History Professor Dante Ambrosio of the University of the Philippines dreams of becoming an astronomer but there is no such course in the Philippines that he settled for the study of Physics, the one nearest to it at the Ateneo. His grandmother’s tales of Tatlong Maria and Supot ni Hudas bedazzle him that his quest for the study of the Philippine stars led him to travel around the country, including Tawi-tawi, where he discovered the ancient Filipinos’ Moroporo and Balatik, constellations Pleaides and Orion, respectively, that guided the Filipino ancestors in their fishing, farming and other life’s daily activities.
He is like a dear brother to me. Fresh from my high school newspaper, we were together in a newspaper that catered to trade unionists. He was the editor, I was one of the five writers. While covering the labor beat, he protected me and kept his eye on suitors (an intrepid one will become my husband in the future) seeing to it that his staff is safe, and that I would not be lost amid political and personal battles.
“Live simply,” he admonished me. Tap water from the faucet replaced my favorite softdrink, dark denim pants in place of my skin-tight jeans and worn-out rubber shoes replaced my stilleto. We had to blend with our sources.
Many years later, he would become a teacher at UP after finishing his degree in History; I would become a journalist for the mainstream media. My constant visit to him in school always ended up in Katag, Casaa or any other nearby eatery as we discussed many things under the sun. Dante encouraged me to go back to school and finish college which I did. “It is for the future of your children,” he assured me.
We shared the same interest in history and he always talked about giving back to the people whatever knowledge was gained from field work and archival research. His latest published book “Balatik,” his dissertation, speaks about the relationship of the development of Philippine civilization with how the indigenous peoples read the ancient past in the heavens, stars and constellations.
This year’s month of June has been rainy but the night sky was full of twinkling stars when Dante died last 4 June after a lingering illness. His passing on has created a vacuum in the academic community, in the field of astronomy and in the hearts of trade union workers.
UP has named him Historyador ng Bayan. Plans are also afoot to name him Father of Ethnoastronomy, his newly coined word that pertains to the indigenous study of the stars.
Indeed, he lived a full and meaningful life. As I always tell Baby, his only sister, and nephews Ian and Jason, Dante is now with his stars. We will surely miss him; heaven has him now. But we will always see Dante when we gaze at the stars.
(Gloria Esguerra Melencio)
Photo: Ares Gutierrez
Copy Editor, Gulf News