Musician and broadcast personality Lourd de Veyra, a former Varsitarian Literary writer, recalls his experiences as a staff of the publication with his batchmates during the "Valik-Varsi" Grand Alumni Homecoming on Saturday, Jan. 14. (Photo by Jana Francesca D. Yao)

JOINING the Varsitarian without having to enter its rigorous multi-stage exams. Using the telephone without having to pay 75 cents. Lampooning a Pope that resulted in expulsion and vindication. 

These are some of the memories recounted by some “V” alumni of their time as a staffer on Saturday night at “Valik-Varsi,” the Varsitarian Grand Alumni Homecoming staged in celebration of its 95th anniversary.

“My happiest years in UST were with the Varsitarian,” said Antonio “Tony” Lopez, whose three-year stay at the publication as senior reporter, news editor, and managing editor became the foundation of his five-decade journalism career.

Lopez, now the publisher of business magazine BizNews Asia, spearheaded the Varsitarian Weekly, released when President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was reelected for a second term, and communist rebels were starting to gain ground.

But he could not clinch the top job in the student organ because, as his economics professor believed, “UST is afraid of your views.”

Rosalinda de Leon, who would later be editor in chief of the magazine Woman Today, was chosen to lead the Varsitarian in 1970, only to squander it with the release of the Vuisitarian on Oct. 14, 1970, a lampoon issue created to mock the visit of Pope Paul VI on Nov. 27, 1970.

Though the issue was satirical, UST administrators at the time were angered by two things: first, a photo caption saying the Pope underwent a brain transplant in the country, and second, a collage of officials under the banner, “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

As a result, 21 staffers were expelled. Part of that batch was a freshman from Batangas, Nestor Cuartero, whose roommate came up with the idea of making fun of the Pope.

Just three months after entering the “V” – accepted without the one-year residency requirement – Cuartero, now a veteran entertainment journalist for Manila Bulletin, and other staff members were instructed to find subjects to be satirized.

“Nakatira ako sa boarding house. Isip ako nang isip, ‘Ano bang magandang i-storya sa lampoon issue?’ Sabi ng boardmate ko, si Willie, ‘Darating ‘yung Pope, si Pope Paul VI. Why don’t you do a story on Pope Paul VI?” he said. “Eh noon, kaka-opera lang ni Christiaan Barnard ng heart transplant.”

The Vuisitarian was a harrowing experience for first-year Cuartero, but he was one of the six staffers who were allowed to return to UST after apologizing to the University administrators.

For all the troubles it brought, the Vuisitarian became a popular staple of the “V,” publishing crazy stories with crazy section names like idiotorials, su-ports, and walaisipans. An idiotorial in 1987 proudly described it as “a breeding ground of the wildest writers of the country.”

Cuartero’s return to the “V” put him in the editorship of Circle, the paper’s lifestyle section, opening the doors to the world of soft news.

Fr. Nicanor Lalog II of the Diocese of Malolos, a former GMA News reporter, credited the Varsitarian for rediscovering his calling to the priesthood.

“Dahil sa Varsitarian, nakilala ko ang kapwa-tao. Nakilala ko ang Diyos. Nakabalik akong seminaryo,” the former Sports writer said.

Lalog was part of the 80s batch that covered the first visit of Pope John Paul II, the cosmetic lifting of Martial Law, and the waning days of Marcos dictatorship, encapsulated by the 1986 rigged snap elections and the People Power Revolution.

The “V” had become an active voice in the country’s struggle to restore democracy, covering the wake of slain senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., becoming an election media monitor of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and joining the civil disobedience campaign that led to the four-day mass revolt.

Part of the first Marcos Sr. cabinet was Francisco “Kit” Tatad, chosen to be the minister of public information for his work as a newspaperman, replacing Joe Aspiras, a Thomasian who would run at the time for a congressional seat in La Union.

Tatad, who later on was elected for three terms in the Senate, did not undergo the qualifying exams to run the Varsitarian’s Literary section in 1960 because of a piece he wrote in the class of Dean Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta – the “Lady Polyester” known for her unparalleled work in poetry and a former Varsitarian Literary editor – that was published in the Hong Kong-based Asia Magazine.

Another editor when the “V” was still a literary magazine was Crispin Maslog, who oversaw the News section alongside Tito Alquizola. Under the helm of Hermenegildo Azarcon, they would edit the monthly issue of the “V” in Tondo every morning because the offices in the University were still closed.

Maslog went on to become an esteemed communications scholar who was awarded the Outstanding Thomasian Alumni (Total) Award for Media and Entertainment this year.

Tatad and Maslog testified in Saturday’s “Valik-Varsi,” in front of more than 250 Varsitarian alumni since the 1950s, who have managed to forge strong friendships amid the taxing responsibility of operating the student publication of the University.

“The Varsitarian po is family,” Jose Wendell Capili, assistant vice president for public affairs at the University of the Philippines, said.

Nowhere was that element more present than in the 90s batch, who worked at the cramped offices of the Varsitarian at the Main Building with only two computers – exclusively for the student clerk and editor in chief – and a telephone supervised by the clerk.

“Hindi na malalaman ng mga sumunod na henerasyon ang ibang level ng bonding [and] valuable lessons on camaraderie, teamwork, improvisation and the wonderful evils of bullying,” musician and broadcast personality Lourd de Veyra, a former Literary staffer, said.

De Veyra was joined onstage by his fellow “batang 90s” (90s kids), including three-time Palanca winner Ramil Gulle (former associate editor), political journalist Christian Esguerra (former editor in chief), and UST Research Center for Social Sciences and Education Director Asst. Prof. Jeremaiah Opiniano (former Sports editor).

Raising their hands in a V sign, they concluded their 18-minute talk with the paper’s alumni catchphrase: “Minsang V, Mananatiling V.”


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