[On the retirement of Prof. Rolando A. Danao.]


According to his closest friend in School, Ernie Pernia, the monicker “manager” by which we know Rolly Danao has a provenance as early as his days in Berkeley,  where Rolly obtained his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1975. Ernie Pernia recollects:

The one who started that was a Pinoy student, Cornelio “Corny” Bondad, a graduate of Ateneo taking MS in Industrial Engineering at UC Berkeley. A rather friendly and chatty fellow, who joked a lot. The moniker seemed most appropriate for Rolly, the most senior among the Pinoy students, who appeared calm and “managerial” in parties and other gatherings.

I am not acquainted with Mr. Bondad, but we here at the School of Economics certainly owe him a debt of gratitude for his perceptiveness and sharp characterisation. For we, his long-time colleagues, have merely taken over that affectionate appelation because it seemed most apt and captured Rolly Danao’s demeanor and conduct in many ways.

As his former student and present colleague, I bear witness to Rolly Danao’s qualities: his being unflappable and in command. He is always neatly dressed for office—you would never see him in sloppy slacks or sandals—his shirt neatly pressed and tucked in, his leather shoes polished; his belt unfailingly inserted in each sinturera; he walks the corridors with a slow, deliberate gait, and—regardless of how breathlessly and excitedly you approach him – he will always bring you down to earth with his measured well-thought out words. I visited his office once while he was director for finance, and I was surprised to find that his desk was completely clear: not a sheet of paper nor a pen nor book occluded his work area. This illustrated to me two things: first, that he was terribly efficient, enough to never let pending matters lie idly for very long; and second, for that same reason he could focus his full energies to new matters demanding his attention.

But this air of composure, control, and calm authority—i.e., his managerial qualities—extends beyond Rolly’s work habits, personal tidiness, and sense of fashion. Here I am alluding to his real role at the School of Economics. For many years now, Rolly has performed the valuable function of being the resident logic-checker at the School. Raul Fabella has always talked about the value of “mental hygiene” in the School; well, I assert that Rolly Danao may well be the School’s in-house “mental hygienist”.

Colleagues and graduate students deeply value Rolly Danao’s reliable opinions regarding their specific problems, ranging from one faculty member’s complaints about the set-theoretic concepts taught in her son’s grade school mathematics class; to the specification of the econometric model in their dissertation; up to the philosophical problems underlying the use of induction proofs in constructivist mathematics. On each of these occasions, Rolly Danao’s valued opinions are sought and on each occasion his speaks authoritatively—ex cathedra. This is the reason that numerous dissertation committees—including mine—have found Rolly to be indispensable. His presence and stamp of approval in such committees have the reassuring effect that these social scientists, in their rush towards documenting “significant results” in theory or empirics, are not violating first-order rules of logic and mathematical reasoning. Rolly Danao’s first comments on dissertation drafts—which do not fail to discombobulate graduate students—often take the following form: “What you mean by x? Is the x on page so and so supposed to signify the same as x on page so and so?” Such points appear maddeningly trivial to the uninitiated, but they fail to realise Rolly is reiterating the very important point—which comes from Richard Feynman—that “Mathematics is a language” (plus reasoning). To the extent therefore that economists persist in using the language of mathematics, they ought to observe its rules. In this sense, Rolly Danao fulfills the indispensable role of the School’s mathematical grammarian and rhetorician.

There are a few mathematicians and theoretical physicists who look down their noses on the applied and even more so on the social sciences, in complete ignorance of the extreme complexity and historicity of social phenomena. In this connection I would just like to note that Rolly has not discharged his role as mental hygienist with any haughtiness and inflexibility. Instead Rolly Danao has shown himself willing and able not only to judge from above but to immerse himself with the subject matter and methods of economics and social science.

  • Proof of this is involvement in the actual dirty job of economics research, whether this be estimating a macroeconometric model, estimating the demand for energy, or detecting collusion in the wholesale electricity spot market. No pure mathematician would be brave enough—or indeed qualified enough—to do this.
  • Proof of this is also the patience and tolerance that Rolly Danao shows to colleagues and graduate students who seek his advice; he gives you his full attention, patiently works out problems with you, and tries very hard to see things from your viewpoint.
  • It is also seen in the conscientiousness with which he teaches, the painstaking effort he takes to be clear and concise in his lectures, and the student-friendliness of his textbooks and notes, from which several generations of graduate and undergraduates have benefited.

Which only goes to show Rolly is actually one of us. If it is true that mathematics dwells in heaven and economics on earth, then Rolly Danao is an angel descended and come down to the ground of economics, not because he was cast out, but rather—like the Greek Prometheus or a bodhisattva—because he chose to remain with us out of compassion.

Rolly, this School is  your family.