Thomasians mourn death of Fontanilla, ‘ever smiling, welcoming face of UST’

Tributes poured in for the late Giovanna Fontanilla, UST’s longtime public affairs chief and one of the most well-loved figures on campus who died of a heart attack last Dec. 6. She was 62.

For much of her 41 years in UST, Fontanilla served as the “face” of the University, an ambassadress of Thomasian culture and education, while also steering the school through some of its “most challenging PR crises.”

Under Fontanilla, UST helped promote news media literacy and citizen journalism, which was acknowledged by ABS-CBN’s news chief Ging Reyes.

“Her positive energy and compassionate leadership were an inspiration. She strongly believed in providing relevant tools and worthy role models in the training and education of future journalists and media practitioners,” Reyes said in a statement.

Varsitarian publications adviser Joselito Zulueta recalled how Fontanilla “bore the pressures of handling the public affairs of the Pontifical University—more than four centuries old and admittedly not a controversy-free institution—with grace and optimism.”

“Even during the most challenging of PR crises, she never lost her cool,” he said. “For many people in the media like me, she was the ever smiling, welcoming face of UST for nearly three decades. We will miss her terribly.”

Felipe Salvosa II, head of UST’s journalism program, described Fontanilla as a “steady hand and a stabilizing force,” citing “her professionalism, dedication and loyalty.”

Fontanilla was also best known for her positive energy, which was often seen during orientation for new students. “She’s always beaming with her smile and demeanor,” said Central Student Council Secretary Rafael Lipat, who helped organize one such event in 2018.

“I love her enthusiasm and zest for life,” said Faye Abugan, assistant director of UST’s Communications Bureau, who also described Fontanilla as a “visionary” for initiating the establishment of the Educational Technology Center, the school’s main multimedia resource arm.

Her one-time boss, former UST secretary general Fr. Isidro Abaño, O.P., said he and Fontanilla started major campus events like the annual Christmas Gala, and established UST Tiger Radio.

Fontanilla was also remembered by those whose careers she had inspired, such as Haydee Claire Dy, who was her student in speech communication at UST’s College of Education.

“Every time I teach my college students, I remember how this professor taught us, when I was a student and those strategies I apply in my own classes are how I saw it in this professor,” said Dy, who now teaches at the Lyceum of the Philippines University.

Hernandez’s Facebook post

Said Philippe Jose Hernandez, assistant director of the Communications Bureau: “She mentored so many along the way, having juggled office work with teaching, and left behind a legacy that those remaining must build on.”

Fontanilla was considered one of UST’s most dedicated educators, having been feted with the Dangal ng UST Award in 2001. It was a recognition as well of her loyalty to the university where she earned her education degree, magna cum laude, in 1979 and her doctorate in English language studies in 2017.

In between, she received a master’s degree in education from the University of the Philippines in 1982, and took a specialist training course at the Loughborough University in England in 1994.

She is survived by daughter Genevieve Fontanilla Trinidad and her daughter’s husband Al Niño Trinidad, and son Immanuel Fontanilla.

Jade Veronique V. Yap