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LGBT Org Strives for Recognition in UST

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FOR years, Thomasians have been struggling to create a legitimate organization that will cater to the needs of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in the university.

Last 2013, HUE, a university-wide, unofficial organization, aims to spread awareness and acceptance for the Thomasian LGBT community.

“We want to make a difference in the way people perceive LGBTQIA people,” Bernice Caña, a member of HUE, said.

A Search for Acceptance

HUE is not the first LGBT organization to be established in the university. Around the 60s to 90s, there was also an unofficial organization named Tigresa Royal. Unfortunately, the group dissipated because of few members, thus no one maintained the organization.

HUE likes to represent the LGBT minority over the whole population of the Thomasian community. Considering how the subject of human sexuality is still an avoided topic due to cultural influences, the organization also likes to inform the Thomasians that there are other forms of sexuality out there.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that there are more than two genders, or that pansexuality, demisexuality and asexuality exists, just to name a few,” Caña said.

“We’ve been quiet for way too long,” she added.

HUE is hoping that through its establishment, LGBT discrimination in the campus will diminish. They want the Thomasians to be more aware that using words like “bakla” in derogatory terms is considered as unfair and hurtful to the LGBT group.

Thomasian View

A 3rd year student from the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD), who is part of the LGBT community, said that trying to be discreet for the benefit of those who are uninformed is useless and that it is time to stop the drama of offending the LGBT community.

“Having an official and abiding org for the LGBT community is a big move forward. Less hate, just more allies. Less confused, just more love,” she explained.

Before, when a person was considered as “sexually deviant”, he was shunned by the society. Now, at least, people are more tolerant of accepting those who are “different” from them.

Meanwhile, another 3rd year LGBT student from the College of Architecture believes that any effort to help the LGBT community to express their own ideals and aspirations is beneficial.

She is grateful that an organization like HUE exists to change the perspective of people in relation to the members of the LGBT. She thinks that giving the members of LGBT a chance to express themselves is essential to them as human beings.

“Personally, with the help of these organizations and groups, I was able to fully understand and accept myself. Years ago, I had no idea what I felt and I thought it was something wrong- a sin,” she said.

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“We need to learn that they (LGBT) are no different from us, that we were born equal, and we shall also die as equals,” she added.

On the other hand, Riya Lee, a 3rd year Accountancy student, said that she is okay with the establishment of HUE.

“Okay lang naman sya for me. Wala din akong nakikitang mali,” Lee said.

She added that through this organization, LGBT students could find comfort and understanding. She also thinks that the establishment of HUE is also beneficial to the UST community.

“May friends kasi ako na gay and bi(sexual). Ayon, dahil sa kanila mas naging open-minded ako,” she explained.

A Voice for the LGBT

HUE was created as part of the former ACT (Alliance of Concerned Thomasians)-Now’s agenda. They reached out to similar organizations in the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, where they had a counterpart political party. Hue refers to the colors of the rainbow, which is the symbol for the LGBT community.

The founders of HUE are Majann Lazo, student council president of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, and Noelle Capili, a member of Mediatrix, a university-wide organization for art enthusiasts.

Caña said, “Without them, HUE probably wouldn’t exist today. It’s all thanks to their efforts and ideas. They’re amazing and intelligent people and HUE is going to thrive because of them.”

Caña expressed that the formation of the group will add positivity to UST’s Catholic reputation. She stated that the existence of HUE will mean that UST is accepting the diversity of its student population and that it will be safe to speak of such issues within the campus.

“There is absolutely no reason for HUE’s existence to hurt the university’s reputation – again, it can only mean a much more positive representation for UST,” Caña added.

On the other hand, Lee is a bit more skeptical about it. She said that a lot of people will severely criticize the university for encouraging the formation of an LGBT organization, especially since UST is a Catholic University and the Catholic Church is quite strict when it comes to such matters.

However, she added that, “As Catholics, we must treat everyone with the respect they deserve.”

Photo By Brianna Cardenas

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‘Budol culture’: How retail therapy entices Thomasian shopaholics

Online shopping is not only a product of consumerism and advertising; it can also be a way of coping with this pandemic.

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Artwork by Wendell Adrian Quijado/TomasinoWeb

As the holiday breeze swiftly approaches, the holy grail of business sales has also made its way to entice shopaholics. It is that time of the year again when Christmas grand sales take markets by storm.

Since the pandemic began, people have slowly turned towards online stores and markets to buy essential needs and trivial items.

Digital platforms like Lazada, Shopee, Zalora, and BeautyMNL have become the leaders in local online shopping applications. With the never-ending lockdowns and quarantine, Filipino sellers and buyers now focus online, maximizing their use of these new and effective platforms to venture out into their own business as well as purchasing items.

When it comes to this, Thomasians are no strangers. Many students have been engaging with these e-commerce apps to buy skincare products, clothes, makeup, and random things they might find necessary. 

But online shopping is not only a product of consumerism and advertising; it can also be a way of coping with this pandemic.

‘Retail therapy?’

Medical technology junior Lorraine Pagdato confirmed that online shopping helped her cope with the pandemic. 

“Yes. Online shopping served as one of my coping mechanisms during this pandemic. With the stress that I acquire due to online classes, online shopping has given me a sense of joy outside academics,” she told TomasinoWeb

Despite all the stress that burdened her during the pandemic, online shopping seemed to have sparked a sense of joy whenever she buys a product.

It’s like there’s something therapeutic whenever I click the ‘add-to-cart’ and the ‘check out’ buttons in Shopee or Lazada,” Pagdato shared. 

However, she also added that relieving stress through online shopping is not that healthy because it involves wasting money on things that aren’t needed. 

Pagdato reiterated, “I think it’s not an overall good habit since sometimes, we keep on splurging for stuff that we don’t need leading to overspending.”

Regardless of these consequences, tourism junior Mardz Forte thinks online shopping is better than physical stores. 

“Actually, yes, if magaling ka mag-risk, I mean if magaling ka kumilatis sa mga reviews ganon kasi mas mapapabilis buhay mo,” she said. Forte also stated the importance of exploring the product and shop ratings can help buyers purchase a good quality product. 

“May reviews na mga tao sa mismong product upon shopping, hindi na kailangan lumabas, madalas mas makakadiscount pa, madaming pagpipilian, at madali makakita ng murang items,” she added.

Tourism junior Ella Malig echoes the same sentiments, citing the convenience of e-commerce platforms. 

“Online shopping makes it easier for customers and also hassle-free since hindi na aalis ng bahay,” she said.

Pagdato also revealed that e-commerce platforms spared her from the stress of buying school necessities amid quarantine restrictions.

“Since I am a medical technology student, some of my subjects require me to have medical supplies. It is now difficult to buy those in the middle of a pandemic, so I resort to online shopping,” she said. 

In addition, Pagdato mentioned that she usually buys school supplies online, from highlighters down to notebooks, in preparation for online classes. 

The selection of items in online shops stretches far as different products can be bought there, such as for households, personal use, and even sports equipment. For Pagdato, shopping online becomes a feasible choice to buy essentials amid the health crisis as it lessens the possibility of the virus spreading. 

“Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, my family usually buys our necessities like food, toiletries, and disinfectants online to avoid the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus outside,” Pagdato said. 

Online consumerism

But how do they feel about continuous online sales that seem very enticing and influencers that encourage this kind of shopaholism? 

For Pagdato, influencers do have an impact on consumerism online. When influencers try a certain product, whether it’s good or bad, the influencer’s opinion affects their audience’s decision.

Malig, on the other hand, added that the monthly sale of online shopping platforms captivates its audience and leads to impulsive buying as well. 

Pagdato added to this thought by saying, “It is nice to buy things on sale, use free shipping vouchers, get a ‘cashback.’”

According to her, these factors attract consumers to buy lots of products since it was instilled in our minds that we can save tons of money using those several vouchers and discounts. She thinks it’s a good strategy because it gives people something to look forward to every month.

Filipinos are getting encouraged to buy online nowadays, which sometimes leads to spontaneous hoarding of unnecessary random items. However, it’s pretty therapeutic and relieves the stress due to the pandemic, Pagdato said. 

As for whether it’s a good or bad thing, Forte said that it depends on how you spend your money. If your savings just go to unnecessary purchases, then it’s bad. It’s only a good thing as you don’t need to go out and risk yourself contracting the virus.

“Marami naman advantages [ang] online shopping….mas convenient lalo na ngayong pandemic halos lahat ng stores nag-sswitch na sa online world,” Forte said. 

Bianca Labraque
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Thomasian scientists on the painstaking process of validating new COVID-19 test kits

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story,” Albano said.

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Team of researchers and faculty members from the College of Science — (From left to right) Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D., Asst. Prof. Maureen B. Sabit, Ph.D., and Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat.

Thomasian researchers are on the brink of validating a cheaper and faster PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)-based detection of the COVID-19 virus.

The cost of a PCR-testing can be marked down once enough research has shown that this kit can successfully track the presence of COVID-19. This can eliminate the need for trained swabbers and enable the patients to swab themselves. Self-collection will expedite the process, reduce the spread of infection, and lessen labor.

As if the science behind it was not meticulous enough, the execution did not come easy either.

Singaporean Biotech company MiRXes Pte commissioned lead proponent Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D. to provide clinical validation of the company’s qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction) kit for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 via nasopharyngeal and saliva samples. Her team was composed of Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat., Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., and Asst. Prof. Maureen Sabit, Ph.D. from the Department of Biological Sciences. 

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story. I encountered several challenges that I did not encounter pre-pandemic,” Albano said in the 2nd Science and Technology (STS) Summit.

During the 2nd STS Summit on Nov. 12, Albano outlined the key challenges the team had to hurdle through, namely ethical approval, study site, participant recruitment, team safety, and molecular analyses. 

The surge of Delta cases nearly ruined everything

In May 2021, the team chose Ilocos Norte, 512 kilometers from the city of Manila, to serve as their study site. Ilocos Norte seemed like the perfect place to get their samples processed. The facilities needed to successfully conduct the validation and the endemic situation of coronavirus cases were kept at bay.

“When we were about to send the equipment and materials to the study site, our research partners in the area could no longer commit because COVID-19 cases [had] started to dramatically increase after detecting Delta,” Albano said. 

While waiting to get cleared by the ethics committee, she noticed the spike of COVID cases in the locale and began to draft contingency plans. Thanks to their proactivity,  the team was able to subcontract Singapore Diagnostics (SGD) which is a private DOH-accredited COVID-19 molecular testing facility in Makati. They figured that, with the sticky situation, it might not be “wise” to partner with a government-run hospital at the time.

“At this point, there was no turning back. I am accountable and I was committed to successfully implement the trial despite all the odds,” Albano said.

They set foot – rather by boat, in the province of Candaba, Pampanga as their new and final study site. The new study site exposed the team to language barriers and boisterous weather conditions. Their kick-off was pushed months later on Aug. 6.

During its early stages, the team’s first batch of swabbers and drivers had tested positive and resigned after their quarantine. Luckily, the team had been training additional swabbers and drivers in high-risk areas, and strictly imposed biosafety guidelines and testing every week. This smooth transition meant that the trial could go unhindered despite the setbacks faced.

COVID-19 stigma among participants

Participant recruitment for the validation of cheaper and faster COVID-19 PCR-based test kits. Screengrab from the 2nd Science and Technology Summit

“A positive result was equated to loss of income,” she said as she described how the stigma of getting a positive result affected families. 

Many potential participants hesitated due to the stigma associated with positive cases. Positive COVID results meant that breadwinners could not provide for their families; they could starve while waiting in quarantine. 

This spurred Albano to give sacks of rice rather than the initially planned monetary compensation. 

Political and administrative power dynamics

“In the past, I would only need to present to the medical director and department heads of hospitals whenever I would invite for collaboration. However, in this clinical trial, this clinical trial taught me the importance of understanding the local power dynamics in order to access potential participants,” she said.

According to Albano, access to areas with high COVID-19 cases, quarantine facilities, and community-based testing sites were the hardest. 

“I had to ask the support of medical technologists to have access to their COVID-19 testing facilities. I approached factory workers and factory owners to have their members and employees tested for free. I also invited healthcare workers, especially the volunteers in vaccination sites. And of course, I invited the UST community to participate,” she said. 

Regulations at the local level are dependent on the current COVID situation. Some places have implemented local lockdowns based on where the cases are. The strategy became focused on a constant dialogue with community members and different organizations within communities. It resulted in genuine collaboration between stakeholders in all aspects of the clinical trial. 

“Principal investigators of COVID-19 clinical trials should possess flexibility because the pandemic presents unforeseen changes and diversity of situations one should be able to adjust to constraints and to make fast decisions and plans during ambiguous situations,” she said.

Conducting clinical trials during a pandemic is no easy feat. Albano’s team learned that through the various obstacles that they faced. From the study site to the lack of participants, team safety, and the various political and administrative hurdles, they broke through to the other side to tell the tale.

Despite the odds, the team was still able to pull-off figures beyond the required 300 positive and 500 negative cases for testing. The results will then be sent to MiRXes for further validation and application by the FDA in Singapore. 

Christine Nicole Montojo
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Angela Gabrielle Magbitang Atejera
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UST creative writing major Aleia Anies’ shot in the dark

After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, Anies didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

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Photo courtesy of Ellie Bun

UST AB Creative Writing student, Aleia Marie Anies will be joining the three-week Virgin Labfest 16 Writing Fellowship Program starting Nov. 16 until Dec. 5. 

In an interview with TomasinoWeb, Anies shared her excitement from being one of the eight fellows for this year’s CCP’s Virgin Labfest Fellowship (VLF) Program. 

Being the first Creative Writing undergraduate from the University to attend the event, Anies couldn’t help but feel ecstatic. “Actually, hindi pa nagsisink in, as in ang surreal,” she said.

Although she initially considered dropping out, there were questions that lingered around her. “Kasi alam mo ‘yung feeling na pumapasok na, ‘What if hanggang dito na lang ako?’ ‘What if hindi ko na kayang gumawa pa or magsulat pa ng mas maganda?’ ‘What if hindi ako mag-improve as a writer?’” 

But for the creative writing major, the mere fact that she was chosen and given this opportunity was enough reason for her to keep going. It was the sign that she was waiting for.

Anies also shared that her submission for the VLF was “a shot in the dark.” After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, she didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

When asked about what motivates her to write, the 36th Gawad Ustetika winner for Fiction used soap suds and sponges as metaphors for writing.

“Writers are like sponges, we have to be able to absorb the things around us at ang gamit natin ay ‘yung senses natin. I think soap suds are the perfect analogy for our regurgitating words […] Kasi kailangan mo talagang pigain yung sarili mo as a writer before ka makaproduce ng soap, before ka makaproduce ng work or literature,” she said.

Originality comes second for the writer as she emphasized the need for a writer to be able to squeeze themselves and create a good piece. “I think a good piece of literature comes from a writer who can squeeze themselves, ‘yung kayang dikdikin ‘yung sarili nila and someone who is always willing to absorb new information, always willing to learn, to learn from themselves, but also, to learn from others.” 

For three weeks of exchanging insights and establishing a bond, Anies is excited about what will happen, “I’m looking forward to learning from other people, I’m looking forward to watching a lot more plays and sobrang excited ako sa workshop kasi nga diba […] gusto kong pigain pa ako, gusto kong mapiga pa para mareach ko ‘yung full potential ko.” 

The Virgin Labfest Fellowship Writing Program is an annual event of the Cultural Center of the Philippines that focuses on training young aspiring playwrights through lectures, discussions, and workshops. This year, Glenn Sevilla Mas, the multi-award-winning playwright, will be mentoring the fellows. 

Aliah Basbas
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