In the beginning...

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Jan 3 2011

BEFORE “80,” there were 22.

They were the students whose deep passion for the written word gave birth to the Varsitarian. Led by Jose Villa Panganiban, they wanted simply to have a “paper to write on.” But what was released on Jan. 16, 1928 was to become an institution in the history of campus journalism in the Philippines.

Early beginnings

The story began in the old UST restaurant when Panganiban, then a hot cake cook, and his group tackled a request to put up a school paper addressed to then rector Fr. Serapio Tamayo, O.P. In the mind of Panganiban, there had to be an official student publication.

Tamayo officially received the petition in September 1927, but the drive lost steam when some of the proponents abandoned the cause. What was left were 22 students who made sure that the Varsitarian dream won’t perish with ningas-kugon.

A slight blow came when the school administration sanctioned, not the proposed school paper, but the UST Literary Club. Fortunately for Panganiban’s group, club president Pablo Anido, a junior medical student, was similarly batting for a school publication, though his idea involved only a college-wide paper.

Still, Anido’s plan withstood the enduring pessimism of the school administration. He threw his support behind Panganiban, who wrote the rector anew.

“There are 2,000 students in Santo Tomas,” he wrote. “Let us admit that 1,000 of these are slackers but we still have 1,000 students to help us in the undertaking.”

To sustain the paper, Panganiban proposed a 50-centavo subscription fee from 1,000 students to go with contributions coming from advertisements. At that rate, he argued that the paper would stay for at least three months.

These words were enough to persuade John Jefferson Siler, moderator of the UST Literary Club who later became one of the first Varsitarian advisers alongside then dean of College of Liberal Arts Fr. Juan Labrador, O.P.

Finally, the Varsitarian came off the press in the morning of Jan. 16, 1928.

“It was with some apprehension that I gave my approval to the UST Literary Society to commence the publication of a university paper,” the rector wrote in his message to the V’s first issue. “But the enthusiastic cooperation that the student body has lent to the publication convinced the most reluctant believer.”

The 22-man staff of the first Varsitarian was headed by Anido, the editor-in-chief. Joining him in the editorial board were Juan Cabildo and Panganiban in the editorial board as the V’s first managing editor and associate editor, respectively. Cabildo took responsibility for significant editorial columns concerning the vital duty of the press to the University. He emphasized the need for student involvement in the school’s decision-making. He said so in his editorials, one of which was titled “For a Board of Students.”

Planting seeds

The paper initially had eight sections–Literary, Society, Co-eds, Sports, Features, Spanish, Alumni, and Humor. Staff-written articles, together with generous contributions from students, produced more than enough materials.

Elizabeth Bowers, a professor of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, accepted the invitation to become the first editor of the Coeds Section. It featured various articles like Beauty Secrets, What is Charm?, The Philosophy of Women, and Our Beauty Question Box, which mostly catered to college ladies. Adding to the list of pioneers was Olimpia Baltazar, the grand daughter of Francisco Balagtas (the “Father of Tagalog Poets”), the first Literary editor. She also wrote a column on Philippine folk lore.

The lure of the Varsitarian also got to Sebastian Ugarte, a varsity standout of the UST Galloping Goldies football team, who became the paper’s Sports editor. He later became a lawyer and publisher of the defunct Philippine Herald. He is the only Varsitarian staff member included in the UST Alumni Hall of Fame.

The Alumni and Humor sections were single-handedly managed by the multi-tasking associate editor and business manager Panganiban. His assistants were Bowers and Apolonio de Jesus, the last of the founders to reach the Varsitarian’s 75th anniversary.

Oscar Juco was the first Features editor while Manuel Abella and Jose Par co-edited the Spanish section. The Society section came under the supervision of Pacita Bengson. Josefino Dacanay and Dominador Gesmundo became the first V artists.

Together with Bowers, Rizal de Peralta, Serafin Meñez, Alfredo Dansico (Medicine), Leticia Antonio (Pharmacy), Crisanta Salazar (Education), and Carlos Fernandez (Law) formed the UST faculty representatives. Jose Reyes, Jesus Hynson (Liberal Arts), and Ramon Catala (Engineering) became members of the contributing staff.

Boundless success

Outside the Varsitarian, some of the “Magic 22” made their mark in other fields as well.

Anido became a violinist playing over the radio station, KZRM. He also coached the boxing bouts of UST, giving the University its first and only boxing championship in the “Big Three” (UST, University of the Philippines, and National University) league in 1934.

Anido also became the assistant adviser of the publication in the 1940s.

Panganiban was just as versatile. He became the legendary head of the National Language Institute, the forerunner of the Komisyon ng Wikang Pambansa. His most important contribution to the Philippine Literature was the Diksyunaryo-Tesauro Pilipino-Ingles published in 1972.

Thanks to the paper’s 22 pioneers, the Varsitarian was born and has come this far.

“I am proud to be a Thomasian,” De Jesus declared in the 75th publication anniversary. “But I am more proud to be a Varsitarian staff memeber.” V Levine Andro H. Lao with reports from Ayn Rand I. Parel