The Battle of Katipunan: A finals series 40 years in the making

Dissecting the UAAP Season 81 finals (6:27)

Joe Silva and Xavy Nunag dissect the upcoming UAAP Men's Basketball Tournament Finals between the UP Fighting Maroons and Ateneo Blue Eagles. (6:27)

Editor's note: Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely the author's.

In the early 90s, when I was at the tail end of my extended stay in UP Diliman, a group of UP students decided to come out with a monthly campus paper for the Katipunan area schools. Its name was KAMPUS.

It was the brainchild of Roby Alampay, founder of Interaksyon and now the editor-in-chief of BusinessWorld and anchor of Bloomberg TV Philippines. The goal of KAMPUS was to provide a feature-rich magazine-type paper for the students of UP, Ateneo and Miriam that was free of the usual biases and rebellious tones that sometimes came with traditional campus student publications.

The back page of KAMPUS was devoted to a He Said, She Said column that tackled various issues of interest to students from the male and female perspective. But that format came along a little later. For the very first KAMPUS issue, the back page had a rather interesting topic discussed by two different people.

"What UP students think of Ateneans" and "What Ateneans think of UP students".

It was a rather amusing piece. For decades UP students and Ateneans had sort of circled each other and acted like "frenemies", not quite hated rivals but not best of friends, either. To a certain extent, there was a mutual respect. Whereas Ateneo-La Salle was pretty clear-cut (they hate each other, period), UP-Ateneo was more of "I know who you are, I respect you, but we're not close."

One factor that made this relationship ambiguous was the presence of hybrids: many Ateneo high school students went on to UP for college, and some Ateneo college graduates went on to UP for law school. Many had (and still have) divided loyalties, which are presently reflected on their Facebook profile pictures: a frame that shows both Fighting Maroons and Blue Eagles.

It was one subject that was touched upon by the Atenean who penned the "What Ateneans think of UP students" segment. I can't remember his name anymore, but he wrote something along the lines of "We wonder what happened to our high school friends who now sport long hair and have become angry at the establishment" or words to that effect.

That was generally the tone of his column: Ateneans, at least in his mind, thought UP students were too rebellious and used every excuse to stage a rally. His UP counterpart (I remember who he was, but I prefer not to identify him), wrote that UP students (at least in HIS mind) thought Ateneans were too fanatical about their school spirit, and even poked fun at the Blue Babble Battalion.

It was all in good fun, of course. Whether these opinions truly reflect how each side feels about the other is open to debate. I'd like to believe that there is no genuine animosity, but more of a friendly and competitive rivalry.

That rivalry had long been limited to academic achievements, and it is only now that both schools are battling for the ultimate prize in the athletic arena: the UAAP men's basketball championship. It is hard to believe that in the 40 years since Ateneo bolted the NCAA and joined the UAAP, this year marks the first time that the Blue Eagles and Fighting Maroons will face each other in a championship series.

It should have happened at least once in the mid- to late-80s when both sides had championship-caliber teams. UP last won it all in 1986; Ateneo wasn't quite ready yet that year but would go on to win the next two. During the Blue Eagles' dominant run in 1987 and 1988, they went an astounding 27-3. Two of those losses were dealt by UP. But the Maroons failed to defend their title in '87, finishing third at 9-5 after national team members Ronnie Magsanoc, Benjie Paras and Joey Guanio, along with head coach Mon Bernabe, missed two crucial games in the second round due to the Asian Basketball Confederation (forerunner of the FIBA Asia) tournament. The Maroons dropped both games, including a 32-point shellacking at the hands of the Blue Eagles.

UP still had a competitive lineup the following season despite the graduation of Magsanoc, but a new kid on the block emerged that season as a legitimate title contender: the De La Salle Green Archers, who finished second in the elimination round to set up a title series with their hated rivals. The Maroons, who fell to DLSU twice in the elimination round, once again limped home in third place with a 10-4 record, just a game behind the Green Archers, and with them went the last best chance of an all-Katipunan championship series for the years to come.

The consolation prize for the Maroons that season was an 83-69 win over the Blue Eagles in the second round that was marred by a wild free-for-all in the last two minutes. Both benches emptied and almost everyone threw a punch. We're talking Royal Rumble level aggression here. If this had happened today, when even appearing to hit someone with a closed fist could get you punished, everyone would have been suspended. But incredibly, no one was even thrown out, and to prevent tensions from escalating, the Blue Eagles forfeited the game and players from both sides shook hands as if nothing had happened.

In a way, that incident pretty much summed up the UP-Ateneo relationship. We can get heated and combative, but when all is said and done, we don't really hate each other that much to hold a grudge.

But the relationship/rivalry is now entering uncharted territory. As I write this, tickets for Game 2 on Wednesday are already almost sold out online. The Fighting Maroons and their supporters are on an emotional high and believe that destiny is on their side, while the Blue Eagles and their fans are so used to UAAP basketball success that anything less than another championship this season would be deemed a failure. Friendships across school lines will surely be tested like never before. It should, at the very least, be a fun, and hopefully clean, series.

But whatever happens, one thing is for sure: finally we will get the Battle of Katipunan that everyone deserves.