In a historic first, Thomasian professionals in Hong Kong have collectively launched on January 19, 2024 the pioneering University of Santo Tomas Alumni Association Hong Kong Chapter (USTAAHK), joining more than a dozen other Thomasian alumni associations overseas in the 413-year history of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, Asia’s oldest existing university.
The milestone inauguration comes just one month after the USTAAHK was both formally recognised as a registered society (Society registration number: 0065480) by the Hong Kong government in December 2023, and a duly registered Philippine organisation with the Consulate General of the Philippines in Hong Kong the same month.
The USTAAHK is made up of 13 founding members, namely Ms. Jan Yumul, president of USTAAHK; Mr. Nobel Gabasan, vice president; Ms. Anna Pendry, public relations officer; Mr. Erwin Regalado, secretary; Mr. Byron Agarano, treasurer; and Mr. Joel Almeda, auditor. Ms. Pendry, Mr. Gabasan, Mr. Almeda, Mr. Agarano, and Mr. Regalado, also serve concurrent roles, as chairperson, Socio-Cultural Events Committee; vice chairperson, Socio-Cultural Events Committee; chairperson, Finance Committee; vice chairperson, Finance committee, and chairperson, Sports and Games committee, respectively.
Other founding committees include Ms. Tanya Sales Manzano, chairperson for external affairs, Communications and Marketing ; Mr. John Go, chairperson for internal affairs, Communications and Marketing; Ms. Joy Alba, chairperson, Membership and Presence; Ms. Maureen Pickering, vice chairperson, Membership and Presence; Ms. Jenely de Ocampo, chairperson, Advocacy; Ms. Michelle Rea Yongque, vice chairperson, Advocacy; and Mr. Victorino Baltazar, vice chairperson, Sports and Games.
While the UST alumni in Hong Kong have previously organised social, family-oriented, and team-building activities, this marks the first time the group has formalised their association where an induction ceremony was held at The Hive in Sheung Wan. The event was well supported with the attendees reaching more than 100 Thomasian alumni, business representatives, academic representatives, community leaders, and nonprofit organisations.
Newly designated Philippine Consul General to Hong Kong Germinia Aguilar-Usudan, a Juris Doctor (Doctor of Law) graduate from UST, graced the event as keynote speaker and administered USTAAHK’s founding officers’ oath. In her speech, Ms. Aguilar-Usudan said the University of Santo Tomas “is not only the university where we pursued our education and earned our degrees”, but it was also “the place that developed our character and who we are today”. “Its core values, namely ‘competence, compassion and commitment, guide us in the pursuit of our dreams and aspirations,” said Ms. Aguilar-Usudan.
“As founding officers of the USTAAHK, you are expected to perform your task with competence, to serve everyone with compassion, and to fulfil your mandate with commitment. Let us all serve our kababayans in HK, ‘the UST way’ and make our alma mater proud,” she added. The Consul General also seized the opportunity to wish the attendees a belated New Year, and an advance Lunar New Year.
“Twenty-twenty-four is the year of the Wood Dragon. It is expected to be a great year to start new projects, explore new opportunities and create value for yourself and others. A very suitable year for the new USTAAHK. Congratulations!” said Ms. Aguilar-Usudan. “I wish all of you good health, happiness, and a successful new year ahead. Maraming, maraming salamat po. Mabuhay! Mabuhay ang UST! Mabuhay, mabuhay ang USTAAHK. Maraming Salamat,” she added.
The induction ceremony was also supported by guests who flew in from UST Manila, namely the UST Office of Alumni Relations (OAR), led by Ms. Joreen Rocamora, acting director of UST-OAR; Ms Carla Romina, alumni engagement officer of UST-OAR, and Ms Marlot Ira Coleen Ngo, web data management officer at UST-OAR.
Dr. Evelyn Songco, chairman of UST Alumni Association Inc. (USTAAI), also graced the event. In her opening remarks, she linked the latest addition of the USTAAHK to the USTAAI family to that of the birth of a child, which “is always a joyful occasion”. She said the birth of an alumni association “is definitely a cause of joy” and so “we gather this evening to celebrate that”. “We also celebrate tonight the past and the future. We celebrate the past because every alumni group coming together is born out of the alumni’s connection to the past; because of the memories of our alma mater,” said Dr. Songco.
“Today, we celebrate the future because I am sure that with this event tonight, you will always have meetings and say “Kita tayo”. With those words comes the promise of the future – the promise of faith, of hope, and of charity,” she added. Dr. Songco also reminded the Hong Kong Thomasian community that the promise of faith “rests on our fidelity to our alma mater and on one another as we promise to see each other in the future”, in continuing to “pursue the mission of our profession or our life advocacy”, and that the promise of hope “rests on how well we will serve our alma mater, the alumni, and the community”.
“The promise of charity rests on how generous we shall be with our time, talent, and treasure to keep in touch with one another, conduct assemblies, and activities for the benefit of our alma mater and the Thomasian alumni in HK, and the community,” said Dr. Songco.
She said faith, hope, and charity “have amazingly sustained the USTAAI, the mother alumni association of all recognized alumni associations” and that they were in constant partnership with the Thomasian Alumni Community Foundation, Inc (TACFI), which raises funds for the activities of the USTAAI.
“Giving birth and sustaining an alumni association is a daunting task. It is a volunteer work for all of us. It is a commitment; a mission; and most importantly, it is an act of giving. As volunteers, we are blessed not with material things but with joy in our hearts. That is our reward,” said Dr. Songco.
The USTAAI chairman was also accompanied by Ms. Katherine Lou Bundang, business manager, USTAAI, and Ms. Pickering, who serves concurrent positions with USTAAI and USTAAHK.
Bringing a message to the newly inducted USTAAHK Board of Directors on behalf of the Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, OP, PhD, Ms. Rocamora, acting director of UST-OAR, said the establishment of the USTAAHK was “the dawn of a new chapter”. “My heartfelt congratulations to all of you! You have accepted the mantle of leadership with courage and dedication, stepping forward to serve our vibrant community of Hong Kong-based Thomasians. Your commitment to upholding the legacy of UST, fostering unity among alumni, and propelling our association to even greater heights is truly inspiring,” said Ms. Rocamora.
She noted that the path ahead “may be paved with challenges”, but with “unwavering determination and a shared vision, you will conquer them all”. “Embrace the diversity of the association, draw strength from our shared history, and never lose sight of the values that bind us together: compassion, commitment and competence, said Ms. Rocamora.
“Let your leadership be a beacon of light and inspiration for every Thomasian in Hong Kong. Remember, the success of UST Alumni Association Hong Kong lies not just in your individual efforts but in the collective spirit of our association,” she added. In her closing remarks, Hong Kong-raised Ms. Yumul, founding president of USTAAHK, acknowledged and thanked Dr. Songco and the USTAAI, the Manila-based mother chapter, for welcoming the USTAAHK as a member under its wings. She also thanked the UST-OAR for being instrumental in forming the USTAAHK’s establishment.
Ms. Yumul also unveiled the chapter’s advocacies, which would focus on uplifting and mainstreaming Filipino professionals in Hong Kong, supporting youth empowerment, and putting “care” in the healthcare of migrant domestic workers. USTAAHK events will also aim to target the promotion of Philippine arts and culture in Hong Kong through hosting exhibits, live demonstrations, and workshops by Filipino artists, musical performances by UST groups.
“Today is a celebration of countless overcoming and coming together. A lot of people ask me why the need to form the USTAAHK. (To) the Filipinos in Hong Kong, let’s face the reality. We’ve been boxed into one profession for a very long time. So, I hope we can change this. I hope our engagements will deepen and broaden as we overcome challenges,” said Ms. Yumul.
According to the Home Affairs Department’s Race Relations Unit, citing the 2021 Population Consensus, there are 201,291 Filipinos in Hong Kong with more than half of the population employed as domestic workers in the city.
“There were ‘Three Cs’ of the Thomasian values that were mentioned tonight: competence, commitment, and compassion. In the Hong Kong version, I want to add one more ‘C’. (Be) ‘Community Engagers’ because we will go very far. The establishment of the association ends our 14-year journey in search of Thomasian trailblazers and organizers. We look forward to your support,” she added.
Ms. Yumul also acknowledged several community leaders in the academic, NGO, and business fields for graciously accepting the association’s invitation. Some notable guests included Ms. Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, general manager of the Mission for Migrant Workers, Ms. Janet Carnay, volunteer at the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, and Mr. Thiru Nachiappan, Chairman, Tomorrow’s Youth Development Fund.
Ms. Jonnet Kudera, Regional Philanthropy Manager, The Fred Hollows Foundation, and Mr. Lito Castillo, Chairperson, Hong Kong Musicians’ Union were also among those present. The event was also attended by business executives such as Ms. Estephanie Chan, account executive at Philippine Airlines, as well as past chairmen of the Philippine Association of Hong Kong, namely Ms. Jocelyn S. Palomaria, Ms. Myrna P. Hill, and Ms. Kathy De Guzman, who is also general manager at PNB Hong Kong.
Members of the academic community who came to support the event included Dr. Theresa Cunanan, associate programme director, Division of Arts and Languages, College of International Education at Hong Kong Baptist University and Jan Gube, Assistant Professor at the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The Education University of Hong Kong.
Thomasian alumni Dr. Michael Manio, lecturer and head articulation programme at the University of Hong Kong Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, School of Biomedical Sciences was also present. Dr. Manio is also a guest lecturer and honorary professor at the Hong Kong Metropolitan University.
Meanwhile, other Hong Kong chapter alumni of Philippine universities were also present, namely Ms. Maritess Turingan, President, University of the Philippines Alumni Association Hong Kong (UPAAHK), former UPAAHK President Ms. Sherina Manimtim-Erno, and Mr. Gary Flores, Treasurer at De La Salle University Alumni Association One La Salle HK Chapter.
Sponsoring the event were San Miguel Brewery Hong Kong Limited, veteran Filipino caterer Siony’s Lutong Bahay, Kambal Gallery, Grandpa’s Crib and Gastropub, Pickering Marine Group, and Ace Cho Photography.
Article Contributors: Ms. Anna Pendry, Founding Public Relations Officer, University of Sant
Tomas Alumni Association Hong Kong Chapter; Ms. Tanya Sales Manzano, Founding Chairperson for External Affairs, University of Santo Tomas Alumni Association Hong Kong Chapter