This is the last of a three-part series on fraternity violence at the University of the Philippines.
Part 2: Rumbles and institutional omerta
In October 1954, Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay created a committee to look into the death of Gonzalo Mariano Albert, a neophyte of the Upsilon Sigma Phi, who succumbed in an emergency room from a burst appendix. The committee was headed by Magsaysay’s Executive Secretary, Fred Ruiz Castro and joined in by two UP faculty members, Professors Arturo Garcia, and V. Lontok. Its task was to determine whether Albert’s beating contributed to his death. The committee interviewed over 100 witnesses on a wide range of topics: from the medico-legal report, to the place of fraternities and sororities in the UP, their rituals of initiation and membership, and University regulations of these initiations.
The committee submitted a 116-page report to Magsaysay on October 29, 1954, concluding that while the medico-legal findings failed to show that hazing had “contributed to Albert’s death,” the beating he received under the hands of Upsilon brothers weakened his physical condition prior to the [appendix] operation.” Secretary Castro and his colleagues recommended the expulsion of 4 officers of Upsilon, a one-year suspension for 25 members, a semester’s suspension for 19 neophytes, and a reprimand for 3 other fraternity members. They endorsed a complete revision of UP “rules and regulations governing fraternities and sororities,” to eliminate “all manner of physical initiation,” and to undertake a “thorough-going revision of all constitutions and by-laws of student organizations, including the fraternity and sorority oaths.”
The committee also censured the deans, directors and faculty in charge of student affairs for “their indifference and inability to forfeit the trust reposed on them by higher university authorities.” They had “collectively as a body, failed to discharge their official duties and responsibilities to the students of the University.” UP President Vidal Tan was not spared: he was criticized for having “displayed lack of directing leadership over these student organizations as the Chief Administrator of the University." Tan had "failed to adequately supervise student affairs which is his sworn duty.”
The Castro committees recommended revising the rules governing student organizations and tighten supervision of fraternities and sororities. These associations would have to “reorganize themselves” to fit the new rules, and those which failed to abide by the law would have their recognition withdrawn.” The UP President must then provide the “inspiring leadership over the faculty and student population of the University" to make sure the reforms were implemented. However, nothing came out of the committee’s recommendation for reasons, and the 1961 revised UP Code did not even mention a single one of these. In fact, the only time the new code mentioned fraternities it was in connection to their having the right to elect two representatives to the Student Union. The report fell on the wayside and forgotten; Castro moved to the judiciary branch of the government eventually ending up in the Supreme Court. The other members of the committee presumably went back to their respective departments or colleges.
The Castro Committee may have failed in its quest to change the brutal fraternity culture at the UP, but what it wrote about that culture was quite revealing because of the enormous amount of information it was able to collect from its respondents. One set of data was particularly informative. When asked by the Committee as to the fraternities’ role in UP life, the respondents were unanimous in their answers: they existed because they desired power.
Fraternities battle over control the University Student Council as well as College councils for the material and political benefits these offices bring to them. There was the obvious access to funds and related resources courtesy of tuition fees and other subsidies from the UP administration. The councils also provided them with the platform from where they could influence discussions and policy-making inside the UP campus as well as nationally. A student council position was the first of a series of stepping-stones to a career in politics, the private sector, the media, as well as becoming a member of UP’s prestigious faculty. In fact, one learned his (or her) skills in “doing politics” by being involved in UP student elections and governance. This is where one first made his mark as a rising star – being chair of a student council would get one noticed by powerful social forces outside the UP campus. To “seize power in campus” therefore was the start of a journey leading to seizing a seat in national politics and government.
The Castro Committee saw hazing not so much as being committed "the satisfaction of personal sadistic tendencies regardless of individual pride and self-respect” but was in fact institutionalized sadism. One respondent, Teodoro Montemayor Sison, a student and Albert’s uncle, added that apart for seeking power, fraternities and sororities were also concerned with “outshining each other in the extravagance, glamour and exclusiveness of the annual Fraternity dance,” and “give the ‘works’ to the neophytes” (haze the neophytes?). p. 73. One professor interviewed by the Castro committee call these “the usual hackneyed, commonplace, routinary, matter-of-course objectives), fraternities and sororities existed to “seize power in the campus,” p.
The beating up of neophytes was an organic part of a fraternity’s socialization process. Through hazing a recruit was introduced to the notion of fraternity loyalty that almost always “border[ed] on fanaticism…over and above loyalty to constituted authorities or to Christian virtues (sic).” The new brod’s understanding and appreciation of the fraternity's importance in his life would now be complete. After the last paddle has hit his buttocks, as he wallows in pain he also shouts out the oath of loyalty to his new family:
I __________, of my own and free will, before God, and in the presence of the regular fellows, do so solemnly and sincerely never reveal any of the secrets that may be entrusted unto me, unless it be to a legitimate and Regular Fellow of the Fellowship. I hereby promise to love my fellows, to succor them in their distress, and to help in all possible ways in their necessities, and to suffer if need be, in their defense, and in that of the Fellowship. I will obey the Constitution and by-laws, decrees and dispositions emanating from the Fellowship, and I would first have my body mutilated and pierced with the canes of this Fellowship before I commit a breach of my promise.
The sadism for the last few hours is now displaced by a genuine affection by everyone towards the new brother. It is the combination of this medieval-like “fanaticism” and the fraternity’s desire to seize power that also help us situate the other violent habit of these fellowships – the rumbles. – Rappler.com
Note: The document is the only one available for public examination so far. No other investigation by UP or other government officials have been shared ever since. The report may be dated but anyone familiar with UP’s fraternities will notice that a lot of things have not changed since 1954.
Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW.