IT TOOK more than three centuries since its foundation before the University of Santo Tomas could come up with a school paper of its own. It required the resourcefulness and courage of Jose Villa Panganiban (who later became the prestigious head of the National Language Institute) and the other founding fathers before the wish of having “something to write on” could be realized. For indeed, putting up a school paper then was next to the impossible—-financially and administratively.
But for Panganiban, the idea of having an official student organ, one that would serve not only as a chronicler of campus events but also as a repository of student talents, was more than a passing fancy. It was a question rooted in raw optimism and constantly kindled by the burning passion to write.
In January 1928, a group of student-writers of the original UST Literary Club eventually secured the sanction of the University authorities for the publication of an official college paper. They practically begged for funds, subscriptions and contributions to finance the paper.
Indeed at the start, it would seem as if the Varsitarian could not go on. The infant was so poor it almost died at birth. But it did not. For although the Varsitarian was poor in the coffers, it was never impoverished in spirit. Through the years, the Varsitarian has grown.
One day in September 1927, a group of young Thomasians under the leadership of a journalism student—-Jose Villa Panganiban, gathered at the University restaurant. The group drafted a petition addressed to then Rector Rev. Fr. Serapio Tamayo, O.P. calling for the establishment of an official student organ in UST. The idea, however, became an unhappy victim of the Filipino ningas kugon.
Instead, the UST Literary Club was organized which received an official sanction from the Father Rector in December of the same year.
Despite the pessimism of everyone, of even some of the initiators themselves, about the possible success of the student paper in the University, the club, under the presidency of Pablo Anido (a junior medical student), revived the original plan of putting up a college paper.
At the same time, Panganiban, who was then working as a hot cake cook in the University restaurant, wrote a letter to the Father Rector and presented his views about the matter:
“There are 2,000 students in Santo Tomas. 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 income from the advertisements and this will help a great deal.”
Prof. John Jefferson Siler of the English department and one of the moderators of the Literary Club admitted that the suppositions of the hot cake man were really convincing. So after a series of correspondence and conferences with the Father Rector and University authorities, and with the support of Prof. Siler, the Father Rector gave his approval.
Consequently, on the morning of January 16, 1928, the maiden issue of the Varsitarian came off the press.
Anido became the first editor in chief of the Varsitarian, with Panganiban, the hot cake man and fondly dubbed the “Father of the Varsitarian” as the associate editor, business manager and editor of the Alumni and Humor sections. Rev. Fr. Juan Labrador, O.P. (then dean of the College of Liberal Arts ) and Prof. Siler became the first moderators.
Through the years, the pages of the Varsitarian would be graced by some of the most sterling names in Philippine journalism: Teodoro Valencia, Joe Guevarra, Felix Bautista, Jose Bautista, Joe Burgos, Antonio Siddayao, Jess Sison, Jullie Yap-Daza, Antonio Lopez, Rina Jimenez-David, Neal Cruz, A. O. Flores, Jake Macasaet, Fred Marquez, Mario Hernando, Alfredo Saulo, Alice Colet Villadolid, and Eugenia Duran-Apostol.
The titans of Philippine literature learned writing in the Varsitarian: Bienvenido Lumbera, F. Sionil José, Celso Al Carunungan, Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, Paz Latorena, Cirilo Bautista, Federico Licsi Espino, Wilfrido Nolledo, Rogelio Sicat, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Norma Miraflor, Eric Gamalinda and Vim Nadera.
Varsitarian alumni also distinguished themselves in public service and in other fields. There are the late Manila Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson, the late Manila Archbishop Artemio Casas, former Vice-president Emmanuel Pelaez, the late Sorsogon Gov. Juan Frivaldo, Sen. Francisco Tatad, former Philippine Medical Association president Dr. Vicente Rosales, Sr., and National Artist for the Visual Arts J. Elizalde Navarro.