Thursday, 9 October 2008

Meet the Red Lions of the UAE

After more than two weeks of hewing and hawing, finally I’m sitting before my PC, attempting to fill up the white space with words to narrate how we were able to rein in the Red Lions in the UAE.

So we finally did it!

The San Beda College Alumni Association of the United Arab Emirates has finally emerged from its cocoon and is well on it’s way to conquer the Pridelands of the UAE.

Hayup a!

It took almost two years before this idea of gathering all the Bedans in the desert came into being.

First things first, be it on record that the SBAA-UAE came to life on the night of September 25, 2008 when 35 Bedans of all shapes and sizes from across two decades of batches descended into Continental Star Restaurant in Karama and ratified the charter that formally gave life to this Red and White organization. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first overseas chapter of the San Beda Alumni Association outside the United States.

Paano nga ba ‘to nagsimula?

In my impromptu stand-upper before a bevy of red-shirts, I briefly recalled the twists and turns that led to history. But here's the long version.

When I finally set foot in the sands of the emirates two and a half years ago, I have no known friends except for Jay Hilotin and Adonis Durado whom I’ve met when I first came in for testing and interview in September 2005.

I was like Simba. All alone, lost and far away from where I really belong. Adonis and Jay were my Timon and Pumba.

While I’ve met and somewhat built relations with some people here, I was still longing for the friendship and genuine, no frills camaraderie that only real Bedans can dish out.

From Day 1, I’ve been looking for Bedans in the desert. I surfed the net. Googling the key words “Dubai” and “San Beda”. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The search led me to one email address of somebody who is apparently working here and had studied in San Beda. I sent him an email, but my message bounced back.

But that didn't dampen my spirit, I have the gut feel that I was not alone here.

From time to time, I’d wear my “Behold I’m A Bedan” shirt or my “Brotherhood of the Red Lions” hood, hoping that a fellow Red Lion would tap me.

Then one day, Earl Andre Vergara – my art editor at The Bedan – sent me an email and told me that he’s also relocating to Dubai to work as a flash animation developer.

I was ecstatic. Magiging dalawa na kami!

But when Earl finally planed in, the closest encounter that we had was just over the phone as our skeds -- "timings" to long-timers -- would not let us see each other.


Several months later, I attended a birthday bash for Marcos Castro – a former colleague in the defunct Manila Chronicle – which was held in a bar in Al Nasr Leisureland.

From afar, I saw a familiar silhouette, but before I could come closer to get a clear view, I was immediately led to a table across the hall. A few minutes after, I heard a familiar voice asking: “Pare, 'di ba taga-San Beda ka?”

When I turned to where the voice was coming from, it was my college buddy!

“Aba oo naman! Ikaw si Jojo Amparado ‘di ba?”

Jojo is a dyed-in-the-wool expat. He went to St Mary’s Catholic School in Oud Metha for high school and took up Management in San Beda. He flew back to Dubai and settled down with his family immediately after graduation. His brother, Jeffrey, a former Peace Retreat Auxie, is also here and is one of the leading lights of the Filipino Divers' Club.


When the Red Lions campaigned to end it’s 28 year NCAA senior basketball title drought, Jojo and I burned the lines updating each other on the match – he was watching the game from The Filipino Channel, while I was glued on the shoutbox.

A few days after the tumultuous game, Jojo and I went to the Airport Millenium Hotel to toast the Red Lions’ success. Kahit dalawa lang kami, umaalingawngaw ang “Go San Beda Fight!” sa loob ng bar.

But our celebration was short-lived. We just downed our first pint of lager and we were going for the next when the waiter signaled that it’s time for us to go as the first hour of Ramadan has set in.

Before that, I met another Bedan online. Joselito “Joey” Hidalgo, a fashion designer from Abu Dhabi. We got connected after I ran a teeny-weeny boxed announcement in the Filipino Expat magazine, simply titled: “Bedista ka ba?” Joey wasted no time getting in touch with me. I told Joey that I was still trying to look for the rest of the pack.

November 5, 2006, I had to rush back home. My father in law died. After burying him in Dauis, I went home to Manila to spend two weeks with my family. In one of my final days in Manila, I picked up Ara from Holy Spirit and we went next door to San Beda.

Meeting my old friend and professor, Joffre Alajar, at the Alumni Office where he sits as executive director, I told him about my desire to look for my fellow Bedans in the Middle East and eventually, we’ll form a chapter in the region. He gave me his “blessings”.

Now that there were four of us – do we have the numbers to form an association?

I went to the Philippine Consulate and sought Consul Butch Bandillo's wise counsel.

Me: “Butch, paano ba magpa-accredit ng isang group sa
Consul Bandillo: “Basta you must have your own
charter and set of rules and bylaws, list of officers and members, calendar of
activities then the Consulate will recognize you.”
Me: “Ah ganun ba?”
Consul Bandillo:
“Bakit, ilan na ba kayo?”
Me: “Hmmm mga hmmm apat
pa lang e.”
Butch: “Ahhhh... magparami muna kayo.”

“Marami” pala is at least 20 heads. So, it was back to the salt mines for me to look for at least 16 more Bedans.


My friend and colleague Jay Hilotin was the founding president of the Filipino Press Club in Dubai. He used to tag me along the club’s meetings and activities although I was – and until now – not a member by choice.

Jay had asked me and Adonis to help the Club produce the “Kalayaan” souvenir programme for the Filipino community’s 2006 and 2007 Independence Day celebrations.

In one meeting, I met Albert Alba, then the FPC’s vice president, who was a correspondent for Business Weekly. When Abet and I shook hands, magaan agad ang loob ko sa kaniya. Like me, Abet toiled the beats in Manila. He used to work for Yomiuri Shimbun. We have a couple of common friends in the industry and we knew urban legends and battle stories that only legit journos are privy to.

Pero may ugali si Abet na kakaiba. There’s a familiar timbre to his wit and humour. I see red.

Me (left) and Abet (in green) with Jay Hilotin (2nd from right) at the UIPS event

One day when we were in one FPC activity – as judges to an essay writing contest at the United Integrated Private School – Abet asked me: “Pare, bakit ba lagi kang nakapula?”

My standard retort to that question was simply that red is my favourite and lucky colour, but this time, I also told Abet that it was my way of honouring my alma mater, San Beda College.

Abet’s chinky eyes lit up. “San Beda rin ako e. Class 82, batch ko sila Duane Salvatierra yung team na nag-champion sa NCAA!”

No wonder we are tuned to the same frequency.


The search continues.

Summer of 2008 came. Honestly, my mission had long been in the backburner and my attention was focused more at the time on my concerns at the office and on where to let Ara go for college.

Ara was setting her sights on San Beda, which is no longer an all-boy’s school.

Sa totoo lang, I was thrilled with the prospects of finally having my offspring continue my Bedan lineage. But things were apparently not well in Mendiola.

My batchmate Raffy Dolor, who used to chair San Beda’s Philosophy Department, dissuaded me from letting Ara – his inaanak – pursue her desire.

San Beda is in the dark ages. Our alma mater is said to be presently being ruled by Sith-like characters. Raffy asked me if I want my daughter to thrive in an environment where academic freedom is dead. Things came to a head when San Beda’s high and mighty abolished Raffy’s department. Prior to that, the Siths ordered the slow death of The Bedan by cutting off its funding source and freezing whatever is left of the mananambol’s war chest.

The net – particularly, – was abuzz with threads of facts and rumours on what’s happening in Mendiola. It was also during this period when the Bedan Watcher, a white paper, was circulated online (Dom Venard would later tell me that the Siths would identify us as the co-authors of the Bedan Watcher -- we're flattered!).

These developments kept me glued to Although thousands of miles away from home, I suddenly found myself back on the saddle – from running after “hamsters” during my time, it was now time to join a crusade against the dark forces.

It was while was heating up when a thread calling on “Bedans in Dubai” was posted at the Life After San Beda section.

“Longbow’s” message reads:

If you're a Bedan who's staying in Dubai or it's neighboring cities, or if
you're planning to go here, please provide us (through pm) your personnal
details (name, phone number, email address, batch, course, etc) and we'll get in
touch with you. We're going to have gatherings at least once a month and
it will be a pleasure if you could join us. You'd be glad to know that Dom
Venard is here in Dubai as well, and will be joining the monthly
gatherings. Hope to see you!

Bigla akong nabuhayan! I too wasted no time in making my move. I replied to LongBow’s call and in one sweep, more Bedans emerged – Ryan Mirandilla, Bhoy Balbin, Michael Ramos, among others.

Aabot na kami ng sampu!


While it’s good to know na marami na palang Bedista dito sa UAE, herding them into one roof is another task to accomplish.

When the Red Lions were penalized with one game after Sam Ekwe wore the wrong jersey and the prospects for a Final Four berth was jittery, the small, still ununited Bedan community in the UAE exchanged text and email messages.

The embers of a once burning desire to gather was fanned. It’s time to sound the clarion call.

So the call for all Bedans to meet on September 25, 2008 was made:

Hello guys…it's been a long time and long overdue for us Bedans here in Dubai to
really get to know each other
I propose we meet up on the evening of
September 25 (Thursday) ,,,that is, kung available ang majority sa grupo, If we
can agree on the date and venue, baka maisama natin yung mga nasa Abu Dhabi .
The venue depends on what you guys want to do… dinner or coffee? Next time
na lang yung inom in deference to Ramadan
Topmost objective – as mentioned –
is for us Bedan brothers to get to know each other. Eventually, we want to
formalize our group as an overseas chapter of the San Beda Alumni Association
similar to those initiated in Southen California and Washington DC .
forward this note to other Bedans you know who are not yet in the loop.
Go San Beda Fight!

In just three days after the first message was sent, my inbox was flooded with messages of more Simbas and a Nala (Shawie, ikaw yun) wanting to come home.

It came to a point that we could no longer wait for the D-Day, that we had at least four pre-powwows where more names came up.

In one pre-powwow, Barry Canlas (HS ’90) showed up and told us something each one of us initially thought and felt. “Akala ko ako lang ang Bedista dito. Ang dami pala natin!”

D-Day September 25. I was already near the venue as early as 5pm. I holed myself up in an internet café, checking on post-mortem reports of Game 1 of the NCAA Finals between the Red Lions and the Heavy Bombers.

My grade school and college big brother Michael Abasolo of Inboundpass was on YM, giving me inside snippets of the game. Our powwow was between Games 1 and 2 of the NCAA Finals.

“The boys will definitely go for it tomorrow man,” a confident Mike said (n.b.: the Lions lost Game 2, but came back to win Game 3 and the crown by 16 points).

Our chest-thumping chat session further charged me up as I inched my way to Continental.

Zero-hour of D-Day, Bedans coming up the resto’s 2nd floor function hall would meet Michael "Chubby" Ramos who served as our one-man secretariat.

A nervous Ryan Mirandilla (a bona fide CIA - Certified Internal Auditor) and an equally nervous me kept on making a headcount. Sino nang dumating, sinong wala.

Dom Venard would later rib us that the Benedictine spirit of community is really within us dahil di raw kami mapakali kung may nawawala.

Most of us were hovering near the buffet table, prompting Abet Alba to shout” “Mga Bedista talaga oo, laging malapit kung saan naroon ang pagkain!”

As more Bedans arrived, the function room was beginning to flare up with red.

The scene was somewhat similar to what you'd find at Mang Roger’s area of responsibility, or as the younger batches would call as the “Hepa Lane.”

How Joey Hidalgo (left) and Abet Alba looked like as grade schoolers

One sidelight that I highlighted to Manay Ellie of TFC, who was there with Manoy Art Los Banos to cover our gig, was the reunion of Abet and Joey Hidalgo who haven’t seen each other since grade school – in my count, 30 years! They belong to Grade School Class of 1978.

Eto na silang dalawa ngayon in full colour. Kung dati piso lang baon nila, ngayon 1 dirham na!

Food was flowing by Bedan standards. There really was no formal program to follow. Everything was impromptu. I was the emcee and sound system operator.

Jenkins Mesina – the most recognizable Bedan being a former King Cub -- led the opening prayer.

Spirits were further set high when we did the Indian Yell and sung the Red and White song.

Manay Ellie would later tell me that they haven’t seen anything like it. Kitang-kita daw sa camera how electrifying the moment was. As if, everyone were thrown back in time, back to Mendiola.

Dom Venard delivered a message calling on the Bedans to support the SBAA-UAE.

Abet – being the most senior alumnus – reflected on the Bedan Hymn.

“Natural sa Bedista ang magkita-kita at magsama. Sa opening pa lang ng Bedan Hymn, nandun na e: ‘Herald the Bedans coming, may their fellowship never cease’.”

Abet said a mouthful, but we'd rather keep the things he said to ourselves at baka ma-impeach sya sa pagiging presidente ng UP Alumni Association sa UAE.

We capped the night, singing the Bedan Hymn.

Now that we’ve hit the ground running, I can now go back to Consul Bandillo and tell him:

"Butch, 35 na kami! Marami na kami!"


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