Proclamation 539
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2018 - 12:00am

Coinciding with the celebration in Paris of the 100th year since the signing of the Armistice which ended World War II  is the Upsilon Sigma Phi Fraternity’s centennial celebration highlighted by the signing of President Duterte of Proclamation No. 539 which declares the Year 2018 as the “Year for the Celebration of the Centennial Anniversary of the Upsilon Sigma Phi.”

The Upsilon Sigma Phi, the oldest Greek-letter fraternity in Asia, was formed in 1918 out of University of the Philippines students, and now has 2,924 living members called Fellows – or brods – listed in the rolls of three chapters – UP in Manila, Diliman in Quezon City, and Los Banos – and scattered around the country and abroad. 

Understandably, Proclamation 539 is precious  to the Fellows.  It was not  easy securing that honor, though, and they have the current USP Alumni Association president Thad Liamzon Batch ‘81 to thank. In an interview,  Thad told me, “We could not accept the fact that our existence came to being in 1920 so we immediately called the families of the founders so we can immediately secure their records to substantiate the fact that we started in 1918.

“The family of Pablo P.A. Sonido was the only one who presented his scrapbook where he kept a Manila Times clipping of Upsilon’s 50 years indicating the founding date as November 1918.

“We applied for a Presidential Proclamation to celebrate our centennial sometime March this year and did not get a response until May, where they could not give us a favorable endorsement based on the research done by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, since, it was claimed,  the earliest document on the Upsilon was dated Nov. 19, 1920, the date we were formalized.

“The newspaper article indicating the month and the year was further sealed with the unexpected resurfacing of the Upsilon Sigma Phi Journal which covers the years September 1935-August 1941, which was just before WW2. According to the journal, on June 12, 1937, in a meeting presided by one of the founders, Illustrious Fellow  Jose Apostol, gave the order he joined Upsilon Sigma Phi in 1918.” Proclamation 539 was signed on July 25, 2018.

Forthwith, President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 539, and this was read before the 200 Upsilonians gathered in Davao last week by Undersecretary Melchor V. Quitain,  presidential assistant in the Office of the President, himself an Upsilonian, Batch ’63.

The fraternity admits – after rigid initiation – the best and brightest, and, well, the promising, among UP students who after graduation invariably make  good  in their chosen fields. Some of the prominent Upsilonians who have passed were Presidents Jose P. Laurel and Ferdinand Marcos, Vice-President Salvador Laurel,  Senators  Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Joker Arroyo and fashion designer Jose Moreno.

The much-publicized Bangkaw sa Mindanao held Nov. 4-8 was actually an offshoot of the original Upsilon Summit, organized mainly as a golf tournament by the Davao alumni chapter headed by Robert Aranton ’81 on April 26-28, 1966.  The summit was intended  to bring the spirit of the Upsilon congress to the south. Some 150 fellows attended, and had Vice President  Doy Laurel  (a most charming man, I must say), as keynote speaker.

“We intended to bring the summit around Mindanao every two years like a congress,” Robert told me. “But the scale was so big that it was not sustained. So, Bangkaw sa Dabaw was born, its name coined by the late Sonny Garcia ’65.  The 1996 summit theme was ‘Weld us together like true and tempered steel.”

Bangkaw sa Dabaw has now become  Bangkaw sa Mindanaw,  its theme, “Scatter the light far and wide.” The next Bangkaw sa Mindanao two years hence will be held in Cagayan de Oro city (called Bokingan sa Cagayan, with Roel Castro as over-all leader), and the following will be in Bukidnon, led by Fred Sese; then in Butuan (Buto-Buto, led by Dr. Anton Montalban).

Having been invited to several Upsilon functions, I’ve noted the camaraderie among the senior and junior brods, their bond “tempered like steel,” wherever they meet. Membership has extended through generations. Undersecretary Boy Quitain has two nephews and a son as Upsilonian members (son Melchor Jr. is a Davao City councilor).  Sen. Kiko Pangilinan’s dad was his senior brod, and his brothers, his junior brods. One family has all five Upsilon sons.

Thad Liamson commended the Mindanao (Davao) chapter in hosting this year’s Bangkaw which is a major part of the fraternity’s centennial year activities.“  Only 35 of the 200 participants played golf, as the others were at the event for fellowshipping with their brods. This unprecedented event, Thad  said,  is consistent with the purpose and objective of the Upsilon Sigma Phi Alumni Association, such as maintaining the strength of the fraternity, protecting its fine traditions, facilitating communication among its members, and fostering the spirit of good fellowship and commitment. 

On this their centennial year, the Upsilons  organized a caravan that connects to each and every brod in Mindanao. The project took the brods from Bukidnon to Cagayan de Oro, then to Gingoog in Misamis Oriental  (where Saeed A. Daof ’52  hosted a merienda),  then to Butuan and Davao. The experience is aimed to recognize senior brods in those places, and “spread the light.”

“I won’t be surprised if in due time this effort would extend further  than Mindanao to other  parts of the country and even beyond our shores,” said Thad.

Grinning from ear to ear was Gari Tiongco, ’62, long--time president of the Davao chapter, who, with wife Gladys, has hosted luncheons at their beach house in Samal Island (which is across the Sasa mainland).  Gari said Bangkaw sa Mindanaw was “like a grand fraternity ball. You meet friends you have not seen for a long time, you just have a good time.”

Romy Escudero was his usual mirthful self, with the approving look of spouse Junie. Romy said the participants were  “tried and true brods, giving  much of their time, money and efforts to make guests and fellows enjoy the event.” Brod Chitong Rivera, seated beside him, was nodding. There was a lot of ribbing, singing, and dancing till the wee hours.

Glen Olerro ‘76 was there, with his vibrant wife Lulu. Frank and Letty Moog, Ben and Elvie Tecson and Val and Erlinda Banaag became our good friends during the  seven-hour land trip from Butuan to Davao, with stops at Prosperidad town for sweet lanzones, and picture- taking at Masao, in Butuan, site of the first Easter mass in the Philippines. 

In Davao, we were greeted by Pio Cubangbang and Nelson Villamor, who visited us in Gingoog.

From abroad came Rey Tibayan ’61 of California, Eli Ilano of Canada, Dr. Florante Reliosa and wife Dr. Irene Reliosa of New Jersey. With them was Rebeca Reliosa, owner of RRR resort in Pansol, Laguna.

Tony Sundiang, ’61, of San Francisco, a former senior vice-president of Philippine National Bank, said,  “The Upsilonians indeed have a tradition of excellence.”   

I must mention Nanay Bebeng’s Buffet Restaurant, where Upsilon feasts are held. The buffet table was filled with local dishes, and the brods talked about missing Upsilonian Sonny Garcia who passed sometime ago.  His  gracious wife, Imelda, continues to run the place so well.

Mon Allado, Bong Nelson Militante, Gian de Jesus, and countless junior brods worked long and hard, but happily, it seemed, to make Bangkaw Mindanaw a roaring success.

A bigger event is yet to come: the Upsilon Grand Centennial Ball to be held at the PICC on Nov. 18 – with an expected attendance of 1,000 brods, Sigma Delta sorority sisters,  and spouses.

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