Diamonds in the Rough
A Saga of UP Beta Sigmans in the 80s

by Brod Raffy Hidalgo UPD'86

 

1987 was a year of opportunity for Beta Sigma. A ban in 1983 for the initiation-related death of one our brods had just been lifted. Relatively low-key throughout the ban, the university studentry had all but forgotten the 'terrible deeds' of Beta Sigma. Beta Sigma was coming out into the open as a contributing member of the UP community. The years of controversy and violence that preceded however had taken its toll as Beta Sigma lost favor with most. The impact of the lack of new blood on our numbers was mitigated only by the fact that most residents were over-stayers - holdovers from the '70s. These residents, 30 or so in number and many in their late 20s some in their early 30s didn't plan to stay students forever. By the end of school year 86-87 most had graduated. Seven brods were left.

Manuel Casaclang '84
Rafael Hidalgo '86
Julius Villanea '84
Adrian Policarpio ‘86
Carl Zabat '83
Jerry Lacson '85
Philip Marfil '81

All 7 were due to graduate by the end of the school year. This was the dilemma. Who would join a dying fraternity and one that appealed to a very small niche of the studentry (Beta Sigma culture was warrior-class.) The Beta Sigma Legacy had to be continued despite the weakness in numbers and the relative lack of standout skills, abilities or talents. And assuming that new blood did in fact come in, could we, considering our numbers indoctrinate the new brods into a wide and colorful culture that we wanted to preserve or would the Fraternity take on a new identity? Would we be able to open doors of opportunity and development (as promised during recruitment) to the new generation? The prospects were frightening. Manuel I. Casaclang jr (aka Manny, Mandingo, Jun, Monkey) was a BS Arch major. He was due to graduate at the end of the school year 87-88. He brought to the Fraternity his youthful exuberance, calm and organized nature as well as discipline and responsibility. He joined the Fraternity in 1984 with the batch named Utopia Quest. Manny was elected GP in 1987. His task was more daunting because, of the 7 brods left, some (including himself) had graduation issues that might hamper a sustained effort to resuscitate the Fraternity. Manny knew that it entailed sacrifice, sweat and blood. Ten things were planned to see the Fraternity’s objectives into fruition.

1. Recruit directly from the freshmen ranks (it was prohibited by the University)
2. Drum up Alumni support (we weren’t too proud to ask for help)
3. Initiate high profile, community welfare activities and maximize publicity on all these
4. Make a controversial breakaway from the then leading student political party (SAMASA) and form a new one to challenge in the

    University Student Elections
5. Revive the Ladies Corps to expand our asset/asses base
6. Ensure the defensive footing of other frats
7. ALWAYS stay together to effect BIGNESS- ALWAYS populate the tambayan
8. Be active in a BIG WAY with other orgs
9. Establish a well-rounded schedule of pursuits- be it academic, political, sport, socio-civic, recreational or extra-legal
10. Be sure that we ENJOY ourselves no matter what we were doing

We began the year by recruiting and by drumming up alumni support. By the first semester 4 freshman brods were added to the roster: Jun Justo, Ronald Serrano, James Castaneda and Rex Gingoyon. With the help of Walter Navarro, Mel de Santos, Mars Robosa and many others, we gained access to the alumni network for support - morale (not moral), financial and even manpower. Projects big or small had to look big. The brods secured two freshman blocks to handle. We involved them in tours, presentations, sports activities and even opened the tambayan to them as their own (made our numbers look big). Activities such as free medical clinics, exhibits, motorcades, symposia or fundraisers were made high profile thereby ensuring a large attendance. With little expertise in organizing or planning, we were a little apprehensive in taking on projects and responsibility, but if Manny believed then so did we. Activity or no activity we conducted ourselves in public deliberately. When a brod was seen, he was never alone. When Manny would walk the corridors, he would always be escorted by several fierce looking brods (some were young alumni.) We also made it clear to other fraternities that we were worse than the horsemen of the apocalypse - and hence the peace was kept. But when it came time to deliver, Manny did not hold himself above the rest. He went through the sleepless nights personally silk-screening posters, t-shirts, carpentry work, and to the extent of even billing posters around the trees in campus (in the wee hours of the AM so as not dilute the grandeur of a Beta Sigman GP to the public). It was leading by example. We lived by principles of hard work and duty, but Manny made sure we all had fun during and after work (alak at keps).

The second semester saw us starting to harvest the fruits of our labor. A new batch joined the Fraternity. They were Gunner Magcalas, Morris Tuason, Beny Supan, Mel Ladip and Pipo Romero. Later, Lloyd Dizon, Jig Reyes and Ari Valdecanas joined. With our ranks increased by over a 100%, we now believed we could do anything. Earning the ire of the Sigma Betans, which is worse than having a rumble with Sigma Rho, Upsilon and Apo at once, Manny formed the Ladies Corps, a group whose purpose was solely to serve the Fraternity. Sigma Beta later understood the role of the Ladies Corps and eventually made up with the Fraternity. Beta Sigma was now a complete organization to be envied by others.

 

Getting the hang of radical moves, Beta Sigma left the then leading SAMASA political party. Although we helped form SAMASA, the party was getting to be a group that did not see the realities of the times. Along with 4 other organizations, we formed the Independent Student Alliance (ISA). These other 4 groups were veterans at the student movement and political activism. We were good time boys - how in the world were we to hold our own against these intellectuals? But every time we attended meetings, we attended in intimidating force and we learned from Manny that silent dignity draws awe and respect. Manny spoke only when we were clear on the issue rather than blab on like most. Every time he spoke, the 30 or 40 people debating fell silent. All Manny's opinions were unanimously supported and approved. Getting the hang of this, the Brods - freshmen included, grew bolder. No task was too difficult for the Brods to take on and we began to run the show. Come election time the Brods delivered. The party depended heavily on us for organizing, logistics, planning and surprisingly manpower. We soon outperformed the 150 strong Alpha Phi Beta - then the biggest frat in UP. Because of this, the Brods were put in key positions. I was a part of the Board of ISA, while Pipo, Beni, James and Jun held 4 out of the 6 officer positions of the party. Also, all the beautiful women of ISA turned their backs on the APBs and sat on the laps of obviously more virile Beta Sigmans. Taking our cue from Manny, we displayed a macho bravado that was downright insulting to the APBs. But what could they do, these were Beta Sigmans feared and respected by all. By the lantern parade, Beta Sigma was a high profile organization.

 

By our sheer presence, coupled with our now confident individual characters (most especially the freshmen - no one believed they were, by the way they acted), other organizations and fraternities placed our number at 50 to 70. Including Dennis Belmonte from Baguio we were in fact 15 - but growing. Our recruitment program had stretched in to grooming high school students into joining by the time they reached college (numbers doubled the next year as a result of this program). We were kings and we knew it. Whether the activity was sports, contests sponsored by other orgs, or competition for the women, we always managed to come out as winners. We were also known as the happiest fraternity. Everyone noticed, at the Beta Sigma tambayan people always seemed to be having a party. By the end of the school year we knew without doubt that we were 100% successful in our objectives.

 

The commitment to the rebirth of the Fraternity did exact its toll. None of the 7 graduated at the end of the year. Although Manny and others finally did in the semesters after, some like myself got addicted to being a student (I stayed on for 6 more years for a total of 10 years). But Beta Sigma was great. In 3 years time we had more than 70 members, Student Council leaders, party officials, varsity athletes, musicians, scholars and the ever-present drunks and warriors. In the ten years I was a resident, including my own term as GP in 1988, I consider Manny's term and leadership as our finest hour. Manny inspired us to rise to the occasion, and that I believe is the mark of a true and uncommon leader.

 

{Photo from Renzi del Rosario'84]

 


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