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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

entry arrow4:02 PM | A Remembrance of a Weekly Grind

An email from current Weekly Sillimanian editor-in-chief Michelle Eve de Guzman -- who is a former student of mine and one of Silliman University's brightest young writers -- asking me to give a testimonial about my days as a tWS staffer for an exhibit celebrating the paper's 103rd year opened a floodgate of both memory and emotion. Perhaps even pride, the good kind.

Because, why not pride? Sometimes it takes mere numbers to make us realize how rich a tradition can be. Consider this: the Weekly Sillimanian is already one hundred and three years old? It is, and with a rich history, too. It has indeed been an honor and a privilege to be part of that legacy.

Starting in 1903 as Silliman Truth, barely two years after the Hibbards arrived in Dumaguete to found what was then Silliman Institute, the fledgling paper was at once a multilingual operation, with articles written in English, Spanish, and Cebuano. It was the first newspaper to be published in the whole of Negros Oriental, and because of that served for the most part of its early history as a community organ as well. By 1920, it became a biweekly publication now called The Sillimanian. (A separate publication still carried on the name of Silliman Truth, which had then become the monthly official publication of the Board of Trustees.)

At the dark heights of World War II, The Sillimanian moved underground like most of the teachers and students caught by the war in campus, renamed itself The Daily Sillimanian, and became a fly-by-night paper for the Resistance, publishing articles on singular sheets of paper that chronicled the daily fight against the Japanese. That reaching out for the concerns of the local community had always been a significant part of the publication's ideals -- so much so that by the time Martial Law arrived in Negros Oriental, the Police Constabulary immediately raided the Weekly Sillimanian office for subversive activities, including publishing articles critical of Marcos's shenanigans. (A quick look at the template and contents of tWs circa the 1970s would give one a jolt over how different the temperament was during those days as compared to now.)

The Weekly Sillimanian has always been a significant instrument for chronicling change, and has always been a voice for Sillimanians and Dumaguetenos alike. But like many institutions weathering time and changing faces, it has both checkered episodes and glorious periods. (Its heyday may be the two years between 1958 and 1959, when the paper won First Place twice in the Columbia School Press Contest, a prestigious award given out by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association of Columbia University in New York City, besting other school papers worldwide, including those in the United States.) In their famous history of Silliman University, Edilberto Tiempo, Crispin Maslog, and Valentino Sitoy wrote of tWS: "Their quality through the years has been uneven, ranging from the bland to the relatively well-edited publications. Likewise, their outlook has been varied, reflecting the climate of the times and the temperament of their editors."

And so that is true even until today. Thank God, under Ms. De Guzman's capable hands, with the able guidance of Gina Fontejon-Bonior as adviser, the Weekly Sillimanian is slowly coming out of a long shadow that saw it crippled and hobbling in the last five or six years, no thanks to an ogre now long since gone. (Oh, don't ask me who.)

As for me and tWS, it was an essay in English composition class that pushed open a chance to work in The Weekly Sillimanian. I was a sophomore college student, laboring over the nuances of English 12 -- what is now better known as Basic Communication 12 -- and my nostalgic piece about an old movie theater in my mother's homestown of Bayawan made my teacher, the award-winning fictionist Timothy Montes, take me aside to say, "You should be writing reviews for the school paper."

It just so happened that in the downstairs apartment of the building my family was renting at that time, a certain William Go -- perhaps the most successful tWS columnist there ever was (his column gained an obsessive following in the three years he was with the school paper) -- resided. Through him, I got to know the editors of the paper at the time, and was ultimately made part of Silliman's intellectual elite.

When I became part of the feature staff together with firebrand Dinah Rose Baseleres (now a Maxim Magazine intimacy guru), I gained entry into a period of the Weekly Sillimanian that would remain to this day its last golden age. From that period between 1991 and 1998 sprang capable writers like Eric Samuel Joven, Kristyn Kay Maslog (who would ultimately become a New York Times contributor), Desiree Bandal, Joanna Ruth Utzurrum, Fleur Carmelee Luntao (now a Freeman reporter), Jade Sheryl Yamut (now a Barnes and Nobles corporate relations officer in New York), Maria Theresa Siquioco, Vanessa Iway, and Jean Claire Dy, artists like Ritchie Teves and James Renan Dalman, and photographers like Quddus Ronnie Padilla.

It was a veritable zoo.

We worked tirelessly, ending most working "days" at two o'clock in the morning, the aftermath of which was then spent at the nearby burger stand. (The next day, most of us would make a beeline to the office -- which was headquarters and home, really -- even before the early birds caught the earliest worms. How we managed to do that and still keep sane body clocks remains a mystery to me until today.)

We were also meticulous. Weekly editorial meetings were always merry wars (consisting of fiery debates and endless jokings), which always ended with our favorite fare: Coke and cheese bread from the Cafeteria. Our articles were also rigorously written and edited, our photographs serious-minded in their composition, our graphics (old-fashioned they may seem to be now) heavily debated upon and executed with a kind of elan, and our layout always crisp and clean. We abhorred writing the sophomoric stuffs: no simple Valentines Day or Who's Your Crush? or My Day as a Student articles for us; we prided ourselves as intellectuals, and considered for our competition the high-minded content of U.P.'s Collegian. We were careful even with our use of spaces and lines: we fretted over columns matching lengths, the appropriate stoppers for articles, ditches in boxed articles, the layout and the hierarchies of articles following the movement of a typical reader's eyes, etc. We ushered tWS into the computer age from the typesetting dinosaur of our immediate predecessors: we were the first batch to use scanners and computers and digital cameras, and relieved the Silliman Press from touching our layout by being the first tWS staff to give its workers the first camera-ready output.

Most importantly, we were also scandalous bunch: we fired two editors-in-chief for various reasons, and transformed the office into a cabaret. I remember Jade Yamut climbing on top of tables to grab the hanging electric fan switch, which she would use as a microphone to sing the songs of Alanis Morrisette. I remember our eternal battles with a crafty midlevel administrator otherwise known as The Witch. I remember Dinah Baseleres making endless prank calls to radio jockeys with irritating American accents. I remember a Christmas party where we all trooped to Irma Pal's house, all dressed in futuristic costumes. (That we stopped traffic was a given.) Oh, we did many mischievous things.

Being in the Weekly Sillimanian with that old bunch is without doubt one of the best parts of my life, something I look to with the most earnest of nostalgia. I can even say that that privilege of belonging to the staff -- both as writer and as editor-in-chief -- transformed me, and made me what I am today. And that is saying a lot.

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