“V” is for Varsi. Varsitarian staffers from the 1980’s reunite during the Valik- Varsi  at 80 homecoming celebration last January 19 at Sofitel.

IN THE face of the political turmoils of the mid-1980’s, amid pounding the beat, writing reportage, editing copies, and doing late-night press work, the Varsitarian staff of that decade formed a durable bond that even their own classmates and best friends got jealous of. They became a tight knit of writers, editors, artists, and photographers who would stick together through thick and thin while making their respective mark on the world.

Because of their political awakening that came with the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, their Varsitarian stint became a journalistic adventure and strengthened the bonds of friendship.

As anti-Marcos rallies became an everyday occurrence, 1985 editor in chief Don Dalupang assigned writers to cover the events. When Marcos called for the snap presidential election, the Varsitarian reporters would cover the campaign sorties, even walk all the way from España to Luneta just to cover a rally. Their press cards eventually became their front-row tickets to history.

“It was a big deal for me, since my dad would not let any of us in the family get involved in stuff like this,” said Karen Galarpe, Research and Special Reports writer.

Amid the political turbulence, the Varsitarian set up what would become the country’s premiere and longest running campus literary awards, the Ustetika, the brainchild of the then associate editor, Victor Emmanuel Carmelo Nadera Jr., who would later on become Varsitarian editor in chief and assistant publications adviser.

After the judges’ deliberation on February 22, 1986, Nadera and the staffers had planned to party, but they were told to go home by the assistant publications adviser, Jesselyn Garcia-Dela Cruz, because of reports of a civil disturbance and of military tanks on the streets.

“Jess told us not to drink and stay out late, because Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile already withdrew their support from the Marcos administration,” said Fr. Nicanor Lalog, who was a Sports writer.

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It turned out to be the first night of the Edsa revolution that would topple Ferdinand Marcos three days later.

The 1985-1986 batch saw the end of the Marcos era.

“I think our batch was very lucky to have been the ones working for the Varsitarian during the 1980’s,” said Nadera, who is now director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Creative Writing.

Not that the Varsitarian staff had no political differences, said Poyong Marbella, the creator of Tomas U. Santos, and Carmie Dulguime, Special Reports writer from 1984 to 1985.

“Political differences aside, the V stuck like glue. It is our singular passion for writing that holds us together until today,” Dulguime said.

The staffers also built their fellowship by attending workshops to hone their writing skills.

During a writing seminar in Baguio in 1985, Dulgieme and the other staffers got caught in a thunderstorm.

“I remember Nadera huddled with me and Mary Jane Llanes under a ridiculously tiny roof, in an attempt to keep us dry,” she said.

But the fellowship was mainly built and strengthened by newspaper work.

Lalog fondly recalled how he spent his Varsitarian allowance.

“I would buy a tuna sandwich for 2.50, a soda for 1.25, and five cigarettes at 25 cents each which I’m sure one or two will be begged off from me,” he said.

The Varsitrian’s out-of-town trips and respites from regular work also helped build lasting friendships.

In one outing, Marbella and the boys raided the refrigerator and found fat crabs which they quickly cooked and ate. The crabs turned out to have been bought by Jesselyn Garcia de la Cruz as "pasalubong" to her family.

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“Of course, Jess got so mad at them,” Galarpe said.

The Varsitarian then held office at the famous Room 112 of the UST Main Bldg. It was home to several batches and at least two generations of the Varsitarian.

“This was the place where personal problems were opened up (to us). Some love teams were also developed in the darkroom,” said Sean Pleta, V photographer from 1982 to 1984.

True enough, the V love teams lasted. Paul Pena and Nini Vargas, Dan Morallo and Nancy Almajose tied the knot. Nadera married his college sweetheart, Dr. Dinah Pacquing: they had been students of the College of Science, also in the Main Bldg. where the Varsitarian held office.

There were internecine fights and battles over editorial policies and directions, and even very personal disagreements. But the Varsitarian staffers stuck together.

“I remember more the cohesiveness and solidarity within the staff across V batches more than the so-called divisions within,” said 1988 editor in chief Robin Sarlabus.

Keeping in touch

Even after their V days, the 1980’s staffers have made it a point to have a small reunion every now and then. The Internet era has also aided them to consolidate their friendship as they have formed an e-mail group that has seen ceaseless exchange of correspondence.

“I think the main reason why the ’80s guys have kept in touch is technology,” 1987 associate editor Jun Canecer said.

Outside the cyber meetings, there are the yearly get-togethers at Galarpe’s home in Quezon City where they would meet, eat, relive the old times, and update each other with their “post-V” experiences.

But the batch affirms that Valik-Varsi, the general Varsitarian alumni homecoming every five years, remains to be the queen of all their get-togethers.

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The most recent general reunion was held last Jan. 19 at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Varsitarian.

“Jun (Canecer) said he will wear his suit made in Milan. But since casual polo is okay, expect the barok and jologs Varsi-80s batch to come as they are,” Galarpe said before the reunion.

Many of the 1980’s staffers are working abroad and they have expressed envy at those who have stayed behind and who were able to attend the Sofitel party.

“I envy you, but I really cannot attend to the Valik-Varsi,” said Ferdinand Ferranco, writer from 1985-1987 who is now residing in Switzerland.

True enough, the reunion saw the homecoming of the quirky members of the 1980’s such as Nadera, Galarpe, Sarlabus, Reggie Reginaldo, Michael Coroza, Lito Zulueta, Bernardette Fortuno and several others.

“I had a good time catching up with each other’s stories, and recalling our days at the V. My congratulations to the hardworking staff for making this a successful event,” said Reginaldo, who gamely posed for pictures along the Varsitarian history exhibit panels at the hotel’s foyer.

Nadera, meanwhile, happily gave everyone, including the organizing staff, a big hug.

“Thank you for this wonderful event. You have been great,” he said.

When the formal ceremonies closed, many of the 1980’s batches stayed on to dance to retro tunes, take pictures of each other, and laugh at one another’s stories and reminiscences.

The sense of family remains.

“Beyond the scholarship, the bylines and the friendships forged, the V was more than a testing ground for future journalists, writers, poets,

storytellers, communicators. It is a dynamic family that has allowed me to grow and develop into a better being,” Reginaldo said. Ayn Rand I. Parel

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