Philets vignettes

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Jan 2 2011

By Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy

Gloria Garchitorena-GoloyThe young and the old (Intro)

First, the vast sprawling grounds spreading sidewards, trim shrubbery defining the long walk from the gate to the building entrance.

Then past the huge doors pushed back to admit the incoming student horde, the visual feast continues: the high ceiling, the formidable columns, the massive stairway defining one’s ascent to the second floor, the tough, smooth woodwork of the side rails enticing further exploration of the second floor. Everything the visitor encounters overwhelms—his senses, his mind, his puny self.

Such is the impact of the centuries-old institution on the new student about to begin his or her quest for learning in the University of Sto. Tomas.

A momentous shift

My first week as a Liberal Arts student was a disorienting initiation to university life.

The first classroom I first set foot in was not a cozy enclosure that could encourage instant friendliness. It was a teeming hub of excited neophytes communicating in a dizzying variety of dialects. I felt so lost. My panic further developed when I realized my future had been programmed along with my father’s dream of a medical career for me—instead of towards the writing craft—a personal vocation.

I voiced my fears to my mother, who took the matter up with my father, emphasizing a potential difficulty of coping with a medical study-load and my hearing impediment. Her arguments won him over. I was finally allowed to shift to the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, headed by the affable and scholarly Fr. Juan Labrador, O.P.

The new ambience

Philets. Whoever coined the term that referred to the student community I was to become a part of for the next four years coined it right. The term suggests something avant garde. Cheekiness, perhaps, non-conformity, maybe. It went well with the refreshing camaraderie that motivated everyone to interact, newcomers and oldtimers alike. The defining difference was evident in the co-educational atmosphere. Here, the UST’s strict segregation rules didn’t apply—or were simply ignored. Boys talked to girls and vice versa, and nobody worried about being called down for the disciplinary infraction.

Philets was later supplanted by Artlets. But the “origs” still love to refer to themselves by that old, homey-sounding endearment.

A bevy of beauties

There were so many of them working for a college degree (Ph.D. in Philosophy or Litt. B. in Journalism); their fresh, high-class allure belying the seriousness of their goal.

The names that come to mind are those of Naty Monponbanua, Lourdes Sabido, Ma. Luisa Zumel, Tessie and her sister Carmen Ojeda, Cora de Leon, Penny Montilla, Gertrudes Paguio, Divina Morente, Priscilla Bunuan and the loveliest of them all, Teresita (Titang) Gomez. Like Bicolana Conchita Contreras, some were scholars, topnotchers back in high school, enjoying tuition discounts at the UST. One of them, the gentle Doris Trinidad, was College of the Holy Spirit’s valedictorian, who subsequently proved her worth by graduating summa cum laude (besides excelling in poetry-writing).

Jazz class

Music was not part of the curriculum. But we enjoyed a furtive indulgence in it each time Exequiel “Lito” Molina, son of the illustrious music maestro, Antonio S. Molina, played his clarinet. We held our secret sessions before the start of the first afternoon class—made possible by a tardy Journalism professor. Someone would position himself by the door as lookout, while the mixed freshman and sophomore “musicians” held their musicfest.

When Lito coaxed the wailing notes from his instrument, no one talked, no one moved. The musical spell was total and deep and cathartic.

The first Palanca winner

English professor Helen C. Leyden startled us during her initial English composition lecture with a challenge. Shortly before the first day session ended, we were told to write an essay—about either a father or a mother, or a grandparent.

At the next lecture session, she announced that only two got a perfect score. Mila Palanca and yours truly.

I had written about my mother who had defied her governor-father’s authority to leave for Manila to study nursing at the PGH.

Mila had drawn from her memory bank to describe how her father (grandfather?) labored through the night over his business concerns. She had done a moving, loving depiction of how she used to watch the sliver of light below the old man’s door casting a steady reflection in the darkened house. I had asked to read it and I let her read my piece. The text was beautiful, tenderly worded, expertly crafted.

She had, by that youthful effort, germinated the idea to recognize literary excellence in the country that is now upheld in the annual Palanca Memorial Awards competition.

The Phi Lambda Sigma sorority

As if she was not busy enough with academic concerns (she was also a scholar) as well as Varsitarian duties (as coed editor, she also wrote a column, “Truth and Consequence”), Zenaida Arespacochaga founded the Phi Lambda Sigma Sorority. Initiation rites had never been tried at UST and the prospect sent ripples of excitement among the Philets girls.

The initiation period, a novelty experience for the girls, was a riot. Clarita Estigoy had to drink a softdrink concoction from a “brand new” arinola; another, Eumelia Vea, was made to step on spaghetti “worms;” someone else (was it Cristina Legaspi or Letty Perez?) was led around on a leash like a dog; and still another, Nenita Oban (?) had to serenade or propose to some lucky boy. “Envious” kibitzers were Nick Benoza, Francisco Balagtas, Carlos Teh, David Borje.All the others (Martina Dizon, Jo David, Connie Martija, Conchita Calero, Loreto Blando, Lucresia Briones, Encarnita Martinez, Teresita Añover) had their faces painted with charcoal, their clothes sporting various gewgaw, their shoes mismatched.

The sorority activities came to a fitting finale with the conferring of the sorority pins during a candlelight ceremony. One of the program numbers featured a dance by sophomore, Lilia Pablo Amansec. Lilia did her pantomime extemporaneously: a breathtaking blend of physical grace and evocative artistry.

Years later, Lilia made an impact on the literary scene with her first-prize winning short story, “Lover Boy,” in the 1959-1960 Palanca Awards for Literature.

As for Zeny Arespacochaga, the high point of her academic-journalistic journey was being voted Miss Intercollegiate Girl by the nationwide College Editors Guild.

My V years (1947-1948)

First, I was assistant literary editor. My “boss” was Albert Card, a former GI who was then taking up Shakespeare under the legendary Paz Latorena. This happened at the time I had my first article, “A Visit with My Uncle,” published by N.V.M. Gonzales in the Saturday Evening News Magazine.

The literary post came with a welcome financial compensation: P40—a princely sum at the time. With my first pay, I bought a small radio for my dear mama. The following year I moved up to the Literary Edi tor’s post. Assisting editors were Celso Al. Carunungan, and Theodore M. Owen both finishing their studies mid-year.

1949 was the year my first poem, “Melania Saying Yes,” saw print in This Week Magazine of The Manila Chronicle. The piece itself was not controversial (it was about an aunt accepting a determined suitor’s proposal for marriage). But Hernando Ocampo’s illustration, explicitly risqué, provoked reader reaction. A religious organization in a boys’ school, in a condemnatory move, posted the piece, illustration and all, on their bulletin board.

That first literary exposure resulted in Ocampo arranging for me to meet with the literati of the time: T.D. Agcaoili, Manuel Viray, Kerima Polotan, Oscar Zuñiga, D. Paulo Dizon, Morli Dahram.

Fellow V worker Celso offered to accompany me to the afternoon session.

On my senior year, I had a chance to work closely with F. Sionil Jose. We spent late afternoon hours at the UST Press for specific duties: my concern for the V magazine and his supervision of the news tabloid output. I learned much from him, from his dedication to truth-telling in stories, his remarkable endurance (and output) with craft. He later became the godfather of my only son.

The Oslans

Class 1952 did not lack talent. Johnny Gatbonton got his short story, “Clay,” published in the prestigious Philippines Free Press. The feat provoked a flurry of efforts from his batchmates…with little results. Still, the group persevered. Amante Paredes kept at his poetry writing doggedly. Ramon Lopez churned out a prolific output of articles, refining his craft. Neal Cruz developed his V magazine editorial acumen which served him well—he later on called the shots in The Manila Chronicle Magazine, Daily Express, and Philippine Daily Globe.

The rest of the batch kept at the writing craft doggedly, in spite of rejection slips.

They called themselves the Oslans, for reasons of hilarious self-deprecation. The monicker no longer applies. Especially not to Ophelia Alcantara, the now celebrated Ophelia Dimalanta whose excellent poems dominated poetry anthologies, then and now. Today the Oslans equate the monicker with perseverance, dedication. Indeed, no one is “laos” unless he stops trying.

The chaperones

To this day, I never asked him why.

He had brought the young Tessie Jovellanos on a date at a popular beach resort in Pasay. But he also brought Delia Coronel and me. Delia was that year’s (1949) Coed Editor; she wrote a column, “Figs and Thistles.” What was FSJ’s motive? Was he trying to assure Tessie he had no dark intentions? Did he need company to keep the girl sufficiently entertained—and convinced?

He danced with all of us. But he danced with Tessie most of the time all afternoon. Eventually, FSJ married Tessie and she became Tessie Jose.

Next time around, I’ll ask FSJ about that afternoon in Malibu half a century ago.

Meanwhile, Delia became a nun, went to Marawi in Mindanao to teach at the Mindanao State University, worked on the translation of the Maranao epic, “Darangen,” for which she garnered UNESCO heritage honors for her eight-volume monumental work.

As for this chaperone, I was sent by Bb. Pilipinas Charities in 1969 to accompany Gloria Diaz to Miami Beach, Florida, USA, where she bagged the country’s first Miss Universe title.

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Philets—thereafter (Epilogue)

Johnny Frivaldo (V news editor), who used to lead the V staff in staking out a pay day watch near Fr. Francisco Villacorta’s office, importuning the priest’s secretary, Ramon Salinas, to facilitate the release of our vouchers, learned to sharpen his persuasive skills in his new field of interest: politics. He subsequently became governor of a Bicol province.

Carlos Agatep, bucked early migrant woes in America to persevere at Public Relations studies, eventually coming home to establish what became the most successful PR conglomerate in this country.

Constante Roldan was news editor, then associate editor. Later he bagged the editor in chief post before graduation. He took up law, which eventually helped to promote him from reporter to personnel director at The Manila Times years later. Eric Giron, fellow associate editor on our final year (1949-1950), concentrated on magazine editing, becoming the longest serving editor in chief of the Daily Mirror Magazine.

Ophelia Ravadilla, whom I had chosen later to be FSJ’s katuwang at my son’s (Budoy) baptismal rites, raised a brood of eight children, all of whom she brought to the U.S. She had petitioned all, one child every two years, and lastly her husband, when she had finally found a profitable job as U.S. citizen. Like me, she is now in her eighties. Last August, I had asked my daughter to e-mail her my birthday greetings. Ours is a long-running friendship, something rare nowadays.

Eugenia Duran had won first prize for her short story, “Harvest,” in one of the V’s Christmas short story contests. Surprisingly she made an important career-altering shift to journalism during the turbulent days of the historic EDSA People Power Revolution. She is now the acknowledged founder of the top-rated Philippine Daily Inquirer. Eggie is literature’s loss but journalism’s gain.

Doris Gaskell persevered in magazine work, distinguishing herself in ironing out printing gaffes that would have fazed a less dedicated editorial supervisor. Mr. & Ms Magazine enjoyed a thriving reader patronage during her energetic watch as its editor.

Irineo Torres. He was the likeable, witty Philet punster who wrote this funny dedication on the graduation photo he traded with mine. “here’s the mug that nags built.” He went on to a long successful career as reporter, deskman in the Manila Bulletin news beat.

Celso Al. Carunungan. While taking post-graduate literature and journalism studies at Columbia University, he published (abroad) a first novel, Like a Big Brave Man, which garnered U.S. literary critics’ plaudits. Back in the Philippines he wrote many movie scripts, the most significant, “Biyaya ng Lupa,” now regarded as a film classic. But few people know about his efforts to generate national focus on the Philippines’ first Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz. He had also written the lyrics for the saint’s hymn, the music of which was composed by Dom Benildus Maramba. He figured in the overseas broadcast of the canonization rites—live from Rome.

But I remember him best for the dedication he wrote on the graduation photo he gave me:

“A million words crowding my heartand no lips, no tongue to desecrate them.”

And that, dear fellow-Philets, is one of life’s mysterious twists. V

*Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy was born in 1927 in Manila. She finished Lit. B in Journalism, cum laude, at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, serving as associate editor of the Varsitarian from 1949-1950.