I’m thinking about sunflowers. I’m thinking about “sunflower theft” along UP Diliman’s university avenue. Articles on the issue are found here and here. On the surface, this appears minor, and if UP responds carefully, it will stay so. But seemingly trivial issues are sensitive for UP because it is not a private university.It is implicit in its charter as the country’s national university that it is in constant conversation with a public community, imagined or otherwise. For example, this underpins the thorny issue of how to go about managing campus security or the informal occupation of UP’s idle lands. It cannot be resolved simply as the theft of private property because of the university’s public character.
The issue with the sunflowers is delicate because it is hinged on respect for symbols. Unfortunately for UP despite its responsibility to the wider community (it’s labas), its regard for sunflowers is tradition practiced by its internal community (it’s loob). This means that the regard and attendant expectation of respect for the sunflowers might not easily cross over to the general public who are outside the influence of university culture but are nonetheless stakeholders of the university they subsidize.
I wonder if this tradition does not translate easily because we do not have a public regard for nature in the same degree as in other cultures, such as the way the blooming of cherry blossoms can inspire a national holiday in Japan. Rather than veneration, the common contemporary emotion we have in store for plants is fear. Take for example the balete or the lumboy tree where aswangs and engkantos are believed to dwell. Is this it or am I being too simplistic?
In an attempt to find more instructive solutions, here’s an idea I’m putting out there:
When the sunflowers mature and after UP has stored enough seeds to sow for the next year, can the surplus seeds be given away for free to the public, to any person interested in growing sunflowers themselves? And I mean not just leave the sunflower heads there to shrivel up and allow people to pick the seeds off them, but to make a ritual out of the giving. Or something.
Something instructive ought to come out of growing sunflowers yourself, and I hope graduates, students, and visitors of UP Diliman would think of the as yet unthanked staff from the Campus Maintenance Office who till the soil, sow the seeds, rid the fledgling plants of weeds, and water the plants daily until the sunny heads are full grown. The sunflowers we celebrate yearly are the products of their toil, and yet it is we who come to harvest, for some more literally than the rest of us.