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A Letter to a Young Thomasian

To the new UST student reading this, in the near future, I hope you see the same things I did. But today, I write to you in hopes that you become less alone.



young thomasian
(Artwork by Ched Janelle Bautista/TomasinoWeb)

Given all the circumstances, those of which I am sure all of us are tired of hearing, much less remembering, I still hope this letter finds you warm and well. 

There are things I will say here that may or may not stir something in you: an invitation of excitement for what may come after all this ends, anger for what could have been, sorrow for all that is. We know how strong words are, what they can make us do, and what they can become. But they aren’t enough in letting you know what I know, to see the things I’ve seen, to have what I had. Words cannot compare to first-hand experiences, but as of now, this is all I have left.

First and foremost, I’m sorry. Not that I had anything to do with the pandemic—I don’t think anyone should be held accountable for how it all started, but I’m sorry about how it escalated to such an extent. I’m sorry it’s happening to what should have been a year for freshmen like you to make new promises and be compelled not to break them. I’m sorry you still refer to the directions as north, south, east, and west, and not the way we have been trained to do during our time in PE: España, Dapitan, Lacson, Noval. Sorry about the street names, you would have liked walking through them: crossing roads and keeping your eyes alert for a potentially speeding car, an alarming stranger, a stray cat, or a friend. 

I’m sorry you are reading this when you could have been hearing it directly from me. I’m sorry the voices you will be compelled to listen to are transmitted from your device or deterred by a buffering screen. I’m sorry we won’t get to meet, not for a little while. Sorry for apologizing so excessively. There is so much of UST in me that, if I could, I would pull it out of my chest, wrap it inside a box, and give it to you, free of charge. It would be our little secret.

It must come off as awkward, maybe a little ridiculous, to think of the university as a secret, as big as it is: a walled-in city of 21 point five hectares, curated specifically for dreamers, romantics, free thinkers, future heroes, and every person in between. Yet there are things only we could know, not through sardonic gatekeeping, but by virtue of shared experiences—both good and bad. 

You will be accustomed to bouncing between lectures through Zoom and Google Meet links for some time. But there’s a pedestrian lane in the street that separates the Hospital building and the Carpark, jokingly (and somewhat affectionately) called Shibuya Crossing, that you will have to get used to before meeting your colleagues. You may or may not be the unfortunate victim of water droplets in an infamous spot in Dapitan. 

You could be the proud owner of a pack of pastillas, sold to you by a very convincing vendor. The “pop” of the fountain behind the main building might be just what you need to wake you up at seven in the morning. The diverse cast of statues scattered around campus might be of some interest to you—from a well-known saint and philosopher to a very familiar looking figure, carrying what appears to be a globe. This and this, it all belongs to you as it does to me. Thomasians, like alchemists, know how to turn mundane things to gold. We know how to take things from the past and turn it into something else.

There is the matter of a Thomasian’s complicated relationship with the rain—rain that could be a blessing from the sky or a punishment to everything urban, depending on who you ask or on which side the coin lands. Drizzles come and go, gentle kisses upon the earth, but Manila downpours are unforgiving. They are relentless, churning streets into rivers. Nothing floods as much as UST, which seems to suck the water around the city like a sponge. It used to flood so much that it is baffling Thomasians don’t grow gills through natural selection. It used to be so bad that we took umbrellas with us like an extension of our bodies, and accepted the fate of our ruined textbooks, damp socks, and bricked phones. 

I remember always hating the overcast. But today, every time I look above and see grey, all I could think about is my second home, that I used to be part of something bigger.  

I know how hard university is, and I know how harder it will become when you experience it exclusively in front of a screen. It is draining, difficult, and devastatingly lonely. No one likes the situation we’re in, and I’m going as far as to say that everyone despises it. 

The UST I write about is not what you are experiencing now. If our roles were switched, I’d think of you as someone not quite all there in the head, that we cannot be in the same school, that everything you have written and will continue to write sounds like a fever dream. It’s not. If there’s room for it in your heart to trust me, I pray that you do. 

Things are not where they should be now: the leylines are rearranged and the stars have realigned. But like all things inherent to nature, it will get better. To become a Thomasian is to become a conqueror of solitude—which is why we have the welcome walk, why we attend Paskuhan and Agape, why we wear yellow on game days, why I am writing to you now. To the new UST student reading this, in the near future, I hope you see the same things I did. But today, I write to you in hopes that you become less alone.

Maybe this is just how Thomasians are, what we become, what we unconsciously morph into. We turn into schools of fish to swim our way to safety, we become the stoic trees in Lover’s Lane, we become like statues. We flock to each other like birds, lick each other’s wounds like dogs. A dreadful part of me, bordering somewhere between realistic and pessimistic, believes that this current set-up we are forced to do might continue for some time. A year at the least. Maybe even more. But a hopelessly romantic, sad, and desperate part of me continues to believe that it will all end earlier than we initially thought. 

Until then: drink water, keep a blanket around your shoulders, and stay away from the rain (or, after reading all of this, bathe in it all you want). I can’t wait to see you soon. 

With love,

A Thomasian student

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A Taste of Home

A pang of heaviness under Christmas lights and melodies lingers; a longing that can’t be sated, that even when I arrive back at my apartment—it’s still not home. 



Artwork by Krishma Elise Lilles/TomasinoWeb

It’s Christmas Eve. Here I am, a vague approximation of a model employee, on the busiest night of the year but what is before me is the exact opposite—empty chairs, emptier tables, and a hollowed-out version of Jose Mari Chan playing over the speakers. The branch in Makati had seen better days. There are seats colder than the buildings right across the street, the paint had already chipped in some places, and the mascot’s statue outside looked as if the problems of the world had ravaged it. 

I’m more surprised that people still come here.

Even though most people were home for the holidays, delivery services were at an all-time high. I still try to make small talk with the customers. Even though I do all the protocols, leave nothing to chance, the risk is still there, after all. I’m fully aware of that and I have no choice. 

The pandemic had whittled away the usual customers as most of them are now working from home. Usually, you’d see office workers or people going in for a quick bite; lunchtime lines were long and the delivery man was all worn-out from doing several deliveries at once. Back when it wasn’t just the three of us and there were more employees, we’d usually make bets amongst ourselves on which customers were more likely to stay for hours on end, making the place their makeshift workstation. It harkens back to a simpler time, to an era of hugs, and year-end parties—back when no one had to worry about masks or face shields.

No one would disagree that we wanted that back, that we wanted a livelier Christmas, one not marked by gloom and despair, and one that is not similar to a hollow version of a jingle that plays over and over again. 

I was manning the cashier while another tended to the kitchen. Meanwhile, Fred would deliver meals, if the orders were requested on our hotline and not ordered by some ride-sharing app. I remembered how the freezers were at full capacity, anticipating the yearly influx of orders. A sigh escaped my lips at the thought of parties like a five-year-old’s birthday, the way joy crinkled on the people’s lips, their festive squeals, and tons of kids running around the place, greeting our mascot with high-fives and hugs.

But now, the man who donned the mascot had been r etrenched after transferring to another branch. I remembered hearing about several branches in the area closing down. Good thing we got lucky enough. Maybe they’ll come back when everything gets better. 

These are remnants of a past that would never come back. All kept in memories that were prone to fading. Customers did come in for a short while but I miss the long lines and noise that brought the place to life.

I was checking the cashier when a young woman stumbled into the store, hair disheveled and a bit fidgety. 

“Welcome! Can I take your order?”

“Meron pa ba kayo noong 8-piece na chicken bucket?”

I smiled in response as I yelled to the back for her order. We stood quietly with her muttering something close to a whisper while I handed her the change. 

“Salamat,” she says before leaving with the big paper bag. While she was at the door, something from her bag rang. The scene of her talking on the phone reminded me of my parents. I still haven’t called them this week. I wonder how they are right now. Are they fine? Are they eating well? 

Thoughts drifted to home-cooked meals, the smell of our favorite dishes—steam rising as fresh rice comes out of the rice cooker. Pork and chicken adobo, some caldereta, and Lola’s paella—a feast for the eyes and for the stomach. I envision my family together, my cousins eager to open presents, not even finishing their food, while the adults would be chatting at the table as we wait for midnight.

How distant all of these are. 

I tried to shake off the gloomy atmosphere by thinking of how I would redecorate the apartment. Maybe I can change the family photos, buy new frames, add new ones or maybe make a collage of them. But despite the tiny excitement that sparked in me, missing them warped the festive atmosphere even more. The clock strikes twelve, signaling the end of my shift. I say goodbye to the crew. 

As the store faded from view, a pang of heaviness under Christmas lights and melodies lingers; a longing that can’t be sated, that even when I arrive back at my apartment—it’s still not home. It doesn’t have the smell of adobo and paella, nor the chatter I’ve grown used to, and even though I’ve tried to recreate it all before, I know that it will never be the same. 

Christine Nicole Montojo
Stories Writer | + posts


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Regain what has strayed

Tomorrow, your courage will glow. And that serenity will eventually flow.



Artwork by Aliah Basbas/TomasinoWeb

Today, your braveness grows dim

and your sprouting fear goes grim

suffocating as the breathing shorten

praying in order to bargain,

the anguish to finally end.


days in the realm of the abyss,

while counting the dread of time

misty and cold, curled in isolation

waiting for nothing in absolute frustration.


the realization of your apprehension

governs your full comprehension

whispering that this is eternal 

a void within the internal.


but is this the culmination,

of your full determination?

undoubtedly there is more to contemplate

In this solitude, there’s an alternate.


despite all the anguish

there’s another you need to relish

the gleam of assurance

closing down the distance


a meaningful glance of desire

at the misery about to retire

go and treasure what’s valued,

and genuine delight would follow.


Tomorrow, your courage will glow

And that serenity will eventually flow,

Unshackled from the unease

As you go on your day, about to seize

Fluttering your wings in absolute bliss.

Bianca Labraque
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You and your remnants

He left parts of him scattered: an absent seat, a dust-sprinkled mug, sets of immobile shirts and basketball shorts, a sentence in a notebook without a period, and the half-empty cologne we bought at Divisoria.



Artwork by Aliah Basbas/TomasinoWeb

At the dinner table, plates were passed as laughter was shared alongside steaming dinorado and mechado. Lowered heads whisper family gossip about who and what while the row of picture frames stayed on their usual spots. 

In our house, things are all over the place. A lonely sock nudged between the sofa throw pillows, a heap of phone chargers where no one bothered to untangle, and forgotten coffee mugs that stayed untouched for days.

You know there’s a big occasion when they start bringing out party packs of store-bought ice cream. The moment someone announces that their favorite dessert is out and open, a swarm of children bolts, leaving their phones, and sprints into the kitchen. Glasses disappear. A line forms. 

I sat by an unoccupied seat waiting for everyone’s turn. Behind Tita Eunice, I started to notice a glass, with a spoon stuck on generous scoops of Ube-flavored ice cream, placed in front of the unoccupied seat. 

“That’s his. Bring it to your Tito Albert,” Tita Eunice said. I stood up and went into the living room.

There he was, all smiling with a peace sign. We couldn’t find any formal picture of him. Only photographs in wacky poses and crumpled faces. He wasn’t all prim and proper, he’s just Tito Albert. He and his glistening head. No one dared to touch anything inside his house office. No one plans to. Not even Tita Eunice. We have to wait for forty days, she reminded us. And then for a year for his other things to be given to relatives who need them. 

I stayed with Tito Albert and Tita Eunice ever since when my mother went to Japan. The power couple housed me as if I’m their child. The two were unmatched. The other couldn’t live without an arm’s reach of the other. They were lovebirds all their lives. I seldom see them argue. 

But when they did, it was a strange and bizarre sight. Their recent fight turned out to be their last. I remember giving them a letter. Inside was a wish, hoping for them to get along. But their fight still lasted for weeks, and he brought the fight ‘till his last breath.

I stood in front of his room and opened its creaking door. The dust swirling in the enclosed dank air irritated my nostrils and made me sneeze. There, at the right side of the room, is a bookshelf with all his collectibles and books. On the opposite side is his desk, where he worked on hours on end for a company that barely gave him enough. 

He left parts of him scattered: an absent seat, a dust-sprinkled mug, sets of immobile shirts and basketball shorts, a sentence in a notebook without a period, and the half-empty cologne we bought at Divisoria. He was my bicycle guide, and my medic when I crashed into a neighbor’s metal gate. Every morning, Tito was my motorcycle hatid ever since I was in kindergarten. 

In the end, I became his hatid. I brought his ashen body to his tiny room, at the columbarium. My embrace around his flat-topped urn tightened. Everything wasn’t gray, and the sky wasn’t a blanket of clouds. It was a searing Monday morning when the coffee wasn’t too bitter and the eggs weren’t too runny. 

Today is his day. A few months from now, we could’ve been alongside one another as he accompanies me to my last day in school. I brought him his Ube, and he gave me tears. 

I hate you, Tito Albert, and your bald head. But you left a part—parts—of you with me. 

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