The Pioneers- The 1970s

The Diliman Commune, a student uprising in February of 1971 that preceded the founding of the UP Artists’ Circle in May of 1972.

The UP Artists’ Circle was born on a tumultuous time in the nation’s history and it is impossible not to mention certain historical events in writing about its beginnings.

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It all began in the early 1970s. The College of Fine Arts had just become a separate unit from the College of Architecture and Fine Arts (CAFA) under the stewardship of Dean José T. Joya. The University of the Philippines was at the peak of student activism and reeling from the aftermath of an uprising led by the students, faculty members and residents of the University, together with transport workers, which would be known in history books as the Diliman Commune.

While student activism was gaining ground, other forms of student organization in the UP College of Fine Arts needed a boost. There were some student organizations in the UP Fine Arts before 1972, namely the Pallette and Brush Association, and the Phi Alpha Fraternity, under the advisership of Fernando Amorsolo in the 1940s-60s. All of these organizations had become extinct due to graduation of its members and retirement of faculty advisers. Changing outlooks in the student body meant that fraternities and sororities were fast becoming a thing of the past. Indeed, many fraternities not only in the University of the Philippines became extinct during this time.

The University of the Philippines Main Library in Diliman, Quezon City, which housed the UP College of Fine Arts in the immediate post-war. From the Flickr page of Leo D. Cloma. Courtesy of the Tantoco Family Library and Archives in Malolos, Bulacan.
The University Main Library in Diliman, which housed the UP College of Fine Arts in the immediate post-war until 1991. From the Flickr page of Leo D. Cloma. Courtesy of the Tantoco Family Library and Archives.

Many of the founders of the fraternity were part of the college basketball team. The captain was a young and talented artist, Armand Bacaltos, who holds the distinction of winning the Shell Art Competition first prize for three consecutive years. In 1972 he was already in his senior year and it was his desire to prolong the days of friendship and to maintain an association of students within the college that pushed him to propose together with some of the pioneers, most prominently Valentino Barros, his intentions to form a fraternity. Professor Froilan T. Madriñan, an eminent sculptor would guide them and become the first faculty adviser. This fraternity was first intended to be exclusive to students of the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines.

Out of the many who expressed willingness to join the newly chartered fraternity, only thirteen of those men would meet before the start of the first semester in 1972 to hold the first initiation rites at the College of Fine Arts, then located at the top floor of Gonzalez Hall, which housed the university library.

Constitution and Rituals

The pioneers modified the constitution and rituals of older fraternities in the university to suit the nature of the emerging fraternity for artists under the guidance of Froilan T. Madriñan, who was a Freemason. In the early years, neophytes underwent initiation for at least one semester and waited for another year before induction as full-pledged resident members.

When the pioneer batch reconvened in their first General Assembly as brothers, they consecrated a covenant based on the love for arts, friendship and lifelong bonds that has lasted to this day. This would later translate to the three tenets “Loyalty, Humility, and Determination”.

For the youth of our nation and of the world, the blessings that come from brotherhood…

The original constitution drafted by the first executive committee further established the purpose of the fraternity. The preamble states “…in order to secure for ourselves, for the student body of the University of the Philippines, for the youth of our nation and of the world, the blessings that come from brotherhood, and to deliver a program to our fellow men…” This aspiration is now carried on to a new generation of brothers who have adopted a mission and vision statement in the year 2003 based on the said preamble.

The early members of the AC Fraternity also made it their objective to keep the College of Fine Arts a “safe zone” where violence of any kind including fraternity rumbles would not be tolerated. AC made it a point not to antagonize any other fraternity on campus and even served as a mediator to keep the peace.

Barely months after, the nation took a historic and dramatic fall out with the declaration of Martial Law and the imposition of a ban on all student activities and organizations.

Barely months after, the nation took a historic and dramatic fall out with the declaration of Martial Law and the imposition of a ban on all student activities and organizations. Perhaps it was incredible stroke of luck that the only form of organization that was allowed on campus was in the form of either a fraternity or a sorority, owing to the fact that the dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos was also a member of a fraternity.

Jim, Danny, and Buboy performing at the old college building for a fund raiser for the advocacies of the UP Artists' Circle Fraternity.
APO Hiking Society performing at the old college building in a concert sponsored by the UP Artists’ Circle Fraternity.

While this period marked intense political repression, it also marked many of the early accomplishments of the fraternity that assumed the duties of the banned college student council. The AC pursued student activities and political propaganda through the art they created. The AC also served to maintain student socials by hosting concerts and art exhibitions.

The biggest batch to enter the fraternity during this time was Batch Ugat 1974, a batch that would be known for producing some well-known artists and faculty members of the college. As residents, they became a substantial reinforcement to the fraternity in a college that did not exceed 200 in population during that time. This batch started many of the traditions that are adapted today by the residents including the launch of an annual group exhibit that showcases the best works of the year. The first group exhibit by the Artists’ Circle was called “Interrelation” and was launched in 1978 at the Heritage Art Center in San Juan, Metro Manila. During this time, many student-artists from the College of Fine Arts went underground to fight the tyrant and the oppression which he represented.

By 1977, the fraternity mascot, a baseball player with an oversized head wearing the fraternity ball cap was adopted. The very first version of the fraternity shirt was also worn by the residents. Under the initiatives of Past Supreme Master Rock Drilon and Benjie Cabangis of Batch 1974, this year also gave  birth to the Women’s Auxilliary Corps or W.A.C., which became the predecessor of the UP Artists’ Circle Sorority.

In the ensuing years, the fraternity was able to firmly plant its status in the University of the Philippines with the increase in membership and the dynamic leadership of Supreme Masters like Federico “Pete” Jimenez ’78 who devoted countless time and energy in organizing and shaping the activities of the fraternity. Under his leadership, the concerns of fraternity programs became more varied: they included anything from agricultural reform to discussing the importance of social realism and emergence of postmodernism in the arts.

Coming of Age – The 1980s

Brothers became advocates in and out of their classrooms. Workshops in public schools were held regularly side by side with educational discussion groups on student activism and the fate of the fraternity. It was lamentable but also an advantage that by 1980, the College of Fine Arts only had two recognized student organizations and that was the UP Artists’ Circle Fraternity and the UP Artists’ Circle Sorority.

Workshops in public schools were held regularly side by side with educational discussion group on student activism and the fate of the fraternity.

The lifting of Martial Law in time for Pope John Paul’s visit in January 1981, led to the revival of the college student council. For several straight years, the UP Artists’ Circle Fraternity commanded the top posts of the Student Council.

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Brothers became more active in campus politics and participated in activities by the now-defunct Inter-Fraternity Council. By the late ’80s, an adolescent fraternity had grown its wings, and adopted the secret handshake of Batch ’89. The handshake was distinctive and also symbolic. This was widely introduced in the second General Alumni Homecoming of the Fraternity at the Century Park Hotel in Manila under the leadership of Past Supreme Master Nubbin Beldia ’87. The handshake and some recognized insignia were presented to the General Fraternity through the efforts of Past Supreme Master RJ Briones ’89. In 1997, members of the Artists’ Circle paid tribute to the very first Supreme Master, Armand Bacaltos ’72 during its 25th Silver Anniversary. The next year, Brod Leonilo Doloricon ’74 became Dean of the College of Fine Arts.

The 1990s

A weekly meeting of officers of the Fraternity held at the basement of the Vargas Museum in 1989.

The 90s were marked by a resurgence of campus violence. With unchecked energies, there was a rise in fraternity rivalries which were occasionally matched by high-profile deaths in hazing activities. There was a high attrition rate in recruitment owing to competition from newly-emerged student organizations which were previously banned on campus.

The 90s were marked by a resurgence of campus violence and the death of fratmen in hazing activities.

The press had a crack down on the fraternity system in the university in the aftermath of these successive fraternity-related violence that in 1997, the Artist Circle Fraternity under Past Supreme Master Mel Mancenido ’94 was among the fraternities to participate in the truce to promote harmony among fraternities on campus with the symbolic surrender of hazing paraphernalia. Other fraternities gave out their paddles; AC Fraternity, then and now known as a peaceful fraternity of artists, surrendered nothing but a six-inch thick slob of steel used to make armatures for sculptures.

The Artists’ Circle preserved its effort to maintain the peace and its commitment to a NO HAZING POLICY.


Trophy given to recognize outstanding AC Alumni

Among the many commissions the AC Fraternity received during that decade is the mural at the second floor of the old Arts and Science Building, now known as Palma Hall: “Isandaang-taong bukang liwayway”. It was made to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Philippine Revolution in 1996. The mural was sponsored by the Office of Initiatives for Culture and the Arts under Professor Dodo Defeo. It is now a prominent feature of the building that currently houses the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.

During the 29th year of the Fraternity, an Alumni Foundation was established to help finance projects by the Fraternity and to conduct its very own scholarship grants. The Artists’ Circle Foundation is now the primary fund-raising entity of A.C. Fraternity and its primary focus is to support the education, leadership and development of the collegiate chapter in UP Diliman, individuals of the Fraternity and deserving fine arts majors (non-members).

The Fund raising campaigns of the A.C. Foundation is very aggressive and only after two years, it has gathered a considerable amount of financial support for its endeavors. It’s current president is the former Supremo Joven Alcala ’86.

Philippine Star, August 2006.

The following year, the tradition of the Annual Art Exhibit by residents was christened with a name during the launching of the very first “Kalipunan”. It showcased the works of residents and faculty members. The college and community also benefitted from activities leading to Kalipunan such as free art workshops and sketching sessions. The exhibition series became an annual installment.

The first decade of the new millennium saw a revival in terms of recruitment and artistic activity. Several residents gained recognition as winners of art contests and for being hailed as top contemporary artists in the country.

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The following year, the tradition of the Annual Art Exhibit by residents was christened with a name during the launching of the very first “Kalipunan”.

Approaching the golden decade- 2010s

Resident officers of the UP Artists’ Circle in 2015

In 2011, another fraternity brother became Dean of the UP College of Fine Arts: Leonardo “Doi” Rosete ’74. This was also the year when Past Supreme Master Ramon Jimenez ’72, was appointed as Secretary of the Department of Tourism by Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III.

The Artists’ circle is now about to begin its fifth decade, an occasion that marks the maturity of the fraternity’s tradition.  in 2008, a major milestone has been accomplished by the fraternity: the establishment of the UP Baguio chapter, the only chapter outside Diliman.

The identity of AC, as a fraternity for artists has naturally limited its pool for recruitment, but making its voice heard within the university is the least of its concern, as it continues to engage in campus life an politics and render service to its host communities.

AC Fellowship in 2014

The AC is one with the spirit of the College of Fine Arts and University of the Philippines, whose histories are an inextricable part of its identity. As the years roll by, the accomplishments of both residents and alumni members have extended its significance, continuing to make AC an enduring presence in the area of cultural work and nation building.