in This time it's personal

Angsty nineties in the University of the Philippines

Collegian masthead 1995-1996

Collegian masthead ca. 1995-1996

(An original draft of this piece was written more than six years ago on a website I put up — complete with domain, hosting, and all — while living abroad. Content of that website can still be accessed on’s The Wayback Machine, which is how I got this draft.)

UP students a decade ago had something all other UP students in the past did not: Angst.

For some reason known only to writer, media personality, and UP graduate Jessica Zafra, UP students in the nineties felt an overall disenchantment with their lives.

Having encountered Albert Camus or Soren Kierkegaard in a Philosophy or Literature class, or either through a stolen book from the Main Library, the Iskolar ng Bayan looked vainly for meaning amid senselessness, stability amid chaos, truth amid deception.

Their existential quest was not encouraged by their difficulty to take a shower everyday.

As everyone in UP in the nineties knows, most dormitories run out of water as a matter of university tradition, ever since the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) — mandated to supply and distribute water in the city — established its offices just at the back of the Diliman campus.

After all, UP is not an autonomous unit for nothing. You want water, you just have to get it yourself.

The inconvenience of studying in UP and the uniquely complicated process of getting a date Saturday night without so much as having washed one’s face took a toll on many students, who spent time in between classes looking for clean flush toilets and surreptitiously brushing their teeth with Sprite.

Besides the vain search for spotless restrooms, a number of UP students — called co├▒o kids — clamored for more parking spaces, especially right across the Palma Hall Building area.

Fortunately, the informal petition was ignored.

The UP Administration then said that there were more pressing academic concerns that needed to be addressed.

True to its word, Quezon Hall’s then current occupants proceeded to flood its own building with lights during Christmas.

Nothing beats celebrating the spirit of the season in style, even in an era of eight-hour brownouts and budget constraints.

Due to these various difficulties, many students vowed never again to use an unclean toilet nor to gargle with sugared water.

And they believed that the best way to do this would be to pursue their ambitions to their logical ends; to get, at all costs, that cushy Makati job that came with keys to the executive washroom.

This is the reason why in the early nineties, a controversial Knowledge, Attitudes, and Values survey found that UP students placed more emphasis and importance on personal ambition than on public service.

In short, unlike their counterparts in the seventies, the 90s Iskolar ng Bayan were not exactly interested in talking, let alone doing something about the problems of Philippine society.

They simply wanted to trod on that well-worn, clear-cut path from Diliman to Makati, from academe to industry, from school to corporation, from ignorance to incompetence.

The survey’s student respondents were at least honest.

Which was not something you could say about a student regent a decade ago.

Before he assumed the position, he went through the usual route of student leadership by becoming a leader of a leftist extremist fringe student group.

Upon graduation, the honorable regent immediately took the path of traditional politics in more ways than one.

Not only did he run for office in his hometown, he allegedly used the resources of the student regent’s office to assist in his campaign.

This only proved that UP in the nineties was interesting to say the least, if only for instances of petty corruption and influence peddling.

The latter is best exemplified by the 1993 controversial selection process for the next UP President.

While Malacanang supposedly kept its hands off the whole process — a claim that is credible to someone who came from another planet — it inflamed the whole UP community, that was unfortunately, was not influential enough to challenge the wishes of the powers that be.

Despite the community’s powerlessness, the UP community was still kept in the dark about the venue details for the swearing in ceremonies of at that time, the newly-minted UP president Emil Q. Javier.

Although the ceremonies were finally held at the ISMED building, the UP Community was quick and nimble enough to assemble outside the premises, to protest, in true UP fashion, what they rightly perceived as Malacanang’s intervention into an affair uniquely UP’s own.

As a result, Javier made history: he may perhaps be the first UP president ever to encounter a rally during his swearing in ceremonies.

Another significant event during this decade is the implementation of the much-criticized Socialized Tutition Fee Assistance Program (STFAP).

Although it intended to make rich students pay more and poor students receive stipends, implementation was far from ideal.

Both rich and poor students paid more than they expected.

To make things worse, the stipends were delayed by months — at least initially.

So while the poor yahoo had to put off buying textbooks, the STFAP-cheating, car-driving, privately-high-schooled rich kid had to fork out for his own gas money.

Right smack in the middle of the decade, while Javier was warming his seat, a new political party of roughly less than ten people figured prominently in university politics.

Called the New Sense Party (its name being a play on the word nuisance), it fielded UP Law student Argee Guevarra as candidate for USC Chair.

With nothing much else but humor and self deprecation as its platform, the New Sense Party seized the imagination of the UP students in the nineties.

Although the party won in the College of Arts and Letters, Guevarra, using his signature disarming charm coupled with indulgent gimmickry, almost succeeded in beating two well-oiled, relatively-established student political parties, the progressive SAMASA and the more moderate, fraternity-dominated Independent Student Alliance (ISA).

Guevarra, called a freak force by one Philippine Collegian writer, was able to do get away with what he did — whatever it was — because he went beyond the confines of traditional university politics.

Also, Guevarra had the Left movement to thank.

By 1995, progressive student leaders and activists were beginning to feel the brunt of the internecine split within the Philippine Left movement.

Suddenly, SAMASA was divided into two student leftist progressive groups — the SAMASA and the SAMASA-TMMA.

Previously sharing one campaign platform, the two groups were at each other’s necks, one accusing the other of either fanaticism or betrayal.

While at this, the student body in general lost interest in university politics and elections having scarcely found a connection between the protracted people’s war and why tap water still failed to reach most dorms.

Interestingly, the Philippine Collegian, the best publication no one inside or outside the university ever read, was somewhat in the thick of the whole thing.

While the weekly student newspaper was generally perceived as the mouthpiece of Left movement, it was reinvented in 1995, by newly installed Editor in Chief Ibarra M. Gutierrez III.

Not only did it refuse to espouse Marxist and Maoist rhetoric (at least it didn’t do so exclusively), it also introduced a front page column entitled Disturbing The Peace, written exclusively by Ma. Ligaya Nava.

By 1996, arguably due to increased readership, the Collegian figured prominently in an editorial exam controversy.

The Collegian editorial exam board proclaimed Richard Gappi as next Editor in Chief.

Gappi’s proclamation was delayed by the protest filed and the support garnered by Voltaire Veneracion.

According to Veneracion, he was and should be proclaimed rightful Collegian editor because during the first round of editorial exam deliberations he came out first and Gappi second.

The Collegian editorial exam board, headed by journalist Luis M. Teodoro, ordered a second deliberation regarding the editorial exam entries under vague pretenses.

It was during this redeliberation in which Gappi topped the list.

Unfortunately, Collegian exam rules never sanctioned, allowed, nor called for a redeliberation.

After a protracted campaign, Veneracion was declared Editor in Chief not soon after.

This was made possible not only by Veneracion himself but by other student groups which remained vigilant all throughout.

This was noteworthy, especially for a generation of students which was considered, for better or for worse, Generation X.

While the nineties didn’t have barricades nor well-attended anti coup d’etat rallies in the seventies and the eighties, the period was nonetheless defined by a generation who spoke with their minds as, no doubt, any generation did, even though half the time they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Ten years after, it’s good to know that the tradition is being kept alive by the current crop of UP students.

Push on UP indeed.

From the Digital Credits Dept. Picture of the Philippine Collegian 1995-1996 issue taken from
From the Fine Print Dept. I was Collegian managing editor during that year, attending all press work sessions save for one when Javi Flores, the Associate Editor, one of my two superiors, asked me to go home on the weekend.
I was stressing everyone out, he said.
In return, a section editor– I forgot whether it was Jay Bautista or Chris Inton — called me at home on a Saturday evening just to let me know the staff felt about my absence. Jay or Chris then raised the phone receiver so that I could hear the sound of the staff, cheering, hooting, and applauding.
Later on, during one of intimate lunches I had with Javi, I told the associate editor that I should be allowed to do my job.
“How?” he asked me.
“Simple,” I replied. “Let me manage and I’ll let you associate.”
Go forth and multiply, he told me. But not in those words.

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