SHORT days and long nights. The time when simbang gabi and puto bumbong fill the spirits of Filipinos. Bells and carols are heard everywhere, heralding the approach of Christmas. For Myrna Plata, it was the usual December, no sign of a sudden turn of events that would change her life forever.

December 19, 1969, 6 p.m. Walking along the Main Building lobby with her students, the 23-year-old professor of English immediately caught the attention of Nescito Hilario, a Graduate School bachelor, who was lovestruck with Myrna’s charm and grace.

“I was then teaching at the College of Science. I was going with my students to Quezon City to carol,” Myrna said.

Nescito’s admiration was obvious because Myrna noticed him gazing at her like a child lost in awe. Without hesitation, he introduced himself and asked for the young instructress’ name. Incidentally, he was with his girlfriend and a friend at that time, but this did not stop him.

The romantic first meeting was followed with warm episodes of their Christmas love story.

The following day, Nescito and Myrna met at the Graduate School entrance as they were both going to class.

“Nakita ko siya sa door and he was smiling at me. I smiled back. Naalala ko na siya iyong guy the previous night,” she said.

Like a dashing debonair, Nescito said the right lines and made the moves to woo his beloved. And with that short encounter, he immediately had an autographed picture of Myrna and her home address.

“Mayroon kaming binabasa na Varsitarian (that time). He used it in sketching the location of my residence,” she said.

The following day, Nescito was already at Myrna’s front yard looking for her.

“I asked my sister if it was a student, hindi naman daw mukhang estudyante,” the 1964 Varsitarian Features editor recounted.

Since then, Nescito would visit Myrna every day. They easily became close. They would go on dates at the carnival and would regularly meet at the Graduate School. By this time, there was only one threat to their companionship — Nescito’s girlfriend. Nescito had to hide every time he and Myrna encountered his girlfriend. Both girls did not know about the other’s involvement with Nescito. However, he was serious and determined to win Myrna’s heart.

After almost two months of courtship, they were betrothed on February 14, 1970 with witnesses.

“Mayroon kaming betrothal, iyong written agreement na parang lawyer ang gumawa,” Nescito shared with a smile.

“Gusto ko kasi may betrothal kasi very few Catholics take advantage of that. In fact, Mary and Joseph had it,” Myrna added.

Nescito admitted to Myrna his involvement with his girlfriend during their courtship period only after their betrothal.

“Noong mag-steady -na kami at saka niya kinuwento na naging girlfriend niya (iyong babae). Hindi na rin siya nakipag–break formally,” Myrna explained.

They got married on December 20, 1970 in Nescito’s hometown in Obando, Bulacan. Thus, the start of another beautiful love story.

Thomasian family

The Hilario family is among the few purely Thomasian families.

After their wedding, Myrna, a summa cum laude graduate of the old Faculty of Philosophy and Letters (now Arts and Letters) major in Literature-Journalism, continued teaching English at the Faculty of Engineering, while Nescito, a Commerce graduate, pursued a master’s degree in business administration at the Graduate School.

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Myrna entered UST in high school, while her husband started his Thomasian education in college. Even their siblings are Thomasians.

While participating in inter-school competitions when she was in grade school, Myrna came across Thomasians who were down to earth compared with students from other schools in Manila.

“They (Thomasians) encouraged me to study in UST. They were very down to earth, and that inspired me to study high school in UST,” she said.

Even her school teachers encouraged her to be a Thomasian.

It was their personal attachment to UST that made Nescito and Myrna enroll their three children at the University from preparatory school to college. Aside from the fact that they are alumni of UST, they saw the University as a ground for values-formation, which they consider crucial in their children’s lives. They wanted a school that would shield their children from negative influences.

“Importante kasi iyong values sa paglaki ng mga bata. At that time, uso na rin ang drugs,” she said.

Although their residence is far from UST, the couple managed to find ways to overcome the distance.

“We rented a service for them (the children) that would take them from our house in Obando to UST. I would wake them up with hot towels as early as four a.m.,” Myrna recalled.

The children would have to wait for their “service-mates” to finish their classes before they could go home.

While waiting, the children would stay inside the library reading books to kill time.

“Nabasa na nga nila lahat-lahat ng libro roon. The whole afternoon naroon sila doing their homeworks,” she adds.

In 1981, Nescito decided to pursue Law.

“I would be off from work by 4:30 in the afternoon, while she would be off by 9. Pagpunta ko ng UST (after work), wala naman akong ginagawa,” he said.

His wife suggested that he use his idle time productively by tsudying law, since it was also his dream to become a lawyer. He worked on the side to help Myrna provide for their family.

The Hilario kids

Their reverence to UST is such that the couple would even want to make the University a part of their family.

Myrna gave birth to daughter Jeanne Therese in 1971 at the Santo Tomas University Hospital. And as fond as normal first-time parents are, they gave most of their attention to their bundle of joy, without setting aside their responsibilities at work.

The love in the family grew even more as John Anthony entered their lives in 1974 and Joseph Benjamin in 1975. Family life became more tensed with the three children.

True to her teaching vocation, Myrna taught her children how to read and write. They were enrolled in UST by the time they were ready for school.

Being the eldest, Jeanne Therese would always be responsible in everything she did, setting an example to her two younger brothers. Nette, as she is fondly called, wanted to hone her artistic talents such as singing and ballet dancing as a child.

“My parents have always allowed me to grow in being independent,” Nette recalled. Myrna and Nescito would let their children decide on matters on their own and respect their preferences while still guiding them on the side.

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Nette’s interest in chemistry made her decide to take up Chemical Engineering.

“Engineering seemed to be a logical choice because I wanted to have a solid math foundation in my undergraduate course to prepare me for what I thought would be a career in astrophysics,” she said.

She graduated magna cum laude in 1993.

Even in choosing a career to pursue, Myrna and Nescito allowed their children to decide on what they liked best. They supported whatever choice their children took.

“My parents helped me weigh my options, but in the end, I was the one who decided which school and course I would take,” she said.

She wrote for The Thomasian Engineer, the official publication of the Faculty of Engineering. Writing had been a part of her. She wanted to follow her mother’s career as a Varsitarian staffer but her stint with the Engineering Pautakan team did not allow her to.

Aside from exhibiting a flair for writing, Nette also proved her mettle in beauty pageants. She won the Binibining Pilipinas title in 1989, and even placed second runner-up in the Ms. Maja International the same year. She was given the Bank of the Philippine Islands Science Award and the UST Benavides Award. Not surprisingly, she was also named one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP).

With all these achievements, her parents taught her to be grateful to God and humble in accepting rewards.

“I feel grateful to God for giving me my talents and my abilities. I owe to Him all of my achievements, and I want to use what He has given me to serve Him and the people around me,” Nette said.

Among the Hilario children, Nette had the longest stay in the University.

“(My stay in UST is) Long! My parents met in UST. I was born at STUH, and studied in UST from kinder to college. My first job was as a youth worker for Christ’s Youth in Action (CYA) assigned in UST, and then I taught and did environmental education research in UST. I met my husband in UST, and we got married, not in UST, but in Caleruega naman,” she narrated with a laugh.

She is married to Dr. Roberto T. Andres, an associate professor at the College of Science and a faculty researcher at the Research Center for the Natural Sciences.

Meanwhile, John Anthony, a cum laude graduate of Philosophy at the Faculty of Arts and Letters in 1994, is currently legal counsel for the television network IBC-13. Following his father’s footsteps, he became one of the pillars of the Hilario-Hilario law firm.

He became the president of the Law Student Council and also served as the Varsitarian’s managing editor in 1995 to 1996.

Joseph Benjamin, or JB, is the youngest Hilario. A Mechanical Engineering graduate in 1997, JB would fiddle and work on his mechanical toys, or watch his father doing car works as a child.

“I have always been interested in mechanics. I was exposed to it even when I was young,” he said.

Ironically, his interest in mechanics brought him close to the subject that he does not find interesting – mathematics.

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“Ang weird nga eh, kasi ayoko talaga ng math. Pero naipasa ko lahat ng math subjects ko,” JB shared.

JB is closest to Nette’s line of achievements. In fact, he was first runner-up in the Mr. Engineering pageant, he placed third in the Engineering singing contest, and he won a barangay popularity contest. He was also a member of the Engineering Debate team. Needless to say, being the most talkative in the family paid off.

Thomasian values

Even when their children were young, Myrna and Nescito would imbue in them Thomasian values. Myrna would teach them what she learned from UST and share stories about her and her husband’s experiences.

“My mom would always tell us, after a tiff, that we should always give an inch. Be tolerant, be generous, out of love. Pagbibigayan ng isa’t-isa. My dad taught us fairness and integrity. He never cheated or did anything under the table. I am so proud of my parents,” Nette intimated.

Piety and fear of God is the foremost concern of the couple for their children. They would join religious organizations as a family, making the children realize that God should be the center of their lives.

“I named them after Jesus Christ. That is why all their names start with the letter ‘J’,” Myrna said.

Today, the Hilarios are still involved with religious movements although the children have their own families now. They all married Thomasians.

Integrity, honesty, moral uprightness, Filipino values, and respect for elders are common reminders Myrna and Nescito give to their children.

There was no favoritism in the family because Myrna and Nescito would treat their kids fairly. When the children fought, the couple would talk to them to explain things.

The dreams and aspirations of Myrna and Nescito never failed. The Thomasian values became a part of their children’s lives until now.

“I value the family values taught in UST kasi even now wala akong vices. I value UST so much. Even when I get sick, I would tell them, ‘Dalhin ninyo ako sa UST Hospital!’,” JB shared.

Until now, the Hilarios are doing an excellent job being a model family. The law firm provides pro bono publico or free services to those who cannot afford legal aid.

John attests to how UST affected his views on legal matters.

“UST taught me, above anything else, to be honest and ethical – even when it hurts. It is easy to tell the truth when it is beneficial for you; but it is another thing to divulge the truth when it will hurt your case,” John said. “I may have lost a few cases because of my adherence to this principle, but I am not ashamed. At least I have a clear conscience and I can sleep well at night.”

The family would get in touch through phone calls and text messaging and would get together at John’s place.

Even their grandchildren will be enrolled in UST.

Indeed, the memorable first meeting of Myrna and Nescito has flourished into a beautiful love and has nurtured Christian values that they continue to uphold. The example of the Hilario family should teach the Thomasian community that love is not a one-time experience, but a continuing process that we should cherish.

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