Notes on the Upsilon centennial


In last Tuesday’s article, this column focused on the centennial celebration of the Upsilon Sigma Phi, the oldest Greek-letter student fraternity in the Philippines and in Asia. The Upsilon is based in the University of the Philippines (UP). Its members come from the UP campuses in Diliman, Los Baños and Manila.

Membership in the fraternity is limited to UP students who meet certain requirements regarding academic standing, leadership skills and personal character. In certain instances, faculty members are eligible to join if they are truly outstanding. Many Upsilonians of contemporary times joined the fraternity when they were fledgling professors in UP.

Neophytes who seek admission to the fraternity are not only put to the test, but are also trained in a process that enhances their personalities and their inherent desire to accomplish and to succeed. Upon admission to the fraternity and, later on, graduation from UP, an Upsilonian is expected to be the best of his kind in whatever endeavor he wishes to pursue.

By being a leader, the Upsilonian is of best service to the nation and the people. That is why the fraternity is known for its purpose, expressed in its motto: “We gather light to scatter.”

The Upsilon traces its origin to 1918, when 14 young men from the old UP campus located along Padre Faura St. in Manila bonded over food and refreshments, with some beer every now and then, at a nearby soda fountain to discuss the burning issues of the day. Two of the 14 were faculty members of UP. That soda fountain was called the Paras Store.

They eventually formed the Upsilon Sigma Phi, Greek letters which stand for the anglicized name of the group, the University Students Fraternity. The ceremonies took place at the Metropolitan Restaurant in the Intramuros district of Manila.

Sadly, both restaurants were obliterated during World War II, particularly during the battle for the Liberation of Manila in 1945.

The Upsilon of the pre-war period dominated campus politics.

Among the pre-war Upsilonians of note were Antonio Quirino, Jose Laurel Jr., Salvador P. Lopez, Jolly Bugarin, Arturo Tolentino and Wenceslao Q. Vinzons.

After a brief stint as a judge, Quirino ventured into business. He is considered the father of the Philippine television industry.

Laurel later became the Speaker of the House of Representatives for several terms. He was also a member of the commission which drafted the 1987 Constitution.

A writer, Lopez is known for his advocacy of purposeful literature and not just literature for literature’s sake. He was president of UP from 1969 to 1975.

Lopez wrote the immortal piece “Bataan Has Fallen,” which was broadcast from Corregidor Island weeks before Japanese forces completed their conquest of the Philippines in 1942. He was in the Armed Forces back then.

Bugarin was the longest serving director of the National Bureau of Investigation. He is the only Filipino to became president of Interpol, the International Police Organization.

Tolentino and Vinzons were prominent student leaders in UP during their time. They were openly critical of Manuel L. Quezon, who back then was eyeing the presidency of the Philippine Commonwealth.

After the war, Tolentino distinguished himself as a congressman and as a senator. He is the brain behind the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, commonly referred to as UNCLoS. A legal genius of the highest order, Tolentino is a recognized expert in civil law, constitutional law and public international law.

After college, Vinzons got elected governor and later congressman of Camarines Norte. His political career was cut short by the Japanese, who executed him in early 1942 for his resistance activities.

Vinzons is considered the father of student activism in the Philippines, having held the positions of UP student council president and editor of the campus student newspaper, the Philippine Collegian. A building for student activities in UP Diliman bears his name.

Another prominent Upsilonian during the pre-war period was Ferdinand Marcos, who served as President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. Marcos was a bright law student and an orator in his time.

World War II also brought about leaders and martyrs among Upsilonians.

Jose P. Laurel, an honorary Upsilonian, was the President of the Japanese-sponsored Republic of the Philippines. As president, Laurel interceded with the Japanese occupation forces and saved countless Filipinos from execution.

Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, who is also an honorary Upsilonian, was executed by the Japanese for his refusal to collaborate. Agapito del Rosario, one of the founders of the fraternity, met the same fate.

The post-war Upsilon story is just as majestic, but that is for another essay.

On Sunday, 18 November, the Upsilon Sigma Phi will hold its centennial ball at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City. At least 1,500 Upsilonians and their friends have confirmed their attendance.

That big event is going to be a very interesting topic of discussion in another essay as well.


ERRATUM: In the article last 6 November, a member of the editorial team erroneously added a name on the list of Upsilonians in the Senate. Correction is needed. As of this writing, Richard Gordon is the only Upsilonian who is an incumbent senator.