The Life and Times of a Beta Sigman
By Ben Manzano, U.P. Diliman 1957

In 1954, after graduating from Ilocos Sur High School, 6th out of 400 seniors, I was admitted at the University of the Philippines without an interview or taking an entrance examination. My grades at Ilocos Sur High School were better than I could have hoped for: I graduated with a GPA of 90%, good enough to enter the college of my choice. At that time, high school and college curricula were heavy in math and science courses. These studies formed the cornerstone of my academic life during my first two years at U.P. as a pre-med student, propelling me to the Dean’s List of candidate students for the College of Medicine, at number 30 out of 1200 pre-med students.


At the beginning of my third year, I changed my academic trajectory when I transferred to the College of Engineering without the consent of my brother Bonie, who was my main financial backer. He was a kind, thoughtful, and considerate brother, knowing well that there was no way my parents could have eked out tuition and board from a life of work on the farm where harvest was barely enough for survival. There were two reasons for my change of academic pursuit: first, I thought I could contribute more to society if I became an engineer; and second, when I saw those engineering graduates visiting U.P., dressed in short-sleeve white-polo shirts with neckties and driving cars, I was jealous - and dreamed to be one of them. Coming from a farming family, to have a car was a far-fetched dream and I never thought I could make that dream a reality.


At the U.P. Men’s dorm “The Kanlaon”, my roommates Filomeno Balbin and Cesar Carreon, both law students, and Cesar Pizarro, a business administration student, asked me if I wanted to join the Beta Sigma Fraternity. I was uncertain, because at that time the engineering fraternity Beta Epsilon would have been a more logical place for an engineering student. After a while, I decided a university would be more advantageous because membership is more spread out and not limited to one college. After noticing that frat members were a very happy, singing bunch of brothers bonded together by blood and conviction, I told my roommates, “I think I would like to join.” On the third day, I told them, “I will join.” In a split second, right after I agreed to the invitation, they told me to lie down on my bed; the next instant, they hit me with a wooden paddle. Oh how painful it was to be hit with their instrument of brutality! I couldn’t believe that a friend would do that to me. “I quit!” I told them. They asked me to stay, which I did after some pleading that they would not hit me anymore.

Initiations and meetings with other “masters” continued. Masters continued to shout four-letter words and demeaning insults, followed by slaps on the face. It seemed that those who were not as handsome as you inflicted more severe punishments, as if by doing so their misfortune could be alleviated. One master who did not like me, though he was a pretty good looking character was C. Duran, son of a congressman from Cebu. He hit me with a 180-degree slap on my right jaw, using a closed fist. There was so much force that today there is still a clicking sound in my right jaw whenever I fully open my mouth.

One of the more enjoyable moments of being a neophyte was approaching beautiful girls, giving them flowers and learning their names. After classes, masters and neophytes would go places in search for those beauties. A favorite place was the “Little Quiapo”, a strip mall on the Diliman campus. Masters ordered me to deliver a red rose and ask for the names of girls they were interested in, but were too shy to approach. I liked this part of the initiation and to this day, I have always found this method of meeting girls of interest. On weekends, master and neophyte would even go and find girls at UST and FEU. One favorite location was at Espana Street in front of the UST campus.

The initiations and various activities with the Beta Sigma Fraternity continued without letup, inflicting a severe strain on my studies. My grades went down to a point that there were no courses I could take because of pre-requisite requirements. My college advisor, Professor Dominador Ilio, advised me to enroll at another university and to return if my grades improved. With my future in mind, I transferred to the Polytechnic University in Sta. Mesa. This was a nightmare, and whenever I heard U.P. students talk among themselves on a JD bus, I was quiet. At the new institution, I concentrated on my studies, determined to erase the humiliation of leaving U.P. voluntarily. After a semester, I went back to see Professor Ilio armed with a transcript of grades of perfect 1.0. As he promised Professor Ilio re-admitted me to the College of Engineering; Overwhelmed with delight and gratitude, I worked hard on my studies and graduated from U.P. with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering – a lifelong dream since I was a six year old lad tilling the soil in the bucolic village of Mabilbila Norte, in the windy town of Santa, Ilocos Sur.


Six years after leaving the U.P. Diliman campus and while working as a Sales Engineer with USI Philippines in Butuan City, Agusan, rumors were circulating that my counterparts in Manila were applying for immigration to the U.S. and Canada. Jealous of their possible advancement - and remembering my dream of going abroad - I made a trip to Manila and submitted applications to the Canadian and U.S. embassies. Six months later, in September 1966, I received my approval to immigrate to Canada. It was a bittersweet decision to leave my job in Butuan City because at that time my company car, a Toyota Land Cruiser, had just arrived and had become my favorite companion wherever I went – to visit clients in Bislig, Misamis Oriental, the beach, and the neighboring City of Cabadbaran. I left my dream job at USI and wandered across the ocean blue, lured by a fantasy that life would be a splendor beyond the horizon.



I arrived in Vancouver, B.C., as a young man of thirty, and was instantly received with open arms by the first batch of Filipino immigrants – nurses, secretaries, and engineers from U.P. and FEATI University. We were a very small group of expatriates but were very cohesive and helpful to each other. During my short stay in Vancouver I worked as a Design Engineer with H.A. Simmons International, a consulting engineering firm for the pulp and paper industry, and with ACO Conveyors, a bulk and handling designer and fabricator. Contracts were sparse and few, so despite my reluctance to leave, I left B.C. for Toronto and landed a job as Staff Engineer for Consumers Glass Company. The job had a lot of visibility for me professionally because I was given the assignment of studying the noise level and its impact on the environment, given that I was a professional engineer registered in British Columbia. This type of role catapulted candidates to premier engineering jobs in Canada. U.P. graduates were just the lucky batch because we didn’t have to take the rigorous examination as required from other foreign graduates. The University of the Philippines was accredited by the Professional Engineers Society in B.C., so the four of us from U.P. – Tom Floro, Constancio Cejalvo, me, and Vic Mercado -were awarded professional engineer registration.

In May 1968, after two years in Canada, another event changed my life: My immigrant application to the U.S. was approved. I arrived in Detroit that month at the invitation of my brother Bonie. It was supposed to be a transitory stay, because my target destination was California. However, my brother, Bonie, another Ilocos Sur High School alumnus and an advanced mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Michigan, persuaded me to look for a job right away. After working with two consulting engineering organizations, I worked with General Motors for nine years and Chrysler Motors for twenty years, from which I retired in 2000. Detroit became my permanent residence for the next thirty seven years and my second hometown. This was the place where life was worth living for because it was here where I met my second wife, Editha Dequina Dormitorio from Dumangas, Iloilo, who gave life to my four outstanding daughters.



Christina, the eldest, graduated with a business and MBA degree from the University of Michigan in 2006. She was also admitted membership to the Phi Beta Kappa. A few months after graduation she was hired as a business analyst at Polo Ralph Lauren in NY; she rose through the ranks assuming varied positions, including a one year assignment in Hong Kong to oversee the transfer of one hundred independent Ralph Lauren outlets from China which she recommended after a thorough business analysis. From Hong Kong she was transferred to the international headquarters in New York where she became the Director of Business Development Worldwide. Currently, she serves as the Director of Finance and Accounting for the Ralph Lauren Retail Group of the Americas.

Katrina was editor-in-chief of the school newsletter at Troy High School where she graduated summa cum laude. She obtained her BS degree from the University of Michigan and her Master’s Degree in Public Health (MPH) from Columbia University. Katrina is the Division Administrator of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Group of New York University (NYU) Medical Center. She contributed many articles about her Philippine heritage to the Philippine Time newspaper of Chicago. She was the first winner of an essay writing competition for Filipinos abroad sponsored by the overseas Filipinos of the Department of Foreign Affairs.


Ashley was a lettered volleyball varsity player from Troy High School, from which she graduated summa cum laude. In her senior year, she was a captain of the track and field and volleyball teams, and defensive MVP in volleyball like her sister Christina. In August 2005, she won the Miss Michigan-Philippines beauty title winning all the other subtitles. Ashley studied at the University of Michigan Ross Business School. She is Senior Digital Media Planner with Greater Than One Inc., a major advertising group for drug manufacturers. ‘She is a rising star,” says her boss. On January 7, Ashley was promoted to Supervisor and one of the lead employees of her company’s new West Coast office based in San Francisco.

Lauren is also a product of Troy High School where she graduated magna cum laude. In her senior year she was president of the Japanese Club, being able to speak the language. Like Ashley, Lauren was the captain of her Track and Field team where she was a 100 and 200 meter sprinter. She obtained a BA degree in Family Community Services from Michigan State University. In her senior year she was president of the Golden Z Club, an international organization whose mission is to work together to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy.



Despite the fact that my second marriage was blessed with the appearance of four beautiful daughters, it came to an end after twenty three years of bliss and happiness. During the last week of May 1998, I left for the Philippines to see my aging mother. My elder brother Bonie delayed his trip. “I don’t want to come back if our mother survives,” he said. While he was buying his bus ticket to the province, a lady behind him overheard him saying, “I am going to Mabilbila Norte.” That lit a fire in the eyes of the lady who asked, “Do you know Ben Manzano?” The next day, Hely Nartatez, a friend and contemporary, came to pay respect to my mother. We had a conversation about the good old days and she showed me pictures of her family. I noticed a beautiful picture of her daughter….


I met Gryselle, Hely’s daughter in Manila the week of Philippine Centennial on June 10, 1998. I asked her to escort me to the Rizal Park to record my visit to the Philippines. I had a Nikon N50camera and a Sony Digital camcorder which we interchanged to take each other’s pictures and video. That started our friendship and germinated in everlasting love for each other. We were married in San Sebastian Church, Philippines, during a balmy summer day on June 2000. Our marriage was again blessed with four children – three boys and a girl.





Today, being a member of the Beta Sigma Fraternity and U.P. alumni has turned out to be a blessing I could have never predicted. I made lifetime friends from the Beta Sigma Fraternity. Among them are: Franklin Rosario, retired as Engineering Manager at Singer Sewing Machine Philippines, now living in Calgary, Canada; Oscar Ofiana, retired Territory Manager from United Drug Philippines. Both were principal sponsors during my wedding in June 2000. Others that I remember are Victor Pulmano, former head at the U.P. Civil Engineering Department and professor at Sidney University, Australia; Evaristo Carinio, deceased; Rick Monje, consulting engineer; Dave Villegas, lawyer, brother of very popular Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas, and currently GP of UP Northern California Chapter; Orlando Nicdao, United Drugs, retired; Filomeno Balbin, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia, and former provincial board member, Ilocos Sur; Cesar Carreon, former provincial board member, Sorsogon; Enching Rodriguez from the College of Business Administration; Federico Agnir, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and former professor/department head Greenfield Community College; Pat Escalante, now living in Sacramento, CA; and Prospero Crescini, our Grand Princep and author of the Betan Credo.


Being a U.P. graduate and a Beta Sigman continues to light the eternal flame of belonging that burns in my heart. I love going to the UPAAA convention, where I served twice as PRO. I am now a secretary with the UPAW (University of the Philippines Association of Washington) and a member of the Beta Sigma NW, a very active, vibrant, and closely-knit brotherhood of men dedicated and guided by the values, credo, and principles embodied in our creed, which was established many precious years ago on the soil of UP. February 4, 2013



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