The centenary of the first fraternity in the Philippines and for that matter in Asia is cause for celebration of the achievements of Upsilon Sigma Phi — not just for the brotherhood of its thousands of members or for the service that its members provide to the academic community as students.
Upsilon is not just the first but I daresay the foremost fraternity in the country. Upsilonians are proud to claim the fraternity’s reputation for producing known leaders in different fields of endeavor. It is only fitting that President Rodrigo Duterte issued a special presidential proclamation to recognize this milestone.
Generally, fraternities have a bad rap and their members are oftentimes seen as mere hooligans. This conflicted reputation is due to the celebrated cases of hazing and rumbles that have come to portray fraternities in a negative way to the public. The role of fraternities in the academic community is also subject to debate. School administrations have the duty to provide a positive environment for student associations, and to regulate them. They should be able to distinguish between legitimate fraternities from gangs masquerading as brotherhoods.
Sadly, being the first and the foremost fraternity in the University of the Philippines (UP) also gives the Upsilon the dubious reputation of being elitist. There are those who assume that Upsilonians are the elite of the UP student population or that the members come from the privileged strata of Philippine society.
Upsilon is, by no means, no ordinary fraternity in that it plays a role in developing the academic community and student body. Contrary to the undeserved reputation that the Upsilon is the elite fraternity of the status quo and of the ruling classes of landlords, big businesses and bureaucrats, Upsilonians are students who come mostly from all ranks of society who deserve the title Iskolar ng Bayan.
What makes Upsilon different is its assiduous pursuit of excellence in recruiting its members without being exclusionary and developing that brotherhood and solidarity as part of their formation as students. Upsilon members then come from all professions and become leading personalities in their chosen fields.
All batches of the fraternity live by the Upsilon motto, “We gather light to scatter.”
Every Upsilonian provides distinguished service God, country, family and people. Some of them become more famous or infamous because of the circumstances of their calling, but everyone is a distinguished brother, whether as a businessman, a lawyer, a government official, an educator, an artist, a development worker, a political activist or as an officer whether of the Armed Forces or New People’s Army (NPA).
The alumni play a moderating and advisory role in the fraternity where lessons are passed on, advice and support are given, projects are promoted and issues like initiation, hazing and rumbles are debated. Seniority is practiced to ensure respect, loyalty and obedience within bounds so that lessons are well learned. Thus, the fire of youth is tempered against the boundaries of propriety and violence in hazing and rumbles.
For example, a number of alumni and senior fraternity brothers sponsored the neophytes who became Batch ’69 to which I belong. At the center of the official batch photo, one can readily see Melito “Spooks” Glor, who never gave an indication that he would become one of the founders of the NPA Southern Tagalog. In honor of his political martyrdom, the NPA command in the region is named after him.
Although the University of Santo Tomas is the oldest pontifical university in Asia, the UP is an American-styled university — a US imperialist creation to fashion an academic community and to train new professionals and civil servants to suit the grand American plan for the Philippine islands. Being so, the Upsilon Sigma Phi (or the University Students’ Fraternity) is a necessary socio-cultural part of the studentry and an adjunct of the academic community.
As Upsilon advances to the new millennium along with the University of the Philippines, it should cease to be a child of the time and instead become a child of tomorrow.
From the decade of the ‘20s came forth Jose B. Abad Santos (Chief Justice and Acting President of the Philippines), Carmelino G. Alvendia ’26 (Senior Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals), Jose L. Gamboa ’29 (City Fiscal of Manila), Vicente J. Caedo ’29 (Governor of Batangas), Alfonso Calalang ’21 (third Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines), Teodoro M. Kalaw (father of the Philippine library system), Juan R. Liwag ’27 (Senator and Justice Secretary), Pio Pedrosa ‘22 (Finance and Budget Secretary), Antonio R. Quirino ‘26 (Father of Philippine Television) and Agaton Ursua ’28 (Congressman/Camarines Sur, President of the Philippine Dental Association in 1963-65).