I received an e-mail from a staff member of The Quill, the student publication of Southwestern University (SWU), informing me about the last week of July homecoming in time for the 60th anniversary of the paper. I congratulate The Quill staff and the school administration for finally paying homage to the storied past of this campus publication.
I joined the Quill staff during one of the tumultuous times of its existence, which was in the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship. I didn’t have doubts at that time that I wanted to be a writer so I joined the qualifying exams for staff member just weeks after I enrolled in a Chemical Engineering course. I didn’t know a struggle lay ahead.
The early ’80s was the time when the wave of student activism was rising in Cebu. Acts of government and other institutions were subjected to scrutiny. Some of us staff members complained about lack of benefits and eventually sought an accounting of the collection for publication fees. That got us into a collision course with the school admin.
To get the attention of the students, one of the paper’s advisers hatched what I would call the “El Filibusterismo” strategy, referring to the actions of the novel’s main character, Simoun (Juan Crisostomo Ibarra). In my second year with The Quill, no issue was printed, forcing a school official to work in the summer so something will come out.
Meanwhile, petition-signing for an accounting of publication funds was started. We had dialogues with school officials that didn’t produce anything concrete. An issue of the Quill was eventually produced but my name and that of the others who joined the petition were dropped from the staff box. By that time I was already into larger concerns.
This does not mean I don’t have fond memories of my Quill stint. “Candid Thoughts,” for example, was my first stab at column writing, although its content was studiously checked by our adviser for any radical comment. I honed my writing there and finally had an audience for my creative works. My Quill stint was a learning experience.
Of course, things change, and I see this in how The Quill has been run since the conflicts that erupted in the ’80s was resolved. I have gone back to SWU from time to time to share with campus writers there my experiences as a working journalist. I have had cordial meetings with people who were at the opposite side, sort of, in those times.
(I wrote this for my June 26, 2008 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)