Upsilon mystique
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas () - November 25, 2003 - 12:00am
On Friday, November 28th, the Upsilon Sigma Phi Fraternity Alumni Association is presenting "Jazz in Time"/Commemorative Concert XII at the UP Diliman University Theater. It was the Upsilon that staged the first jazz presentation in the country dubbed "Jazz Festival" in 1955. The fraternity’s subsequent jazz festivals and concerts have become a mecca for jazz aficionados; for Upsilonians, those musical landmarks are an excuse for getting together. People can feel the excitement and thrill when the "boys" have reunions, demonstrating to observers that they are closely-knit members of the country’s most influential fraternity that has placed brods on the highest positions in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government and in the private sector. If you ask me, their worship of the frat is as though it were a cult, whose mystique has remained undiminished through its 85 years of existence.

The most known of Upsilonians were the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos and the late Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, whose differing ideologies reflected the diversity of the thought and character of the frat brods. Former Vice President Doy Laurel, former Foreign Affairs Secretary and UP President Salvador Lopez, former Senators Arturo Tolentino and Emilio Espinosa are Upsilonians. Illustrious brods were the late Wenceslao Vinzons, Mat Caparas, Gerardo M. Roxas, and Armando Malay. The fiery senator Joker Arroyo is an Upsilonian.

The incumbent Upsilon president, Benny Fulgencio, in fact, says that what sets the Upsilon apart from the other fraternities in the state university is the diversity of ideologies among the members. He points to the members‚ being split over the Upsilon congressmen’s pyrrhic move to have Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. impeached by the Senate.

Chet Tan‚ 63, describes the Upsilon as "not monolithic and survived because of its pluralism. It is a paradox, indeed, especially when one reflects . . . on its many shades and variations as a family, a standard and an idea."

Some members are leftists, notably Melito Glor, in whose honor the New People’s Army command in Southern Luzon is named. But majority belong to the affluent social class. A number have been bank presidents like Edgardo B. Espiritu, Arsenio M. Bartolome III, Federico C. Pascual, and Carlos A. Pedrosa, the incumbent chairman of the USP Board.

There are artists – the most famous being fashion designer Pitoy Moreno; Behn Cervantes is known for his theatrical gifts. Among the noted scientists and TOYM awardees are Ricardo M Lantican and Fernando A. Bernardo who are both directors of the Center for the Promotion of Peace and Development of Mindanao. Tourism Secretary Dick Gordon, Christian S. Monsod, Supreme Court Justice and UP law valedictorian Florentino P. Feliciano are Upsilonians.

Among the outstanding brods are Estelito Mendoza, former NEDA Secretary General Dante B. Canlas, Supreme Court Justice Josue Bellosillo, lawyer and poet Chet Tan, Manolet Ocampo (the frat "conscience"), and Ramoncito Z. Abad.

What makes membership in the frat an inviolable social contract is the difficulty with which a student – from the Diliman and Los Baños campuses – is accepted. No one applies for it, but is nominated by senior brods. Upsilonians everywhere – here and abroad – are happy about their being Upsilonians. The late historian Antonio R. Quirino wrote that students who were invited had, among other things, to be outstanding in academic and extracurricular activities, and have leadership potential. A neophyte, however, could still be subjected to "blackballing" if a senior brod blocked his acceptance without revealing his reason.

The Upsilon has had its share of bad publicity. In July 1954, Gonzalo Mariano Albert, a neophyte, who had undergone initiation rites, died from cardiac failure while being operated upon for acute appendicitis. He had undergone pre-initiation rites. Twenty-nine Upsilon officers were suspended for varying terms of one week to one month depending on the extent of their participation in the hazing rites. A resolution of the U.P. Board of Regents banned hazing, but not necessarily initiation rites.

The challenges for the fraternity brothers are strong – what can they do for the fraternity, the university and society. Edgardo B. Espiritu, former chairman of the board of the fraternity alumni association, writes in the foreword of Traditions: "The Fraternity’s ideals, which have withstood the passage of time, have driven and inspired Upsilonians to achieve remarkable feats that helped shape the destiny of our nation. The history of the Philippines is replete with the names of Upsilonians who have left their imprint in all momentous and significant events that have unfolded in our times."
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