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Fellowship of the light



“For a fraternity can survive the forgetfulness of time only when there are common and dear attachments to remember. Matter counts, but without the permeating spirit, it becomes only a crude reminder.”

— Upsilon Sigma Phi ‘History, 1918 to 1973’


1918. Manila was very different then. Escolta was the commercial and professional area of the period. Famous stores were Oceanic and Crystal Arcade, among a few. Lyric and Capitol were theaters of note. There were also Ideal and State theaters on Rizal Avenue. You dined in three restaurants on T. Pinpin: Rice Bowl, Panciteria Toho Antigua and Panciteria San Jacinto.

Other places of interest were Fiesta Pavilion and Winter Garden of the Manila Hotel, as well as Casa Mañana on Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard).

Leading newspapers then were the DMHM chain (Daily Mail, Mabuhay, Philippines Herald and El Debate), The Manila Times and The Manila Bulletin. The biggest radio stations were KZRM and KZKZ.

“We were an American possession,” relates Upsilon historian Victor Avecilla ’79.

In the beginning, there were 14 men who gathered regularly at three hotspots in Manila.

They were from the University of the Philippines, then almost just a decade old and said to be an American venture into shaping an education system in its colony.

The air then was rife with calls for independence. These 14 men, composed of 12 students and two professors, were always at the center of such talks wherever they gathered.

In their article, The Upsilon Sigma Phi: A Storied History of the Fellowship of Light,” Ferdinand Jomilla ’16 and Paolo Gamboa ’86 write: “In 1918 (20 years after the transition from Spanish to American colonizers, and 10 years into the existence of UP), the Upsilon was sparked into existence by 14 young men drawn together by the common ideals of leadership and excellence. Thus, came the conceptualization of the Fraternity, with its formal organization coming years later at a meeting held at the Metropolitan Restaurant in Intramuros on 19 November 1920, and the Greek letters ‘ΥΣΦ (Upsilon Sigma Phi)’ — standing for ‘University Students’ Fraternity’—being adopted as the fraternity’s official name on 24 March 1921.”

To tell the story of Upsilon Sigma Phi, the oldest Greek-letter student organization in the Philippines and in Asia, is to look back at the history of our nation.

Just as those 14 men gathered and welded their zeal in a brotherhood of ideals, the Upsilon has, for 100 years now, churned out its values and ideals into the world.

Political personalities, campus opinion leaders, captains of industry, creative minds, scientists, innovators and even just plain colorful personalities – many Upsilonians over the decades have been instrumental in shaping our society.

This is not an empty claim. From its beginnings in 1918, to its ever-expanding reach in 2018, the Upsilon has led and bred men of substance whose leadership qualities gave the country a profusion of accomplished fellows.

The then-unnamed fraternity in 1918 elected its first officers: Justiniano Asuncion, Agapito del Rosario, Adolfo Fabella, Sulpicio Bellosillo, Jose Apostol, Kenerino Asuncion, Graciano Rico and Vicente Llamas, all considered founding fathers of the fraternity together with Alfredo Feliciano, Ramon Gandiongco, Aurelio Magat, Jose Mariano, Pablo Sonido and Sancho Zalamea Jr.

The Freemasonry-based themes, rites and rituals that the fraternity practices to this day came from Graciano Q. Rico, including its motto “We Gather Light to Scatter” — which, according to the same article, speaks “of the Upsilonians’ never-ending role of spreading their skills, talents and services to the world at large.”

In other words, each member, called “fellow,” is “considered a beacon of leadership and excellence.” Meanwhile, the head of the Upsilon Sigma Phi is known as the Illustrious Fellow (IF).

IF are the initials of the “bossman,” and the brotherhood also gives credence to the words of Rudyard Kipling’s immortal poem, If.

The colors in the fraternity logo have their meanings: cardinal red for “courage and bravery,” old blue for “loyalty” and gold for “excellence.” Because it was the rarest flower back then, the pink rose became the floral symbol of the fellowship.

“True to its ideals, the Upsilon began as a small gathering of men, the crème de la crème of the UP student body. Invitation was extended by its founders to only those who possessed the capacity to be leaders, and this showed when Upsilonians such as Ramon Sunico ‘21 (Premier to the Junior House of Representatives), Francisco Tonogbanua ‘24 (Vice President of the UP Student Council 1925-1926), Federico Mangahas ’25 (President, UP Writer’s Club), Jose Gamboa ’29 (ROTC Corps Commander) , Hector Bisnar ’29 (President College Council) and Arturo Garcia ‘29 (Member, UP Board of Regents), started to serve as student leaders in the university. Conrado Benitez ‘21, University Regent, was also inducted as an honorary fellow and later wrote the Upsilon Hymn,” the article further goes.

The story of the Upsilonians continues within these pages. With 3,800 fellows in its eminent roster of 100 years, it is impossible to give tribute to each one of them. (In fact, it will take a dozen tomes to tell them all, and Avecilla ’79 has begun with two volumes of 12 soon to be published by the Daily Tribune!) DSV