally, one would expect that a cadet like that of Uncle Bobo will never be able to remain in PMA for he is a symbol of mediocrity, but then as all cavaliers and cadets will eventually agree, he is the epitome of what a cadet should not be. It is not really that too hard to understand because Filipinos are, as a people; have been known to find laughter even at very unlikely circumstances.

Other characters

In the United States Military Academy, the institution which PMA is based on, their official mascot is the mule. According to a fact sheet regarding what WestPoint calls as the Army Mule, “the choice of the mule as a mascot reflects the long-standing usefulness of this animal in military operations – hauling guns, supplies and ammunition. Strong, hearty and persevering, the mule is an appropriate symbol for the Corps of Cadets.” Unlike in PMA, their mascot is usually their character that represents them mostly during sporting events coming from an American culture that is very much competitive. Their mule was a response to the United States Naval Academy’s goat, which is the other half of the long standing Navy-Army service academies’ rivalry.

The Korean Military Academy, on the other hand, has Muraky. He is the embodiment of their motto which is Wisdom, Integrity and Courage. Not much can be researched about their character owing to the limited information on this character but just the same theirs symbolize a character that is closely identified with their institution.

Here in the Philippines, PMA’s counterpart in the Philippine National Police Academy has Cadet Abutalams who, similarly, is also immortalized inside the pages of their official cadet publication, Kalasag. The name Abutalams is derived from the term “malatuba” which in local slang is an epitome of being shabby. The character appears in the form of comic strips where he finds himself in humorous situations during his training in the Police Academy. Like Uncle Bobo, Cadet Abutalams tries to find humor amidst the regimented cadet training which includes getting away with his laxities.

In the University of the Philippines, student’s call themselves as Isko (or Iska for the females) to mean that they are “Iskolar ng Bayan.” The term is more of a label the same as that of Atenista for those who went to Ateneo. But unlike that of Ateneo, Isko has been given a character for the term is considered to be more an entity rather than just a name to call students of UP collectively. In a play aptly entitled Isko’t Iska presented in UP – Los BaƱos, Isko is portrayed as a UP student who has to deal with the daily pressures of UP life. In a deeper analysis, owing to the extent of freedom that those in UP are allowed, Isko is the embodiment of the hardships and many challenges of student life in an academic community that has so much variety and spice. Isko deals with all of this and tries his best to do what he is supposed to do as a student – to study that is.

Of course, who could forget Uncle Sam and Juan dela Cruz, the characters closely identified as American and Filipino respectively. Much has been written about the origin and nature of these characters but just the same they embody a feature that is unique to the people they represent. For Uncle Sam he is portrayed as someone with authority perhaps owing to the authority figure of the United States. For our beloved Juan dela Cruz, he is often found wearing the traditional salakot and is more of a common man just as how most Filipinos portray themselves.

There are still other characters that can not be accommodated in this write up but generally it is obvious that their symbolism is representative of the kind of culture of the group that they represent. In the case of the Americans, their character was reflective of a representation of their competitive spirit and their aggressiveness. It was a result of the need to create something that could symbolize the kind of people they wish to be portrayed. The Koreans have theirs to symbolize the virtues that they value. Finally for the Filipinos, theirs is a portrayal of simple people who are faced with the many challenges of their existence.

To put it simply, the Filipinos as an observation, including that of Uncle Bobo, uses symbolisms as an outlet of their fun loving nature even in serious circumstances and not really that of role models that they wish to be like. Uncle Bobo symbolizes the daily struggle of every cadet to survive cadetship despite of “deficiencies” that may come in all forms and yet come out a winner.

The Real score
In all these comparisons and existing realities there is something that perhaps redeems the Filipinos in their choice of symbols that they attach to themselves. If one will just try to analyze the characters that the Filipinos come up with, there is something that is evident in all of them. Despite the obvious deficiencies of this character, they embody something that the Filipinos can be proud of – that is the enduring attitude and perseverance that is not only evident in their character but also in the portrayal that they receive.

In Uncle Bobo’s corner, he gives advices to letter senders that are, although filled with humorous remarks, but in reality are witty solutions to simple problems. If there is one thing that redeems Uncle Bobo despite of all his “deficiencies”, it is the wisdom that he evokes when he responds to the letters he receives. Also, Uncle Bobo has become everybody’s uncle not because of his looks or his laxities but because he embodies the typical PMA cadet who despite of the rigors of cadet training, is still able to laugh at it and at the same time go on with the training and endure some more. In this regard, as in the other Filipino characters mentioned, the Filipino character stands out, enduring all possible hardship and conquering it at the same time, and perhaps the most important of all, laughing while at it.

In conclusion

The sum of all the ideas presented lies on the question of what is truly in the heart of a Filipino. Is it in the portrayal of being an excellent person that has all the perfect qualities one can think of or is it in the ability to rise above the difficulties of reality and be a winner?

Most people would say that Filipinos always love the underdog. Darna is loved despite being Narda who can not walk normally. We love it when a young man from humble beginnings eventually wins the WBC International Super Featherweight Championship in the person of Manny Pacquiao. And we hope as we watch Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz in ABS-CBN’s Maging Sino Ka Man that eventually John Lloyd’s character as Ely will rise above the difficulty of loving a rich Bea Alonzo who portrays Jacky.

Uncle Bobo is in the same light. Although the Philippine Military Academy envisions of becoming the country’s best leadership school by year 2015, it can not undermine the reality that the Academy is a microcosm of the Philippine society and is reflective of the kind of culture that it represents. Inside the hearts of every “snappy” cadet is that desire to just be free and be able to commit the laxity that only Uncle Bobo can get away with. The reality is that there is this serious contradiction between trying to live up to the standards required by the Academy and the whims and wants of every PMA cadet. This goes out in the kind of characters that they idolize that in the end allow the cadets to be in touch with the person that they are allowing them to go on with the rigors of cadet training.

So, at the end of each issue of the Corps Magazine sums up the totality of every PMA cadet that brings up the real person in each of them. Uncle Bobo embodies their desire to just be free and be away from all the pressures that they are constantly subjected to. It is not to say they wish to dwell in these desires but rather, it is the acceptance that they have such yearning. The point is that in the end, what will stand out is their willingness to let go of it and do what they are supposed to do, following their mandate and be the best leaders this country can ever know.

Uncle Bobo tickles the heart of people because it embodies the reality of everyone who is caught between one must do and what one wants to do. But what is the most important thing is that at the end of the day, the Filipino character will stand out enduring all possible obstacles and being triumphant in his endeavors. That is what the true Filipino Character is even inside the head of a character like BOBO.

(Special thanks to the comments from the Plebes and Cavaliers Yahoo Groups, cadets from the Philippine National Police Academy and other well meaning friends for the information that they provided. Of course, to the bright idea of one snappy senior officer)

6 comments:

glaiz said...

hmm...interesting! yun pala ang story behind uncle bobo..thanks for sharing. :)

milkphish said...

Why did this article almost cost you your cadetship? Was this article published in the Corps Magazine?

Very well written. I'm surprised how Uncle Bobo had become a symbol of PMA despite the obvious that he is a satirical character, and I'm surprised that it had to take this long, and for you to come along to the academy to point out the obvious.

About Uncle Sam, he is not a character that is a representative of the American. Uncle Sam is a representative of the US government, but not of the people. He came out in war posters with a declaration, "Uncle Sam Wants You." In other countries outside of the US, this could be the conception that Uncle Sam is a symbol of the American people, but this is a misconception. In the US, Uncle Sam stands for the government, and this is how people in the US view him.

The closest thing to a Juan dela Cruz here is probably John Doe or Jane Doe. Although, John & Jane Doe do not have personalities or a way of dressing like Juan.

The 'masa' loves the underdog. Why? Because the 'masa' are the underdogs who have so much difficulty getting out of the rut that they're in. I have posted Manglapus' "Land of Bondage, Land of the Free" here.

Filipinos do love charicatures, symbols, acronyms, nicknames, etc...

Thank you for the article!

alex said...

thanks for the input...
The reason why this article has almost caused me my cadetship is because in the process of researching about this article there were some remarks that were made that was "below the belt" and was directed at my superior. And I took all the blame... POOR ME

ann jay lei said...

its well said and i agree with it. its better that i read that after graduation because its impact is different when we are still inside the walls of pma. very elaborate!

avilla said...

ang snappy naman ng squadmate ko.. hahaha.. iba ka talaga..

rangercabunzky said...

Alex,

Well-written! I don't understand the wisdom behind the "slug"!

Ranger C