NEW YORK — The “hard knocks” we go through, the successes we achieve, the organizations we join, the people we meet, the advice we get, the values we acquire, and many other influences, shape our futures.
Some members of Upsilon Sigma Phi had a significant influence on my life. In Manila I recall after completing a hectic final year of high school at San Sebastian College (SSC) in 1968, all I wanted to do was to enjoy my summer vacation enjoying good food, reading great books and learning what is critical to get admission into the University of the Philippines (UP) to pursue a program of study and training in journalism.
Mine had been an extremely busy year as president of the high school student council, as an editor of the weekly newspaper and monthly magazine and as leader of several teams representing the school that went to various conferences, including the National Union of High Schools.
It had also been a life-changing year as a high school senior, wherein my experiences tremendously boosted my self-esteem and enabled me to learn much about the basic good nature of people. I thank Fred Anthony Cabbab, our guidance counselor, for believing in me more than I believed in myself, who urged me to run for council president despite my not being Catholic or Filipino. I ran, won by a landslide 85 percent of votes cast and the future was bright.
In the summer that followed, I firmed up my life’s mission. As a journalist, I would seek truth in all forms on issues that mattered a lot, then share it with people to make their lives better.
So, upon my admission to UP, pleased by the learning facilities of its Institute of Mass Communication (IMC). I would simply study and train there after two years at the College of Arts and Sciences. No more extra-curricular activities for me.
When Ed Zialcita approached me to join Upsilon Sigma Phi. I told him I wanted to focus on preparing for my career. He spoke to me about the benefits. I said I’ll think about it. After learning about its accomplished members, I decided it was worth joining this fraternity. I thank Ed for thinking of me. As high school student council president before me at SSC, I trusted him.
The first benefit I derived thereafter was being asked to be managing editor of the Philippine Collegian. Our exposé “UP Tarlac Faces Closure” brought on campus rallies. I saw with my own eyes the raw power of the press, yet it humbled me on the awesome responsibility journalists have in gathering facts and presenting them accurately in a fair, balanced manner. I thank Spike Yabut, who wrote a better editorial than mine in the editorial exam, for calling me with the offer.
I also thank Raul Palabrica for giving me free rein to acquire and present content the way I saw fit, even as I ceded my title to him and created a new one for myself. I thank my co-batch Willy Villanueva for being a good news editor of the Collegian.
There are numerous Upsilonians from whom I acquired practical values and who helped me in various ways over the years. I beg forgiveness from those who helped me positively who I can no longer recall.
I thank Efren Yambot from whom I sought advice about getting into advertising after martial law when the press became muzzled. I thank Jess Yabes (for something I won’t mention), as Consul General he invited me to meet him for lunch in Hong Kong. We discussed a Philippine immigration law shortcoming.
I thank my co-batch Rolly Fernandez for inculcating in me practical tricks of the trade in newspapering. He was already a working journalist when we were classmates at IMC. I thank him for his ingenious, time-saving layout work for the Collegian. My confidence gained hugely from the guts and determination shown by batch members at initiations. I thank Danny Mangunay from whom I learned faith and trust.
I thank Sonny Ago for organizing and leading an initially small group of Upsilonians during the 1970-1980s in New York when I first arrived here. This group served as an oasis of great comfort in a city that was then described by a Sigma Deltan as a “harsh, punishing paddle” away from home.
Numerous Upsilonians positively shaped my life, first in the Philippines, then in the US. I love what I do. I have a wonderful family. My loving wife and grown children are all successful in their careers, imbued with the precious values I acquired from Upsilon Sigma Phi.
Kumar (Kem) Balani joins the Philippine Daily Mirror as a columnist. He also writes for the Daily Tribune in the Philippines. He is the founder and current publisher of New Jersey-based BIZ INDIA Online News (www.BizIndia.net) that followed the print publication BIZ INDIA Magazine begun in 2002.