Saigon Lodge No. 188
At the time Saigon Lodge was established, Saigon (now Ho Chi Mihn City) was the name of the capital city of South Vietnam. Since the lodge originally met in Vietnam, the founders named their lodge after the city.
The first inkling that the Grand Lodge of the Philippines may have a lodge in Vietnam came in April 1966 when Grand Master Serafin Teves informed the brethren during the annual communication that a new High Twelve Club had been established in Bien Hoa Airbase in South Vietnam. "Ordinarily," he said, "High Twelve Clubs do not spell permanence since they are aimed at fraternal social contacts. However, lodges have come out of such clubs and early this year I was especially proud to have signed a dispensation for the organization of a lodge in Seoul, South Korea, a lodge that grew from a High Twelve Club there. It is not presumptuous for us to claim credit for the High Twelve Clubs in South Vietnam and South Korea because the moving spirit behind the clubs are mostly members of lodges in our Grand Jurisdiction, particularly those of Biak-na-Bato Lodge No. 7."
The unnamed members of Biak-na-Bato who organized the High Twelve Club in South Vietnam were led by Marcelo C. Cheung, a Past Master of the lodge, who had left for Vietnam to work in the mid-fifties. After getting in touch with several brothers, he convinced the Grand Lodge to authorize Biak-na-Bato Lodge to confer the degrees on petitioners residing in Vietnam. During the first year of the arrangement, more than thirty candidates residing in Vietnam were initiated. Eventually, other Masonic and allied organizations got involved; the visits of applicants to the Philippines became a regular grand affair. Thus, for example, in November 1964, a large group came over from Saigon. Some joined the Caravan of the Ancient and Arabic Order of the Mystic Shrine on November 1, others were conferred the Scottish Rite degrees by Luzon Bodies on November 3 and 5, still others received the York Rite Degrees from the Far East Commandery and, of course, there were those who were either initiated, passed or raised in Biak-na-Bato Lodge.
Towards the end of 1966, as expected, a petition for dispensation to organize a lodge in Saigon signed by 37 Master Masons was sent to the Grand Lodge. On January 4, 1967, Grand Master Raymond E. Wilmarth issued the requested dispensation. The lodge unfortunately failed to meet. A few days after the dispensation was signed, the Master elect, George B. Archibald, formally asked the Minister of Security of South Vietnam for permission to organize a Masonic lodge. Unfortunately, the Minister took his sweet time in acting on the request. At the time the annual communication of the Grand Lodge was held in April 1967 there was still no word from the Ministry of Security. The Grand Lodge, therefore, did not grant a charter to Saigon Lodge. Its dispensation was, however, extended up to March 31, 1968.
At the annual communication of the Grand Lodge held in April 1968, it was reported that Saigon Lodge, UD, still could not start operations because of the prevailing war conditions and because they had not yet secured a permit to operate from the Ministry of Security. Since a second extension of a dispensation was not allowed, the Grand Lodge withdrew the dispensation, reserving to the organizers the right to renew their petition when circumstances obtaining in Vietnam shall have sufficiently cleared up.
It turned out that on April 1, 1968, a new petition for dispensation signed by 34 Master Masons had been sent to the Grand Lodge. On May 6, 1968, Grand Master Joseph E. Schon acted on it and granted the dispensation. This time the operation of the lodge was very successful. In a short period, the membership jumped to 56. In addition, the lodge had in its waiting list 160 candidates, more or less, and had over $ 11,000 in its treasury. Hence, at the annual communication in 1969, it was given a charter as Saigon Lodge No. 188.
On June 28, 1969, Grand Master Manuel Crudo, accompanied by Grand Secretary Esteban Munarriz and Hermogenes P. Oliveros, enplaned for Saigon and constituted Saigon Lodge and immediately thereafter installed its first set of officers under charter. Those installed were: Marcelo Cheung, Master; Garland Brewster, Senior Warden; Athol B. Shuster, Junior Warden.
The next few years were busy years for Saigon Lodge. They were also years filled with challenges brought about by the war. As a Past Master of the lodge put it years later in a letter he wrote to his brothers: "This lodge that was spawned on the doorsteps of death, destruction and finally subjugation in Vietnam, has witnessed one of the great tragedies in world and American history. You are members of a lodge that had to close because of a rocket attack, that had to close because of curfew restrictions, that had to work under unbelievable hardships to survive, but survive it did, and prosper and grow it did."
In September 1972, Grand Master William C. Councell paid the lodge a visit and the members staged an excellent reception for him. The war, however, soon took a dramatic turn for the worse against South Vietnam and her ally the United States. The cease-fire signed in Paris in January 1973 was not being honored. In spite of that the American Government, facing a growing opposition to the war back home, continued reducing American forces in Vietnam leaving the South Vietnamese to fight for themselves. But they were no match for the Viet Cong. Fighting lasted only until April 1975 when the communists entered the gates of Saigon and routed the South Vietnamese. Shortly before the fall, Grand Master John O. Wallace wrote: "As of this writing, a little over two weeks from the date of the Grand Communication, there is a rather dark cloud over two of our lodges. We pray the Great Architect will help South Vietnam and Sulu come through their troubles and that Saigon Lodge and Bud Daho will be privileged to continue their labors." It was not to be for Saigon Lodge.
When Vietnam was about to fall, the brethren hurriedly packed the lodge paraphernalia and records and brought them out of the city during the evacuation. Among the valuables saved were the eight flags representing the nationalities of the members of the lodge.The members were dispersed throughout the world. Some were stationed in Guam and a greater number in Manila. Those who ended up in the Philippines secured from Grand Master Teodoro V. Kalaw, Jr. a dispensation for them to transfer their meetings to the Plaridel Masonic Temple in Ermita, Manila. From that time, up to the present, Saigon Lodge has been meeting in Manila.
In 1976, the first election of officers of Saigon Lodge in the Philippines was held. A whole new set of officers had to be elected. Chosen to be the Master to was a distinguished Mason, Alejandrino A. Eusebio, who in later years served the Grand Lodge as Grand Secretary.
In 1976, the members of Saigon Lodge were pleased to welcome Bruce Gogolin an entered apprentice of the lodge. Initiated on April 19, 1975, when the Vietcong were already knocking at the gates of the city, he was the last petitioner to be conferred a degree by the lodge in Saigon before it fell. Gogolin came over from Indonesia to make his Masonic advancement in the lodge. Records show that he was passed on February 9, 1976 and raised on October 7, 1976.
As a fitting footnote to the Vietnam days of Saigon Lodge, we may cite the report of MW Juan C. Nabong, Jr. regarding his visit with VW Carlos R. de Castro to Ho Chi Minh City on April 3, 1990. MW Nabong wrote that their footsteps brought them to the place where Saigon Lodge used to meet and all they found to suggest that it was once devoted to Masonic purposes was a dusty deacon's rod stand.
Aside from the brothers mentioned above, many other distinguished Masons have graced the rolls of Saigon Lodge. Oscar Bunyi, Grand Master in 2000 is a member, and so are MW Juan C. Nabong, Conrado Sanga, and Evaristo A. Leviste. Among its other leaders are Edgardo Delmo, Arnel Lemuel Guste, Heneage Mitchell, Joel Herrera, Severing S. de Benito, Edmond Sinia and Ricardo Villaverde.
Location: Plaridel Masonic Temple, Manila