Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Weekly Sillimanian: The progress continues 121 years later

Amid the changing landscape of campus journalism, the Weekly Sillimanian (tWS) stands as a resilient beacon as it remains one of the few weekly campus papers in the country. In addition to its traditional Friday broadsheets, tWS has adapted to the digital age, establishing an online presence on various social media platforms and launching its prototype website in 2012.

But beyond what most students see when it comes to tWS is a 121-year-long history shaped by events inside and outside the university. Stretching over more than a century and two decades, tWS has grown and evolved through the times in its constant pursuit of progress, service, and truth.

Silliman Truth (1903–1920)

In 1903, a fledgling industrial school for boys was busy with their new acquisition: a small job press. The institute’s president, Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, brought the machine back from Japan in December of 1901. Philanthropist Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman then supplemented Dr. Hibbard’s “small job press” with a $400 grant to purchase a “real” school press.

Thus, Silliman Institute, founded only two years earlier, launched the “alleged” first campus publication in the province—among the oldest in the country.

The periodical was named Silliman Truth. Although its maiden issue disappeared in records on campus, and thus, the exact date of publication cannot be determined, later issues and historical records prove that the first issue was published sometime in January 1903. 

Soon afterward, the press was installed in temporary quarters as the work began increasing weekly. Dr. J.W. Chapman served as the publication’s first staff on April 1, 1918, by taking on the roles of editor, managing editor, and business manager at the same time. Meanwhile, Alfonzo Molino and Arsenio Jamorahe were mentioned as the first student printers.

The little gazette was for public, community, and campus use. Copies of the paper were mailed to subscribers, with evidence pointing to the international circulation range. A letter from the Board Treasurer in February 1908 remitted a money order of fifty cents for a subscription from the Rev. John A. Ingham of Irvington, Hudson. 

Silliman Truth was also a multilingual newsletter. It used English, Spanish, and Cebuano interchangeably. As an example, the third issue of the first volume that came out on March 15, 1903, indicated this in the folio line: “Pinamantala (published) sa Silliman Institute.”

Vol. III, Issue No. 1 is the earliest copy of Silliman Truth that can currently be found in the Sillimaniana section of the Silliman University Library.

It contained an article in English on “Progress in China” and another on “The Future of the Pacific Ocean.” The Beatitudes were printed in Cebuano, with several bilingual personal items. For some years, the back page of Silliman Truth was dedicated to Sunday school lessons that were in the vernacular.

“The contents of the paper interestingly varied in nature, and most of the time [they depended] on the interests of the editor, as well as the events of the times,” described Dr. Arthur Carson in summary.

The first published papers were about seven by ten inches and were published twice a month. It was a four-page paper with only two columns. The left-hand column on the front page, composed of the most important news items, was printed as briefly as possible. In the right-hand column were printed these same news items in Visayan.

By Oct. 1, 1905, Silliman Truth had improved a little. It was now approximately ten by twelve inches in size and had grown to three columns. The first column was in English; the last column in Visayan; but the middle column was a mixture of both. A year’s subscription costs ₱1.50.

The Sillimanian: A student-run era (1918–1930)

A symbol of the new day was the increasing responsibility assumed by students for campus publications. The process became evident on Aug. 1, 1918, when Dr. Chapman, with the help of Mrs. Chapman, arranged for the junior and senior English classes to take over the editing of that magazine, which bore the proud announcement that it was now “a student organ.”

The editor-in-chief was Gregorio Imperial, the assistant was Segundo Galicano, and Jose Estacion was the business manager. These and other staff members had been elected to office by their classmates, with correspondents headed by the late Martin Aguilar.

The leading article in that first student journal discussed, in statesmanlike terms, the quest for a Filipino national language. A picture of campus life viewed through students’ eyes followed the article.

By February of 1920, the missionary-founded periodical had bowed off the stage in favor of an outright student publication. It appeared in June as the bi-weekly The Sillimanian. Thereafter, Silliman Truth came out once a month as the official publication of Silliman’s Board of Trustees.

The transition came with the first issue of the school year 1920–1921. The statement of aims outlined in the second number for June 30 included fostering school spirit, encouraging writing among students, and providing a common medium of expression for student thought and ideals. 

The first editor was Antonio Aseniero, with Bernardo Icamen as associate, Bernardo Abrera as business manager, and Agustin Montesa as assistant.

Vol. I, Issue No. 2 of The Sillimanian contains an editorial with the publication’s statement of aims.

The first issue of the new Sillimanian did not necessarily depart from the format of Silliman Truth. Though a little bigger, it still contained similar items as its predecessor. 

The Sillimanian did not have a consistent number of pages when it came out fortnightly in the first half of the 1920s, and bi-monthly in the later part of the decade. The pages varied from four to six pages, depending on who the editor was or how much funds they got to sustain a regular campus paper.

Interestingly, The Sillimanian also carried ads for various business establishments in the community. Lawyers, dentists, doctors, and even beauty parlors ran ads—a healthy indication that The Sillimanian really was a campus and community paper.

Page 5 of the Jan. 31, 1945 issue of The Sillimanian printed ads on the lower left and right corners of the paper.

Toward the Second World War (1930s–1940s)

The 1930s was the pivotal decade of the existence of our country as a colony of the United States in the Far East. The Philippines became America’s war theater as it fought tooth and nail to suppress the surge of Imperial Japan’s Greater East Asia Sphere of Influence. We were at the forefront of the war here in the Far East, uncomprehending how much damage we would eventually take. True enough, after the war, our country’s capital, Manila, was the second city most destroyed by war, after Warsaw in Poland.

The Sillimanian, along with people from the university, fled to the hills at the height of the war to avoid the Japanese juggernaut, who came to occupy the island and settle on the campus. The daily issues of The Sillimanian from that period lie idly waiting in the Sillimaniana section for future scholars to examine their pages. By 1936, the school paper had increased to five columns and took definite divisions: alumni, coeds, literary, social, and sports pages.

From the start of the war to when the Japanese started occupying the campus and until the liberation in the mid-1940s, daily dispatches were also published by The Sillimanian. It carried wires about what was happening in the warfronts of Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Rim.

The paper was used as propaganda to update the citizens of the province. It also published items of encouragement for the troops and Filipinos who were beginning to lose hope.

The 1940s witnessed pivotal moments: the end of the war, the liberation of the Philippines, and the establishment of the Third Philippine Republic under Manuel Roxas. 

There was not much war damage sustained in Silliman, and people began rebuilding the once glorious university, finally coming down from the mountains to reestablish the foremost Christian university in Asia. 

Years of writing history (1950s–1960s)

Elsewhere in the world, the Cold War was brewing between the United States and the Soviet Union. The rise of communism threatened the Western states that adhered to democracy.

Meanwhile, on the island of Negros, The Sillimanian continued to be a newspaper for the community as well as for the campus. Subscription at that time was ₱2 a year.

To show the multilingualism of the newspaper, the 1950s issues of the paper had a Spanish section. Editorial cartoons lifted from international newspapers with hard-hitting themes about the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union were a mainstay of the paper then.

The layout of the paper changed monthly. There were editors for each of the Literary, Society, City, and Spanish sections. An added feature of the paper was a column titled Pitak sa Wikang Pambansa, where writers wrote in Filipino. To accommodate the students’ complaints, a special section called “Student Pulse” ran for several years. It is the predecessor of the Sillimanians Speak and Gripevine, rolled into one.

The year 1957 is significant in the rise of The Sillimanian. This was the year when it was awarded a First Place certificate by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA). The publication was not a member of the Association, but it won on its first try. Being awarded a First Place certificate was one of the highest honors bestowed to a campus publication, and The Sillimanian bested other contestants from the United States and other college publications from all over the world. Headed by Editor Samuel Occena, The Sillimanian made its presence felt among other campus newspapers by featuring articles that the CSPA considered “very expressive and thought-provoking.”

It also had a special Christmas issue that filled the pages with stories of the different sides of Christmas. It was truly the dawn of a new The Sillimanian. It was a member of both the College Editors Guild of the Philippines and the CSPA. It signified the status of The Sillimanian as one of the leading campus newspapers in the country.

Cover of the Dec. 21, 1940, Christmas number of The Sillimanian.

The year after Sillimanian Carlos Garcia was elected Philippine President was a fruitful year for The Sillimanian. That year’s issues of The Sillimanian also helped in soliciting funds to build the Alumni Hall.

The year 1961 was when Lorenzo Teves and Lamberto Macias got reelected to their offices. This story was carried by The Sillimanian as a banner story. The difference between then and now was that the newspaper before gave importance to government officials, while today’s issues treat such community news with a lesser degree of importance.
As early as 1966, The Sillimanian had begun naming itself the Weekly Sillimanian. Certain volumes succeeding that year, however, still carried The Sillimanian from time to time.

Vol. XXXII, No. 1, published July 15, 1966, carried the name the Weekly Sillimanian in its masthead.

The mid-1960s also saw the ascension of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. to the highest office in the nation, with his term coinciding with the birth of the New Society. The following years of the Marcos administration altered the whole course of Philippine history. The Sillimanian was there to play the role of a very vigilant campus press.

The Weekly Sillimanian: Standing for Truth (1972–2001)

The imposition of martial law in 1972 saw the “showcase of democracy” crumble to the ground. It was supposedly imposed as a response to the decaying political and social institutions of the country caused by unrestrained competition among the ruling elites and by the mass pressures organized by militant groups. Initially, most Filipinos reacted to it with relief. But martial law’s long-term consequences proved disastrous, as Marcos ruled the Philippines with an iron fist for 24 long years.

The Sillimanian thus evolved from a paper that students read for its interesting tidbits about campus personalities and campus life to a paper that promoted student activism upon entering the dark years of Marcos’ dictatorship.

With martial law declared, the students’ primary tool for expressing their thoughts on matters of the dictatorship of Marcos was through The Sillimanian. A section of the paper, “Ang Bayan,” was devoted to Marxism-Leninism-Kaspang Mao Tse-tung. This section elicited student complaints, especially from the student government, asking why The Sillimanian served as a frontline for the National Democratic Front (NDF) when they should be catering to the students’ needs and interests. The staff retorted that the students should be aware of the present situation. 
One prominent picture was bannered in the pages of The Sillimanian: Sillimanians rallying with red sashes over their foreheads, crying for freedom from the clutches of Marcos.

Vol. XXVII, No. 12, published on Feb. 7, 1972, used images of a protest for “the national democratic struggle” as its banner photo.

Amid it all, the office of The Sillimanian was raided by the Philippine Constabulary (now the Philippine National Police) and was closed down for three years. The publication’s editor-in-chief at the time, Dionisio Baseleres, was even held as a political detainee. He was released from the stockade after being detained for more than a month, upon the intervention of Silliman University officials.
After school papers in the country were allowed to resume in 1974, The Sillimanian was revived as a fortnightly in 1975 and resumed as a weekly in June 1976. It was around this time that the publication settled on consistently naming the Weekly Sillimanian. The publication continues to be named as such today.

The July 2, 1975 issue of The Sillimanian was the first since the paper was shut down during martial law.

The mid-80s then ushered in the end of the Marcos dictatorship. The Filipinos had finally awakened from being passive and afraid, joining hand in hand in a bloodless revolution, the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

Sillimanians, on the other hand, especially the Weekly Sillimanian staff, went to the mountains and interviewed rebels and military people. The Weekly Sillimanian still wielded its pens in staving off the power being forced upon the people by Marcos.

The 1990s saw the emergence of a new breed of writers for the Weekly Sillimanian. The pages of the paper were full of creative writing works, spearheaded by creative writer Timothy Montes. Future accomplished writers made feature articles and other write-ups through imagination and some information.

There was also this instance when the staff fired their editor because of a plagiarized editorial published. It just goes to say that irresponsible journalism has no place in the Weekly Sillimanian. 

Years and several presidents later, amid political turmoil and social development, 2001 saw the dawning of the one-hundredth year of Silliman’s existence. By then, the Weekly Sillimanian had had 91 editors-in-chief, including that year’s editor. Even then, the Weekly Sillimanian continued to be a place where future writers and professionals practice their writing, hone their skills in time management, and perform with grace under pressure, spending a lot of their time bringing stories to the community. All these they have pledged as their service, being the voice of the students.

Vol. LXXV, No. 2, published on June 25, 2003, highlights the Weekly Sillimanian’s 100 years as a publication in its masthead.

The digital era

More than 20 years since its centennial in 2003 may not seem like much time for the publication to grow, but rapid technological advancements and the effect of a global pandemic pushed tWS to radically change its operations.

The onset of the pandemic compelled tWS to transition to a fully online setup for two years. It was during this period that tWS revamped its website by transferring from the WordPress domain created in 2012 (https://theweeklysillimanian.wordpress.com/) to its current domain (https://www.twsillimanian.com/), slightly refurbished from its creation in 2021. As social media became the only platform to connect with the student body, the publication started exploring techniques to better emphasize its online presence. This gave more opportunities for the publication’s content to reach people outside of the university.

Given that no physical newsletters could be released, the staff managed to publish content on a loose weekly schedule, with topics leaning away from campus activity and more towards human interest stories of reminiscing the good days, coping through the difficult times, and updates on the university’s ways of adapting. 

The digital age also prompted the staff to develop wit enough to pique the interest of social media users, fusing Silliman culture with “meme” culture, as this was effective.

When tWS resumed face-to-face operations in 2022, it grappled with the pressure of reviving the weekly broadsheets while at the same time meeting the necessities of a digital era. It explored different possibilities for online content, such as making documentaries, that went beyond just posting content from the newspaper online. 

Despite these efforts, the ongoing struggle persists as tWS endeavors to enhance various facets of its operations.

As a result, tWS today has many more questions on how to move forward than it does answers. How can we innovate to meet the demands of a new generation of readers in an oversaturated media landscape? How should we respond to sociopolitical circumstances that enable blatant attacks on the freedom of both campus and professional press, as well as the spread of disinformation? What efforts must we increase—and perhaps even traditions we must sacrifice—to better serve the student body satisfactorily and sustainably?

These questions are wide-reaching and seemingly intimidating but they should not be feared. In fact, such a litany of questions is proof of tWS’ continued commitment to grow and improve with the times—to avoid becoming stagnant and complacent as the years pass. 

This is and always will be tWS’ commitment: to be a campus press that always strives for progress.


Updated and edited by Shay Du, with reports from Zarelle Villanzana

Based on “A history of the Weekly Sillimanian” by K. Imanoel Aoanan and Jan Alistair Villegas, published in Vol. LXXV, Nos. 4 to 7 (2003). With excerpts from “Silliman University 1901-1959: Gateway of Opportunity and of Service in the Philippines” by Dr. Arthur Carson and “Evolution of a student newspaper” by George Ghent from the March 20, 1939 issue of The Sillimanian.

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