Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alumna revisits University of Santo Tomas during 400th founding anniversary celebration

By Nancy T. Lu
A Tomasian does not forget. This one certainly remembers.

Memories of four formative years spent as a journalism student in the Manila campus of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas – particularly in the Faculty of Arts and Letters – returned in a flash on this particular Saturday in February picked for a revisit.

The Artlets alumni were gathering for a general homecoming in the Quadricentennial Square between the Main Building and the Miguel de Benavides Library on February 19. The area due to the transformation over the years was unfamiliar to this alumna, who spent the last 25 years practicing journalism in Taiwan. (The library building received substantial donation from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation in Taiwan years ago when Ma Soo-lay, a Tomasian, was still an influential senior policy adviser to then President Lee Teng-hui in Taiwan. In fact, as a result of the donation, a professorial chair was created. A collection of replicas of treasures at the National Palace Museum was also turned over to UST.)

The much-publicized QuattroMondial, a bronze masterpiece created by sculptor Ramon Orlina in celebration of the 400th founding anniversary of UST this year, stood dominating the open-air site cordoned for the Artlets alumni homecoming.

Four figures on the work of art were described as representing four centuries of Excellence, Spirituality, Tradition and Erudition. Piolo Pascual, a very popular entertainment celebrity, was the model for the male student symbolizing Excellence. Charlene Gonzales, a beauty queen and psychology graduate from UST, lent her face to the female student suggesting Erudition. The Rev. Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., rector of UST, provided the look of Spirituality and Monina Orlina, the sculptor’s daughter and an academician, gave her visage to the figure standing for Tradition.

The Artlets homecoming unfolded within view of the St. Raymund’s Building (more familiar to this UST graduate as the A.B./Commerce Building). The Faculty of Arts and Letters was housed in the beginning in the Main Building, an engineering feat of Fr. Roque Ruano, O.P. This first building in the UST campus facing Espana Street was said to be earthquake-resistant.

The UST campus started by the Spanish Dominican friars was originally in Intramuros or the Walled City. The Japanese occupation forces even used the Main Building as an internment camp during World War II, lending a grim note to the history of the campus with entrances also on Dapitan Street at the back and P. Noval and Arsenio H. Lacson (formerly Governor Forbes) Streets on the two other sides.

The stern-looking Fr. Tomas Martinez, O.P. was dean in the early years of the Faculty of Arts and Letters and the more approachable Fr. Florencio Testera, O.P. served as assistant dean. This reporter in the original Rey Datu-led staff of the Flame, the official publication of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, moved over to the Varsitarian, the university magazine, in the succeeding years, interviewing, among others, the ever-perspiring Fr. Jesus Merino, O.P. about the collection of artifacts of the Museum of Arts and Sciences gathering dust deep inside the Main Building. Bernardo Bernardo, who was the Varsitarian editor then, was also into stage acting. In fact, he went on to join Zeneida Amador and Repertory Philippines in a number of theater productions. He also acted in movies. Alfredo Marquez, who succeeded Bernardo Bernardo as Varsitarian editor, went on years later to work for the People's Journal.

Years ago, segregation of the sexes was a rule enforced in the use of the stairs at UST, a Catholic institution of learning. The female students, who had to negotiate the corridors of the Main Building, avoided Fr. Nestor Mata, O.P., the strict prefect of discipline, if they were wearing sleeveless dresses because violation of the acceptable dress code meant being reprimanded for indecency on the spot.

Bishop Miguel de Benavides, O.P. bequeathed the fund and his personal library collection, paving the way for the establishment of the University of Santo Tomas in 1611, His bronze statue in front of the Main Building was done in Paris in 1889 and first made its appearance in Intramuros in 1891. Statues representing the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity as well as Shakespeare, Dante, and St. Augustine, among others, were said to have been introduced on the building in the 1950s. Fine arts students over the years were often seen doing on-the-spot painting of the fa├žade of the Main Building and the statues there.

The Arch of the Centuries near the gate on Espana Street (which easily got flooded during the rainy season to the chagrin of the students) was another favorite site of fine arts students. It was originally erected and remained at the entrance of the UST campus in Intramuros until 1941.

The Fountain of Knowledge to the left of the Arch of Centuries and the Fountain of Wisdom to the right were fondly remembered as bubbling attractions at the start of a tree-lined walk to the Main Building. One fine day, a bunch of giggling Artlets students (including this then undergraduate) decided to negotiate the partly shaded stretch barefoot or unshod, unmindful of the stares of passersby.

Memories of the Main Building also included Varsitarian meetings held in a ground floor office. Occasionally a staffer would hail the sorbetero or ice cream vendor to a corner window and coerce somebody to give everyone a “dirty ice cream” treat on a hot day. Pay day – meaning the day when allowances of Varsitarian staffers were released – was when everyone would turn up.

At “Artlets’ bash at full blast,” this writer picked up a copy of Rated A only to learn of the fairly recent demise of Professor Milagros Tanlayco and Professor Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta. Professor Tanlayco in her chattering style taught English and literature. She would arrive in class with diaphanous fabric softly trailing after her. As for Professor Dimalanta, she taught short story writing but was herself a poetess of renown.

There was one professor whom this Artlets graduate admired and tracked down many years later in Seattle, Washington. Professor Erlinda Rustia taught aesthetics and literary criticism. One quiz she gave required comparing the operatic singing of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi.

Journalism subjects in those days were handled mostly by the late newspaperman Felix Bautista. He was also adviser to the staffers of the Flame and the Varsitarian. His lectures were peppered with interesting first-hand anecdotes. Julie Yap Daza, a Tomasian and a columnist presently connected with the Manila Bulletin, taught public relations. When press obligations kept her away, she sent over her husband, a PR practitioner.

Tuition in those days was less than 300 pesos per semester. A senior at the Faculty of Arts and Letters revealed that it has gone up to 30,000 pesos per semester. Inflation has indeed caught up with Philippine education. The more exclusive Catholic universities are reportedly even charging about 100,000 pesos per semester.

UST is planning to build new campuses in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and in General Santos City. South Cotabato.

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