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Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Dr. Rosario Mendoza Cortes
(October 27, 1922 - January 21, 2009)
Professor Emeritus of History, UP Diliman
Former President, Philippine Historical Association

by Dr. Napoleon Casambre

I knew Dr. Rosario M. Cortes as a colleague and friend in the Department of History, UP-Diliman. I first came to know her when she joined the History Department after transferring from the UP Prep School in Manila. Being colleagues in the same Department, we saw each other more often than not. Sometimes, we would bump into each other along the way going to our classes at Palma Hall; at other times, we met during college or departmental faculty meetings. Among the members of the teaching staff, perhaps, I was one of those close to her. For one thing, we could trace our roots from the same province of Pangasinan and we sometimes spoke in our native tongue. Besides, she knew my older brother, who was once her classmate in the Pangasinan provincial high school. And believe it or not, by some twists of fate, Kuya Alex and Manang Rose were born on the same day, the same month and in the same year.

As time went by, that bond of friendship was reinforced when she worked for her doctoral degree and I became chairman of her dissertation committee. Dra. Cortes was interested in local history and she wrote her MA thesis on the early history of Pangasinan. When she pursued her doctoral studies, she wanted to continue her research on Pangasinan history. Thus, she proposed to the director of the Philippine Studies Program that she wanted to do her dissertati\on on the history of Pangasinan in the 19th century. Then I was chosen as the chairman of her dissertation committee. As adviser and as advisee we worked closely together. She was a diligent and a thorough researcher. Having the facility of the English language, she finished writing her dissertation in record time. In all my experience as a dissertation adviser, she was the one who gave me the least problem. When she submitted to me the first draft of her dissertation, it also became the last draft. Subsequently, she made two other final drafts to be read by the other members of her dissertation committee. After passing her oral defense with flying colors, she became the first home-grown Ph.D. in the Department of History. Her works on the history of Pangasinan are all published and, as far as I know, they are the most authoritative on the subject. Mainly because of these works, she was appointed emeritus professor of history when she retired from the U.P.

One incident that makes me remember Dr. Cortes was when she came to my office one morning and asked me why and how come she was referred to in a petition circulating in the Department in the 1980's as one of the "Gang of Three.". At that time the Department faculty was divided into two factions. I was identified as the leader of one faction with Drs. Cortes, Leslie Bauzon and a few others as members. Since the three of us came from Pangasinan, we were referred by the other faction as the "Gang of Three." I told her that she was not involved in the controversy in the Department but since she also came from my province our opponents thought that she was a member of my group We didn't know exactly who wrote the petition but those who signed it were all belonging to the other group. Those were the days when the Department of History thrived in controversies, according to one faculty of another department.

As an historian, Dra. Cortes wrote history for the sake of historical scholarship. This is well reflected in her works. She observed rigorously the rules of the historical craft, such as the use of historical facts instead of just facts. I've read her all her published works on the history of Pangasian and I found no sign to use them as an argument to prove something . Unlike some historical works which are slanted, her published works are products of an impartial mind. While some historians believe that a good history is a product of less facts but more imagination, Dra. Cortes believed the other way round.

As a teacher, Dr. Cortes was well liked by her students, according to my feedback. She went to class well prepared. Though a bit strict in class, she was fair to her students. She knew how to teach and what to teach. She taught history as a good story by telling it as it is. The only complaint of some of her students was that she conducted her class in English instead of Pilipino. Understandably, she didn't use Pilipino because she was not proficient in the language. To her, teaching is essentially communication and therefore she had to use the language in which she was proficient. She had proficieny in the Englsh language and, according to her, she felt at home in class using it as her medium of instruction. One time, she came to me and told me about her language problem, knowing that I had the same problem in one of my classes She said to me, "If I had to use Pilipino as the medium of instruction in my classes, I might be only betraying my ignorance instead of my erudition."

My contacts with Dra. Cortes continued even after her retirement from the U.P. We saw each other in meetings, conferences, and seminar-worshops sponsored by the Philippine Historical Association. We were then active members of the Association and, at one time or another, served in various capacities. She was president for two terms and editor of the Historical Bullletin, the official journal of the PHA for quite sometime. We gave lectures in conferences and seminar-workshops in various parts of the country. She started to be less active in the PHA only when became sickly.

Since I came to know Dra, Cortes, I've always called her Manang Rose as a sign of respect, and admiration.