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Fraternité – the dark side of Philippine society

A young man who had dreams of becoming a Philippine policeman was beaten up and tortured at an initiation rite at the Philippine National Police Academy.  He suffered both physical and psychological wounds for more than a year.  Many have been victims but everyone is ‘silenced.’

In 1991, Leonardo “Lenny” Villa, an Ateneo Law student died from serious physical injuries as a result of the traditional hazing ritual by senior members of Aguila Legis. His death led to the passing of Republic Act No. 8049 (also known as the Anti-Hazing Law) in 1995.

After the law was passed, 21 more deaths were reported (with 28 deaths since 1954).  The very first hazing victim was Gonzalo Albert, a student of the University of the Philippines. He was a neophyte of the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity.

RA 8049 did not stop the brutal rites to admit new members into a brotherhood, organization or profession. And what is worse is the fact that many of the reported deaths due to hazing since 2000 are still waiting for justice. A clamor for more stringent measures against hazing was brought back to life after the death of Guillo Servando, a College of Saint Benilde student in 2014. Other young men with a bright future ahead of them who died in the hands of their so-called ‘brods’ were: John Mark Dugan, 19, sophomore marine cadet in the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (2013); Marc Andre Marcos, 20, San Beda University law student allegedly beaten to death by members of Lex Leonum fraternity (2012); Marvin Reglos, 25, San Beda law student, killed during hazing rites by the Lambda Rho Beta fraternity in Antipolo City (2012); E.J. Karl Intia, University of Makati student, aspired to join the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity but killed in initiation rites and his body recovered near a 30-foot cliff in Laguna (2011); Noel Borja Jr., 15, assaulted to death by members of Tau Gamma Phi fraternity (2010); Glacy Monique Dimaranan, 15, died of a single gunshot wound in the head during initiation rites conducted by members of the Scout Royal Brotherhood in Laguna (2009); John Daniel Samparanda, 18,  Lyceum of the Philippines student in General Trias, Cavite believed to have died in Tau Gamma Phi fraternity rites (2009); Elvin Sinaluan, 21, Scout Royal Brotherhood, hit by a paddle every 30 seconds for two hours (2009); Karl Anthony Gaudicos, 18, engineering student of the Holy Cross of Davao College who died in hazing activities under the Tau Gamma Phi and Tau Gamma Sigma (2009); Cris Anthony Mendez,20, University of the Philippines student and allegedly a Sigma Rho fraternity neophyte died of mauling during initiation rites (2007); Jan Angelo Dollete, 21, engineering student suspected killed in Sapian, Capiz by members of the Alpha Phi Omega (2007); and many more.

Brotherhood and death -- how can we reconcile the two?  In the olden days fraternities meant equality, humanness, truth, leadership, unity, peace, service, justice, etc. What happened?  Where did it go?  Where is the honor it once was? Why have they become too barbaric to say the least? 

Horatio Castillo III was just beginning to live his dream. He assured his parents that the initiation rite was done, that he would attend a welcome party and be home by Sunday. His parents received that heartbreaking call, rushed to the hospital, only to be faced with the lifeless body of their son. Autopsy reports showed that Horatio suffered from a massive heart attack due to beatings.

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Throughout the nineteenth century, fraternities were founded. In 1825, the Kappa Alpha Fraternity (now Kappa Alpha Society) was born at Union College, USA. Two years later, Sigma Phi and Delta Phi had been founded at the same college, constituting the so-called Union Triad which was, in a large measure, the pattern for the American Fraternity system.

In the Philippines, fraternal societies were established as early as 1850’s but only Spaniards were admitted. O.W. Coursey, in his book, History and Geography of the Philippine Islands (1908) wrote: “The awakening of the Filipinos to a deep sense of injustice being practiced upon them by the colonizers was the introduction of ‘fraternal’ societies in the islands, and to the influence of higher education obtained by those of means to schools of Hong-Kong and other old-world countries.”

The first brotherhood to be founded by Filipinos is the Katipunan, short for Kataastaasang Kagalangalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Supreme and Venerable Society of the Sons of the People), which was founded by anti-Spanish Filipinos in Manila in 1892. The primary aim of the fraternity was to gain independence from Spain through revolution.

The first Filipino Greek Letter Fraternity, Upsilon Sigma Phi, was founded in 1918. This fraternity is the oldest in Asia and continues to exist today.  Membership is exclusive only to UP Diliman and UP Los Baños students.

What has become of fraternities in the Philippines? Raymund Narag, an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University and a former Fullbright Fellow at Michigan State University, having the misfortune of being involved in the issue on fraternity violence wrote: “The fraternity system has become a big black hole that sucks these young promising men to their graves. The fraternity as an institution, despite its noble and lofty ideals, has degenerated into becoming a barbaric gang. Internally, its organizational structure has become so hierarchically feudal, with the head becoming the law and the members losing their individuality. Though cloaked with the noble and lofty visions such as academic excellence, nationalism, leadership, rule of law, intellectual integrity and other high principles, the fraternities developed strong organizational cultures that arose out of competition from other fraternities. The organizational culture, which has leanings toward violence, is what makes fraternities lost in their ideals.”

Fraternity ‘brods’ take advantage of power and leadership.  They are able to influence decisions in politics and business where patronage system is so strong.  They will strongly support each other even if in the dark side. The mentality of who you know is what matters. These days, one enters the brotherhood because he wants to have that so-called support of the brotherhood to be above the law; to have the advantage; to defy authority; and to become untouchable. The network support of these fraternities can even make academic work less stressful with a definite assurance to pass any kind of exams. Elections can easily be manipulated by brotherhood. Yes, they have become the modern thugs of our society.

Our leaders are mostly frat men. The military and the police force have groups (classmen) they protect.  Many senators and congressmen belong to certain fraternities.  The Supreme Court justices, judges including lawyers belong to a frat.  It has become a tradition in fact almost a norm in our culture to be part of a fraternity.  The “machismo” complex needs the support of fratmen.  And this is where the dark side of our society lies.  Every Juan dela Cruz is supported by fratmen turned into goons protecting some sort of power that must never be taken away from them – or else…you die! 

Biographer Nelson Navarro wrote, “The gift of our brotherhood is that we are never too sure of victory or what fate awaits us, only that we have to stick together through thick and thin and, yes, that there are immutable things like honor and integrity that exempt no one. Certainly not the best and the brightest who must set the example. Everybody counts in the end because what's truly worthy of the Filipino dream ennobles all who belong to the team.”


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