Friend. Activist. Scholar. Model.
Kristina Conti Hello, Seatmate. I would rather remember you from the start. Freshman year, 2003. Two chairs near the rear entrance of a classroom were waiting for soon-to-be two habitually late Math 11 students on a warm Monday morning. On the first day of lecture, I sat on the first available seat and was still in my pantulog shirt and shorts for lack of time to take a shower before heading to school (lapit lang ng bahay sa Math building). Ten minutes later, tall and lanky sits down beside me and searches her bag in the jumble of notebooks, lip balm, and a box of Marlboros. She prepared a 3 by 5 index to be used as the professor’s class card. Tall and lanky Seatmate had a name: Dara. It all started with the word “Hello”. It was your introduction, as you had to ask about the professor’s ground rules on the grading system and tardiness. As we started conversing, only one question was running through my mind: “Hindi ka ba nadudugyutan sa akin?” We were both metal-mouthed prisoners of braces back then, both having a hard time enunciating our thoughts. You didn’t talk too much, but whenever you did, either you’d ask a question about math, or say something profound about an idea which I have absolutely no clue about. I think you were in your junior year at that time, and I was a freshman, with absolutely no idea of dialectical materialism or whatever philosophical concept that befuddled a freshie like me. From that day on, we became Seatmates. Sa simula pa lang, I knew there was something different about you. You were definitely an old soul. Kindhearted, always listening, compassionate, mapagkumbaba. At times, makikita ko ang makulit na side mo. Whenever sabay tayong late sa corridor paakyat ng third floor ng Math building, minsan ay nakipagkarera ka pa sa akin paakyat. At times I would see your tender-heartedness, sharing your snacks sa admin staff at sa mga tambay sa labas. The next few weeks pretty much showed your distaste for mathematics, asking me about binomial expansions, determinants, and progressions. What started as a ping-pong of algebraic Q and A would turn out to be a more than eighteen-year propinquity. Eventually, you would drop out of Math 11, no more seatmate. Now I had to compete with the other punctual classmates (pero okay naman na katabi si Toff Lamug, who was also a Sociology freshman). But it was all good. You were running for student council at that time, and it was a decision you had to make, to save your laude standing. It was okay. From the classroom, you became my Seatmate into the world. I remember the first time we went out to eat. I brought you to Mang Jimmy’s to try out the unli-rice and tapa special. You asked, “Bakit ka nakasuot ng tsinelas when you’re wearing a polo and maong?” followed by your favorite made-up word “Ainaco” (hay naku), followed by a smile and a silent laugh. Kwentuhan to the max from inside the car to the al fresco dining hanggang sa paghatid pauwi. You’d eventually invite me to your many escapades, from my first taste of MKLRP by Paolo Alfonso at Vinzons Hall, sa pagbenta mo ng UP fair tickets (sorry was working on an assignment at that time), to a late screening of Norman Bethune at the Film Center, to attending a State of the Nation Address rally, to hatid-sundo at Camp Aguinaldo, among others (alam mo na yun). I also remember the go-see you invited me, which I bombed by the way, because I have no modelling bones in my body at all. Graduation. Years passed, and we remained “Seatmates”. You pursued your MA and PhD dreams in London, in preparation for a career in teaching, while I took my first steps in government service. It didn’t stop you from your annual birthday and Christmas greetings (spanning from Yahoo Messenger, Friendster, Myspace, Skype to Facebook), how you got a Londoner’s accent and somewhat nahirapan ka na mag-Tagalog (hahaha nonchalant biruan lang naman tayo nun), how you’d joke about me becoming Trapo when I started working in Congress, and our kwentuhans about life in the academe, how you wanted to finally be tenured at Birkbeck, and your battle with sleepless nights typing up your dissertation. You said you’d finish the last chapter plus the introduction and conclusion of your thesis in Manila, and you did last September. And you were even contemplating on returning to Manila or at least Asia para magturo, before teaching at University of Lincoln. Whenever bumabalik ka Manila para magyaya ng kainan, laging Pinoy food hanap mo, Crisostomo, JT’s Manukan, etc. You would have been a great teacher here in the Philippines. Our last conversation was about your dog Comrade, and how you always share your walks kasama siya at Hyde Park and other places. It was a normal Instagram Stories kind of day. There was no indication whatsoever of your sudden passing. One thing I have always admired about you Dara is that you always took the time to bring people together. Your genuineness was in the times you were helping your friend out who works at an insurance firm, or at the lunch-outs with your brother, or at the visit with Louay, and your family gatherings, or in organizing for the cause. Ikaw palagi ang may initiative to reach out, no matter what the circumstances are. Your passion was never extinguished by the travails of abroad, never forgetting your beloved Philippines, sa pag-abante ng karapatan ng kababaihan, and that the peace process would have a chance. While the thought of you leaving so early initially made me sad, I choose to be happy and I would rather believe that we did not lose you. I did not lose you seatmate. No one lost you. You brought us all together. We all gained an angel. I still look forward that someday, you’d save a seat for me in one of heaven’s classrooms, just to drop by and say “hello”. I will forever reserve an empty seat for you Dara. Until then, let’s save our kwentuhans and smiles for later. Rest in Power, Seatmate Dara. Robby Solis
Kristina Conti Dara was a kind and sweet person who always sought and enlightened her friends in many ways. An intelligent and beautiful woman, she committed herself to many progressive causes, most recently the welfare of Filipinos in the diaspora and how their plight is ultimately connected to fundamentally changing the social conditions at home. Dara had been insistent on seeing me here and abroad, meeting me on two occasions when I went to London many years ago, engaging me in her graduate studies every now and then, and sharing the most profound experiences of her life. Paalam, Dara Bascara. We will miss your kalaliman (philosophical musings) and kababawan at kabaliwan. Marami kaming naulila ng kabutihan mo. JPaul Manzanilla
Kristina Conti Dara died on March 11, 2021. None of our past encounters made me think that she would go ahead of me. First of all, she was my student. At some point, she also became a reliable research assistant who, I recall, refused to get paid and demanded free semi-fine dining meals instead. She was deeply sensitive and determined to learn. She struggled with ideas in a way that was serious, non-careerist and even ridiculously focused at times. She knew how and when to have fun and respected people's odd ways; found and pointed out charm in quaintness. It took so much courage for me to look into our exchanges up on Messenger. The one I am sharing here is one of the latest in the past year. It is reflective of the hierarchy of her passions, or at least the way she expressed them to me. In the image you will find a sent attachment of a call to support the defense of human rights in the Philippines. She was an organizer for the transnational Philippine national democratic movement and supported, even led, the ways in which the goals of the same are propagated in places where there are struggling Filipinos such as in the UK, her country of residence for many years. In the same image, she abreasts me on her academic work at the time in a tone that brims with pride, joy and gratefulness. She was a self-fashioning human being who did not only embrace a revolutionary vision for this world but carried out tasks toward the fulfillment of this vision. I used to tease Dara a lot and in jest addressed her as "dear showgirl." She owned up to this and cultivated a pretty much ironic approach to her career in modelling. But for all her embrace of vanity, Dara, I realize now was not into complimenting or even commenting on appearances. To me, she was that person who made me feel good about who I am and what I do. She was a comrade who made many of us feel good about the struggle and what we collectively do to push it forward. Please keep Dara in your thoughts as we continue to work for a better world. Thank you. Warmly, Sarah Raymundo
Kristina Conti WE HONOR DARA BASCARA (1983-2021) We, alumni of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP or STAND-UP, extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and comrades of one of the alliance’s outstanding alumna, fellow iskolar ng bayan Rachelle Dyanne “Dara” Bascara. We know that until the end, she was serving migrant Filipinos in the United Kingdom and Europe, and was uniting with progressive organizations there. Hers is a life well-lived – she died very young, while she is still so full of promise. Dara studied BA Sociology at the University of the Philippines-Diliman in the early 2000s. While UP education was liberal and presented all ideas from the extreme right to the extreme left of the political spectrum, Dara gravitated to the latter. Like many of us, she found her eyes opened and her pulse quickened by the radical theories of Karl Marx and thinkers that followed his footsteps. At some point, she shifted to BA Philosophy, where she pursued her interest in Frankfurt School theory and analytical philosophy. In an essay introducing herself, she said, “It was after my first class in Philosophy that I realized what I wanted for my future. I want to teach Philosophy at my University back home.” She loved and idolized the Department of Sociology’s roster of radical professors as well as other progressive professors in the university. Friends recall that she loved her class on the sociology of gender, lessons on liberation theology, and field work in Quezon City jail. To this day, Dara’s social media accounts bear tongue-in-cheek rephrasing of the activist slogan “Arouse, Organize, Mobilize” to “Theorise, Mobilise, Moisturize.” While classroom discussions provided an opening to critical thinking, it was Dara’s participation in protests that truly radicalized her. She participated in the campaign against the passage of Senate Bill 2587, which aimed to change UP’s Constitution in the direction of further neoliberalization. The Philippine Senate ended its session without passing that bill, a victory for iskolars ng bayan and the UP Community, even as a similar bill will be approved many years after. Many STAND-UP alumni still remember their reaction upon seeing Dara, who was even by then already very beautiful, tall and statuesque, in the first rallies that she participated in. “Who is that model, that artista, joining us today?” And she didn’t just strut the streets for show, she stayed on for the discussions, engaging in discourse high and low, in and out of the classrooms. Dara joined Alay Sining, the progressive cultural mass organization, and became an active member of STAND-UP. There she attended educational discussions on nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented culture and on national democracy. We recall her joining cultural performances, not as the main performer, singer or dancer, but as one who was content to make the political speech before or after the performance and hold the microphone for the singer or the guitarist. We all know that Dara looked well-heeled and sosyal, but we should all know that she also freely hobnobbed with the hoi polloi -- the ordinary activists, iskolars ng bayan, UP vendors and jeepney drivers, and other sectors of society. Because of her involvement in activism and commitment to the alliance’s principles, Dara was chosen as a candidate for councilor in STAND-UP’s University Student Council slate for the 2004 elections. Dara wholeheartedly threw herself into the campaign -- speaking in classrooms, dormitories and canteens; pressing the flesh of students; staying up late for the daily assessments and planning. That was a tough campaign, but Dara was indefatigable and was always smiling. It was during this hectic campaign that Dara became close with many activists, the friendship of whom she cherished and kept throughout her life. Many still remember the impassioned speech that Dara delivered through a megaphone in the lobby of Vinzons Hall the night after the shocking and disappointing election results were announced. She said the alliance’s service to the students and the people won’t end that night, because of the election results. She vowed to continue to serve the UP students and community, and to carry on the fight for students’ and people’s rights. As STAND-UP alumni, as iskolars ng bayan, we are very proud that Dara continued her activism and service to the Filipino people even after graduation. Dara took everyone who stepped in London under her wings, showing her commitment to the alliance and proving herself to be a wise organizer by calling the organization STAND-UP London. We are very glad that she stood up for the causes she believed in -- from the rights of Overseas Filipino Workers to the rights of the radical idol of many of us, Prof. Jose Maria Sison. We recognize and celebrate her contributions to the Filipino people’s campaign for a justa and lasting peace, and the struggle for freedom and democracy. Dara went to so many places, being a lifelong student, adventurer, and risk-taker. But she always found her way into the people’s movement, with her STAND-UP badge and clout. She will be missed everywhere. Now she lives on in our hearts.