Rumbles and institutional omerta

This is the second of a three-part series on fraternities at the University of the Philippines

Part 3: A hazing

 

But once the human angle is exhausted and media moves on to the next controversy, and once the legal system begins, popular interest wanes. At a certain point everyone forgets what these wars were about, and we are back to the pre-rumble-cum-death status quo. Who, save their families and fraternity brothers, still remember Dennis Venturina, Marlon Villanueva, or Cris Anthony Mendez these days?

But it is because fatalities are rare that UP need not be completely transparent. What is more common in these gangland wars of our best and brightest (the so-called mga iskolar ng bayan) are scuffles that do not result in casualties and where injuries are so superficial that they only merit a quick visit to the infirmary.

UP security logs these incidents, informs the Dean or Vice Chancellor of Students, who then calls the adversaries to explain their sides of the rumble, threaten them with suspension, unless they agree to a truce.

The warring gangs agree to a truce, but this is only temporary. No prosecutions are made nor fratmen sentenced to jail terms; after all, why waste precious paper on a fisticuff or two, when sometimes that could also happen in places like Tondo or even the Golden Ghettoes of Makati? Besides, nobody died.

Omerta

Executive power reinforces this institutional omerta. For example, 3 years after UP experienced its first death arising from rumbles (Ferdinand Tabtab, Alpha Phi Omega), then president Salvador P. Lopez issued Executive Order No. 15 on August 8 “on the Conduct and Discipline of Students.”

In the section on specific misconducts, EO 15 stated: “[C]arrying within University premises any firearm, knife with a blade longer than 2 ½ inches, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon,” and “[c]reating within the University premises disorder, tumult, breach of peace or serious disturbance.”

The rest outlined the procedure and responsibilities of those involved – from the suspects to UP officials up to the president – in the resolution of the case. However, an eye-catcher are lines:  “All original records pertaining to student …are hereby declared confidential and no person shall have access to the same for inspection or copying unless he is involved therein, or unless he has a legal right that cannot be protected or vindicated without access or copying such records. Any University official or employee who shall violate the confidential nature of such records shall be subject to disciplinary action.”

Lopez could impose this gag because he had the law on his side. Until 1990, the so-called “age of majority,” i.e., when a Filipino kid is considered an adult, was 20 years old. The majority of UP fratmen, therefore, fall under the category “minor.” Being such they were extended the most protection by the state, including the non-disclosure of any documents about them.

In 1990, Republic Act No. 6809 moved the legal adult age to 18 years old (the explanation: the youth was better educated!) but the confidentiality of information remained. This time it may be the Child Welfare Code that helps preserve this.

Article 200 of Chapter 3 the Code decrees that records relating to “youthful offenders” must be destroyed after court charges are made, and this would include “the files of the National Bureau of Investigation and…any police department or any other government agency.” UP falls well under the category “other government agency.” (The Chan-Robles law firm has graciously posted the Code in its website.)

Some leeway

UP Diliman eventually produced a faculty manual that, for the first time ever, defined what a rumble was: “a violent confrontation between two (2) or more students belonging to different fraternities, sororities and other student organizations” arising from “acts of provocation” and “heated confrontation” between rival fraternities.

 

The manual does not say anything about public disclosure of the student disciplinary tribunal – the office that now hears rumble and hazing cases – but it also had not stated anything about not sharing the information. Hence, the manual gives the Chancellor a greater leeway in choosing his options and it appears that the selective release of data on the fraternities by the current Chancellor reflects this maneuverability.

The relationship between UP and its the fraternities, especially the “war freaks”, is thus a paradox. Here we have a violent activity that “everyone knows about”, but its details are hardly shared with the outside world.

It is something that is easily condemned, but the organizations behind rumbles are never taken to task completely. At no point in its 107-year history has UP abolished any of the major fraternities. And I see is no reason for the country's premiere university to do it with this recent gangland war. 

To be concluded

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Writer's Note: In the previous essay, I made a mistake. Alpha Sigma was not a law fraternity but one of a couple of brotherhoods set up by leftwing activists as foil to their conservative rivals. I thank reader Jose Hernandez for pointing out this error.

 

Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW.