(Starting this issue, in anticipation of its 75th founding anniversary on Jan. 16, 2003, the Varsitarian will run a series of articles on the key events that have shaped the country’s leading student publication.)

CAMPUS writing started at the height of the American colonization. After the arrival of the Thomasites in 1901, the establishment of the public school system and the introduction of English as medium of instruction, young Filipinos started expressing themselves in the language of the new colonizer. Although Spanish was still very much around, English found a new home in the hearts of Filipinos.

UST was no exception. After nearly three centuries of Spanish tutelage, a tumultuous struggle for nationhood (in which many of her alumni were leaders), and the coming of a new colonization, UST students found themselves in need of “something to write on,” as Varsitarian founder Jose Villa Panganiban put it. This brings us back to the late ’20s, when the campus was very much alive. The activities stirred the creativity of the writers.

Before the Varsitarian, there was the long-running Unitas, which was really an academic journal. There was also Boletin de Eclesiastico, which, according to Dr. Apolonio de Jesus, perhaps the oldest living Varsitarian alumnus and a member of the 1928 staff, “was not widely read.”

There were also short-lived student papers, like the Revisita Escolar de Derecho of the Faculty of Civil Law and the Alma Mater of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery. All of them fell prey to student writers’ “ningas cogon,” as the Rector Fr. Serafio Tamayo, O.P., then put it.

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Piano concert pays musical tribute to UST Main Building's 75 years

The University of the Philippines already had Philippine Collegian since 1922. Like the Varsitarian, the Collegian was part of an evolution of earlier UP collegiate papers.

Conception

In September 1927, in a University restaurant where he worked as a hot cake cook, the then Journalism student Panganiban (who later became head of the National Language Institute), led several students in drafting a petition for the establishment of an official student publication.

Addressed to Fr. Tamayo, the letter collected 400 signatures in two weeks, largely through the help of Bessie Bowers, a popular co-ed.

The petition was however disapproved by Fr. Tamayo, who cited the cases of Revisita and Alma Mater.

The students did not give up easily. Panganiban and Bowers, together with Pablo Anido, then a Medicine student and president of the UST Literary Society, persisted.

“There are 2,000 students in Santo Tomas,” Panganiban said. “Let us admit that 1,000 of these are slackers, but we still have 1,000 students to help us in the undertaking. At a 50-centavo subscription from each of the latter, we can publish a college paper that will live until March 1928 at least. Besides, there is the income from advertisements and this will help a great deal.”

Panganiban’s suppositions were convincing, as recounted by Prof. John Jefferson Siler of the University’s English Department and one of the moderators of the UST Literary Club. The petition led to a series of conferences with the Rector. Tamayo finally gave his approval on January 1928.

The then College of Liberal Arts (now Faculty of Arts and Letters) Dean Fr. Juan Labrador O.P., and Professor Siler, were appointed moderators of the paper.

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Deus ex machina

It was Anido who came up with the name for the paper, “Varsitarian,” which means University. He subsequently became the first editor in chief of the paper. Panganiban was associate editor, business manager, and editor of the Alumni and Humor sections. De Jesus and Bowers became assistant business managers.

Sources:

Valik-Varsi Grand Alumni Homecoming 1998 program

Felicisimo A. Tejuco, Jr., Living Legacy, The Varsitarian, May 26, 2000

Mary Joy B. Marquicias, The Varsitarian Revisited: The First Ten Years of the ‘V’ (Unpublished undergraduate thesis)

Varsitarian History, unpublished manuscript in the Varsitarian, c. 1970s.

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