In a message to the first issue of the Varsitarian on January 16, 1928, the UST Rector Magnificus, Fr. Serapio Tamayo, O.P., expressed his “firm conviction” that the publication would “catalyze students” to become good writers.
Seventy-nine years later, the good Dominican seemed to have his belief confirmed. A year shy of its pearl anniversary, the Varsitarian, the official student organ of UST, has consolidated a solid reputation as the campus paper that has formed several generations of top Filipino journalists, writers, artists, and leaders.
Those whose names have graced the Varsitarian’s staff box include Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez, Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson, Archbishop Artemio Casas, Sen. Francisco Tatad, Governor Juan Frivaldo, Dr. Vicente Rosales, Ambassador Ricardo Endaya, Commission on Higher Education chair Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., Press Undersecretary Isabel de Leon, and Akbayan chair Ronald Llamas.
The country’s top writers, artists and media leaders have been editors and staffers of the Varsitarian: National Artists Bienvenido Lumbera, F. Sionil Jose, Daisy Avellana and J. Elizalde Navarro; Jullie Yap-Daza, Diego Cagahastian, Celso Carunungan, Doris Trinidad, Gloria Goloy, Neal Cruz, Tony Lopez, Antonio Siddayao, Teodoro Valencia, Jose Guevarra, Jess Sison, Jose Burgos Jr., Amado Macasaet, Mario Hernando, Rey Panaligan, Wilfrido Nolledo, Cirilo Bautista, Ophelia Dimalanta, Federico Licsi Espino, Jose Flores, Jose Villa Panganiban, Rogelio Sicat, Bella Abangan, Eric Gamalinda, J.C. Tuvera, Cristina Pantoja, Sister Delia Coronel, I.C.M., Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., Fr. Norberto Castillo, O.P., Fr. Gilbert Centina, O.S.A., Cenon Rivera, Teofilo Montifar, Danny Dalena, and countless others.
How the Varsitarian grew to become the country’s most respected campus paper is documented in the exhibit, The Varsitarian at 80: the Struggle and the Glory, which runs until Feb. 15 at the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences.
The exhibit charts the history of the Varsitarian from its foundation in 1928 up to the new century, a Herculean task.
“Coming up with a survey that will do justice to the rich history of the Varsitarian is like coming up with a synopsis of the Bible or of War and Peace,” said journalist, editor and Varsitarian publications adviser Lito Zulueta.
Pages of history
The Varsitarian at 80 consists of panels of yellowing pages of the paper showing the evolution of the Varsitarian masthead as well as detailing the highlights for the paper and the history of the Philippines across eight decades.
The progression of each panel roughly approximates the process of newspapering, from editorial brainstorming to the execution of the articles and the laying out of the pages.
Retaining the original layout, the first panel contains the front page of the very first issue of the Varsitarian.
Featured in the page are news articles for the second semester of the school year, including Fr. Tamayo’s congratulatory message to the publication.
During its debut, the paper’s emphasis was on literary works, some of which were written by Jose Villa Panganiban, the first associate editor. Most of the preliminary issues published sayings, anecdotes, letters to the editor, movie schedules, invitations, as well as “academic problems and their solutions.”
Although the first editor in chief of the paper was Pablo Anido, a Medicine student, Panganiban is considered the founder of the Varsitarian since a campus paper was his idea and he headed the lobby to convince the Dominican authorities to establish one. Panganiban later on became an accomplished linguist, a print and broadcast journalist, the director of the National Language Institute (now the Komisyon ng Wika), and the author of the classic work on the standardization of the national language, Tesauro Pilipino-Ingles.
The next panel charts the meteoric rise of the Varsitarian as UST’s official publication for its first 20 years. Summarized in bold texts were the publication’s firsts such as The Quill, the UST Literary yearbook under former editor in chief Ricardo Dulay and The Spectrum, a monthly literary supplement with Aurelio Alvero as the literary editor. By this time also, the Varsitarian started to gain acclamations for its impartial stand on national issues during the height of the Hare-Hawes Cutting Law. Staffers during the first two decades also included Paz Latorena, now acknowledged as a “literary matriarch” of generations of Filipinos writing in English and Sebastian Ugarte, who became publisher of the Philippine Herald. Old pictures of the first Varsitarian lampoon issue, the Pancitarian, and the Letran page, a collaboration between students of UST and Colegio de San Juan De Letran were also posted in line with the texts.
Highlights of various milestones in the past decades of the Varsitarian are set chronologically in the following panels. A single panel is dedicated to the World War II interruption of the publication of Varsitarian in the 1940s. The 1950s showed the radical changes in the paper’s format and content.
In the next panel, the 1960s held the Varsitarian as Asia’s biggest catholic weekly. Christening itself as ‘The Most Widely Circulated Catholic Weekly in Asia,’ the V tackled Church positions on controversial issues such as contraceptive use although it still had spats with stern Dominican authorities over censorship. During this era, female staffers began to take leadership roles. In March of 1962, Virginia Jean Marders Pope became editor in chief, the first female staffer to occupy the prestigious post.
The 1980s panel show the Varsitarian’s struggle against the publishing of anti-Marcos articles while the country was under Martial Law. The texts conveyed the danger to use the pen to air political sentiments, but the Varsitarian continued to rouse Thomasians to resist the repression of the regime, even with Martial Law lifted cosmetically in time for the first visit of Pope John Paul II to the Philippines in 1981.
The 1990s panel celebrates the various achievements of the newspaper in terms of content and coverage. In June 1991, the publication received an uplifting letter praising its return to the broadsheet format, with quality content and presentation of the newspaper. The Varsitarian was again praised in August 1991 due to its movement from local university news to national and even global scope.
The new millennium panel mainly presents UST’s pro-life advocacy and the Varsitarian’s technological advancements brought about by new age computers that the publication has utilized such as lay-outing programs, development in photography, and official website www. varsitarian.com.
Aside from the regular issues, text panels for past extra-editorial activities are also included in the exhibit. Known to many, the Varsitarian has also well established itself as an advocate of academics, literature, culture, and campus journalism. The publication’s extra-editorial affairs such as the longest running quiz bee Pautakan, the prestigious literary award-giving body Ustetika, the nationwide campus journalism fellowship Inkblots, and the coming Cinevita film festival.
According to Zulueta, the exhibit, other than coming up with a preliminary history of the Varsitarian, was organized “to celebrate the paper’s 79th anniversary while kicking off the celebration for the 80th anniversary of the Varsitarian next year.”
He added that the exhibit is the Varsitarian’s contribution “to the wider celebration of the University’s quadricentennial in 2011,” Zulueta said.
The exhibit is open to the public. Museum visitors may wish for a guided tour. They may call the Varsitarian (406-1611 loc. 8235) or the UST Museum (7811815).