On Velada Tomasina, and being Thomasians at the turn of another century

To close its celebration of its Quadricentennial, the University of Santo Tomas is holding a two-day festival (January 25-26) that hopes to recreate UST in the “perspective of the cultural milieu of old Manila at the turn of the 19th century” through “period costumes, songs, dances, poems and festivity.”

This, I think, is a great opportunity for us to appreciate the role of UST students in Philippine history. It was, after all, the period of Jose Rizal, Emilio Jacinto, Apolinario Mabini and Padre Jose Burgos. However, I am disturbed by the tendency of the administration and many students to regard this celebration as a mere pageantry of costumes and deodorized commemoration of whatever concept of grandeur they have of “old Manila,” devoid of any socio-political context of its times.

Truly, if we wished to genuinely recreate UST and Manila during the turn of the century, then we should be keenly aware that it was a period of massive poverty and colonial oppression. It was a period of revolution. UST was at the crossroads of student unrest. If we UST students were alive back then, we wouldn’t even be in UST. Not at a time when education was an exclusive privilege controlled by the Catholic Church, unless of course if we were sons and daughters from illustrado families. We were more likely to be sons and daughters of poor peasants and laborers, or Katipuneros ourselves. So why would we be wearing coats and maria claras this week? My point is, this tendency to highlight this celebration as just a perfumed gala of costumes is disturbing, but presents itself as a hopeful challenge for us.

UST–and the rest of the country–at the turn of UST’s “Neo-Centennial” finds itself in very similar social conditions from the UST at the turn of the century. History has proven that no matter how sheltered an institution will try to be, it can never insulate itself from the ebb and flow of the tide of its times. No matter how repressive administrators can be, they can never prevent the emergence of heroes. Imagine how the priests reacted to Jose Rizal and Emilio Jacinto. We are at a period when, still, only a handful of families and corporations control the government and our economy. We are at a period when inequalities in society, the gap between the wealthy few and the poor majority, are so profoundly pronounced. We are at a period where massive poverty still gripe Filipinos. Sure, it’s nice to commemorate the end of the Quadricentennial with costumes, if you are all into that kind of thing. But what better way to commemorate the beginning of UST’s fifth century than to relive the legacy of its proud heroes (which for a long time back then the Dominicans disowned, of course, but now proudly parade as Thomasians).

We are all Emilio Jacintos of our generation! Mabuhay ang mga Tomasino!

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