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August 12, 2007
By Eric J. Dedace

“ Declamation? Ano baga yun? “ These were the questions that I asked my cousin Angelito Dedace ( QPHS ’76 ), when he animatedly described to me how things were supposed to be in the Reading, Grammar and Composition class of English I teacher Miss Normita Atienza. It was a few days before classes started in June of 1973, and I, the apprehensive freshman-to-be, listened wide-eyed in awe and wonder. “ Ih, siyanga? A-ah! “ That was all I can say to his all-knowing tales of “ Oh Captain, My Captain “ and Edgar Allan Poe’s “ Annabel Lee “, which he hurdled with flying colors …..having been declared as the “ Best in Declamation “ at the King’s Language Triangle or KLT “Kawayan Awards” the year before. To the ultra shy me, the thought of uttering, interpreting and delivering …” It was many and many a year ago, In this kingdom by the sea “… in front of strangers my age, was simply, unnerving!

The first day of classes came and I found myself an advisory student of none other than Miss Atienza herself, at Room 24 in the Annex Building. Shaggy-haired as was the vogue that time, she was wearing her signature jumper style dress and her impeccable English was, to me, something for the books! Warm, engaging and encouraging, she told us I-NA freshies to introduce ourselves. That was how I first learned of the names…Diza Zabalerio, Marbello Ebron, Catalina Paredes, Romulo Mojica, Maritess Caja, Nelita Macaraig, Darlene Palada, Arnold Parale, and the like. The next day however came as a surprise, because Arnold Parale and I got transferred to I-AC, at Room 23, so a new set of classmates for us like… Ruth Trinidad, Girlie Cabral, Fernandos Holgado and Lacson, Floressa Tenorio, Crispino Aranilla, Ofelias Lascano and Zurbano, Susana Jara, Zenaida Racelis, Jocelyn Rioflorido, Hernando Hernandez, Marilyn Masiglat, Danao Vega, etcetera.

Sometime after that, Miss Atienza introduced a senior student in class, Josephine Lachica of IV-JRV, who was to demonstrate for us how to do a declamation. Her piece was made up of a series of character studies and she breezed through the emotional tapestry with the ease of a gifted actress. It was a patchwork quilt of mini acts, held together by a quick freeze, followed by that audible snap of her fingers after each characterization….to which she said “ See? That’s easy! “ Indeed, she made it look so natural and easy, and she bowed to acknowledge the spontaneous applause of the admiring audience. And now for the dreaded part, each of us will have to select our piece and deliver it in class within the week…..and I said to myself….” That’s not so easy! “

On the way home that afternoon, I asked cousin Angelito for a declamation piece that I could deliver with ease and he suggested the likes of Annabel Lee, Oh Captain My Captain, and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Charge Of The Light Brigade .”Of course, everything’s so easy for you”, I thought. With “See? That’s easy!” in mind, I pored over every English book at home until I saw this old Philippine Reader’s Book Five (or was it Six). Inside was a short poem entitled “ Abou Ben Adhem” by whoever, and that was that!

Declamation time came and the whole class geared for the graded activity, some like me with obvious unease. Exhorting performance level in everyone, Miss Atienza gave the floor to I-AC, and Julieta Ayapana started the ball rolling with her rendition of Annabel Lee. Then, one by one, each took center stage…..some doing the routine just to comply... forgetting lines, getting zombie-like, or simply wallowing in personal embarrassment. Others were just too OA for comfort, with too many uncalled for hand gestures, exaggerated body movements and facial expressions discordant with what they’re declaiming about. Still, others shone with exceptional talent…..delivering the right lines, exclaiming proper enunciation with the appropriate tone of voice, for an effective and absorbing performance…..Ofelia Lascano and Ramon Beloso are in this category. With Abou Ben Adhem, I just stood there and nervously did what I practiced in front of our mirror at home, when I’m all alone of course! I did it flatly, just to at least comply, but for some reason, I may have looked comical and ridiculous then because my classmates laughed at times! Since then, and even years after that, they would always recall Dedace’s “Abu Dhabe” performance…..they could not pronounce “Abou Ben Adhem” correctly, and “Abu Dhabe” stuck, most especially because of Abu Dhabi,the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Whatever, Miss Atienza, ever the supportive teacher that she is, commended those who did well, and to us who did otherwise, she only had the following advice…..”Get out of your shell!” And just to recapture the feel of being in her class, try your hand at declaiming the following very nostalgic piece :

“ I have eaten! I have eaten too much! I have eaten because others did ! Because , I was in the world, and the world could not have understood, And each mouthful, each swallow was hard to get down! I have eaten much Lord!

But at that moment, in Azcarraga and Tutuban,
Beggars in rags, begged for ten cents or a bowl of rice!
While in her barong-barong,
An old woman ate what she had salvaged from the garbage can!
While bone thin boys,
Fought for bits of Lumpia and Pancit left over from a restaurant plate!
While ten, a hundred, a thousand unfortunates throughout the world, at this very moment,
Twisted in pain and died of hunger, before their despairing families!

Lord, I have eaten! Lord, I have sinned! I have gotten out of bed to pray!

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