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Fratman

I woke up upside down, and felt warm blood rushing back to my head. I could see concerned faces looking down on mine, shouting, as if cheering me on, to regain consciousness. You see, I passed out during the final initiation rites. I received at that point 35 full swings of the paddle, at the back and front of my thighs. I also took some paddlings meant for my college batchmate and close friend, who I thought was thinner and weaker than me. I was the batch leader, held by four persons (“brods”) by my lower leg, pulled like a yoyo, learning the hard way what they meant by “taktak” ( that is, to shake me back to consciousness through blood flow to my head).

Maybe I was young and stupid then to undergo almost a month-long initiation as a neophyte, being asked to do irrational things in public, some more shameful than others. Even before the final or main initiation rites, there were days when the ordeal could get quite physical. But much of the pain were psychological and emotional.

The thought I had more than three decades ago remains fresh to this day – it almost made me quit fraternity trials. I thought of how kind, caring and worried my mother always was for me, and how I betrayed her care by subjecting myself to such treatment from such persons I barely knew. That was the most torturous thought. But the lure of succeeding, of overcoming the ordeal, was greater.

So when all was done and the unexplainable euphoria of passing the initiations set in, I had a belief that since I exposed myself willingly to the brink of death, that there would be no challenge too daunting, and no risk too fearsome to brave. How wrong that notion was. When I got married and started my own family, I became a “coward” again. I need to be more careful, to be more safe, because the life I am risking as a family man is not only my own.

The common unique experience is the bond of brotherhood. I understand that. Well enough not to wish that experience or bond on any of my sons. And I share my own experience today at the risk of ridicule because I do not wish the same experience on any other parent’s son.

We were Lenny Villa’s batchmates in law school. Lenny was not the first fallen fratman, but the most controversial. The others who were in the same initiation rites with Lenny lived to tell the tale. They didn’t know they would be initiated and hurt that way.

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The recent tragedy of the vibrant and promising UST law student who fell at the hands of fratmen is an unbearable tragedy for his parents. But it is a tragedy felt by all parents who set their hopes high and raised their standard of care for their children from the first tender cradle, only to be stolen into an early casket.

As a lawyer who highly respects the Bill of Rights, and as someone who still respects his own fraternity, I pose this legal question with regret: Can we altogether ban the frats in the entire academe?

Congress passed the Anti-Hazing Law, but left it to schools to make further policy. The Department of Education prohibits fraternities and sororities in elementary and high school levels. But the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) does not expressly do so. The only implied reason is that high school students are minors, while those in college and those taking postgraduate studies, like law students, are of majority age. They can also raise the Bill of Rights that guarantees the freedom of association or organization.

There are already colleges and law schools that have banned frats, even in the absence of a CHED directive. It was not controversial to have such a policy because hazing was outlawed and frats are the organizations that haze its members. Indeed, banning frats will not guarantee that hazing will not happen. In fact, a law school that banned frats still had tragic incidents despite its policy. And those schools that allowed and thought they were regulating frats – well, it seems all the illegal hazing or psychological torture still happen clandestinely, anyway. The solution that can help can be as simple as an active whistle-blowing policy in school.

The freedom of organization is closely related to the freedom of expression and free speech. But I would say that its constitutional origin, the Malolos Constitution of 1899, which is the earliest law we know on the right to associate, is still meaningful and instructive. It says no Filipino shall be deprived of the right of association “for purposes of human life and which are not contrary to public morals.”

The Supreme Court explained that the purpose of the right is to “encourage the formation of voluntary associations so that through the cooperative activities of individuals, the welfare of the nation may be advanced.”

From the tragedies we’ve seen, these hazing activities or fraternity trials do not protect human life nor the welfare of the nation. Thus, the right to association will not be breached by the school’s exercise of its academic freedom: the prerogatives of choosing what to teach, who will teach, and also who will be taught. So making these conditions against joining or organizing fraternities can be validly imposed by all schools, even colleges or those with postgraduate programs as a condition to enrollment and continued enrollment.

Outside of the academe, fraternities can still be organized and they can still exist, as it will be unconstitutional to brand them outright as illegal. Fraternities should reinvent themselves though. The only “initiation” or common bond that can be allowed or demanded should be service to society, service to communities, and service to fellow men. Nothing more, and nothing less than the real purpose why fraternities were born. It does feel special to be called a brother, but it’s more meaningful to act as a brother to others.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the Tax Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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