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The last innocents

They are, if you want to be melodramatic about it, “the last innocents,” belonging to the generation of students of the University of the Philippines who were on the cusp of the dramatic shift in politics, culture and mores (or morals) that the late 1960s and early 1970s would bring.

Young people in the United States heralded the change, making 1968 the Year of Woodstock, free love, the anti-Vietnam War student protests. Here in the Philippines, the youth were slow to embrace flower power and the hippies, but the growing restiveness against the Marcos regime and especially the declaration of martial law in 1972 would radicalize the heretofore carefree generation.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of “Batch ’66” of the fraternity Upsilon Sigma Phi and its sister organization the Sigma Delta Phi sorority. Back then, say members of this batch, fraternities and sororities had yet to imprint themselves in the public imagination as a bunch of hooligans engaged in violent clashes. Back then, they add, belonging to a “Greek letter organization” was a prestigious achievement because the societies were quite picky about those they invited to their rosters and put neophytes through rigorous initiations. Although, they hasten to add, there was none of the physical abuse and punishment that in later years would result in needless deaths.

“Most of it was in the spirit of fun, although the initiation was also meant to test our mettle and loyalty to each other,” recalls Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, cultural scholar and food writer. “We would be required to come to campus wearing our clothes inside out, serve our older sisters’ every whim, and follow them around.” For the Upsilonians, recalls Mon Maronilla, who is also the president of the UP Alumni Association, initiation was mainly a test of character, with newbies forced to engage in humiliating activities such as delivering flowers to frat members’ girlfriends.

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Politics and ideological divides had yet to become trademarks of UP student life. Although Mila Alora, now an OPS assistant secretary who chairs the APO Production Unit and a Sigma Deltan, notes that just to show how wide and inclusive was the embrace of the fraternity spirit, Ninoy Aquino was a Upsilonian.

Maronilla explains that political—and even business or personal—differences were tolerated within the fraternity, with inclusiveness and acceptance encouraged.

But belonging to a fraternity and sorority, explains Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jesus Yabes, meant enjoying a lifetime of friendship and alliances even with “brods” or “sis” of other batches.

Upsilon ’66 had 47 members, the biggest number in the fraternity’s history. Six of them became lawyers, two became diplomats, four became doctors, and five became entrepreneurs. The rest became bankers, business executives and retired employees. The couple Efren and Mian Gancayco run a construction and electrical firm that sponsors a number of scholars. Other members who have passed on are the ambassador to Washington and Beijing Willy Gaa and the TV personality Angelo Castro Jr.

They join such famous “brods” as Gerry Roxas (father of presidential aspirant Mar Roxas), Doy Laurel, UP president Fred Pascual and former senator (and candidate) Dick Gordon, aside from Ninoy.

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Sigma Deltans likewise count among their roster such famous personalities as painter Anita Magsaysay-Ho, culinary icon Nora Daza, fearless commentator Winnie Monsod, stage stalwart Celia Diaz-Laurel, the late secretary Josie Lichauco, beauty queen and activist leader Nelia Sancho, and broadcaster Ces Drilon.

Apart from Prudente-Sta. Maria and Alora, noted members of Batch ’66 include Ester Rimpos, one of the country’s first prima ballerinas, and Mian Gancayco, a former educator and now business executive. Fifteen of Sigma Delta ’66 came from UP Diliman while two were from UP Los Baños.

To mark their golden year, Batch ’66 will celebrate with a major thanksgiving and fellowship party called “A Celebration of Life” on Feb. 6 at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club. Regardless of what batch they belong to, all Upsilonians and Sigma Deltans are invited.

Quietly working behind the scenes to make the golden jubilee a success are Lena Lubi, Narcy Avellana-David, Sonny Villariba, Serge Naguiat, Jun Aniag and many more.

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A letter to the editor from Sen. Tito Sotto was run in this paper recently. In it, Sotto, who is “blamed,” along with budget committee chair Sen. Loren Legarda, for excising P1 billion from the Department of Health budget, nit-picked several points I raised about his role in depriving an estimated five million women of lifesaving contraceptives.

Both Sotto and Legarda have sought to backtrack from their nefarious deed, saying there is enough money “left over” in the DOH budget to meet couples’ family planning needs and pointing out how other programs would benefit from the lost allocation. But what cannot be denied is that Sotto has spent the better part of his Senate career thwarting the reproductive health aspirations of women, men and children—for what reason I can’t say.

One thing Sotto said in his letter I must take exception to. It’s that my columns show my “disdain” for politicians who used to be (or still are) entertainers. No, Mr. Sotto, I don’t “disdain” actors, singers or sports figures. I just wish that they bring to their duties sufficient preparation for their role as public officials and not just rely on charm or popularity to get by.

And if I am a pawn of the international contraceptive lobby, then he must be a puppet of the Vatican and its local representatives.

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TAGS: budget cut, reproductive health, RH law, tito sotto
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