The UP system houses the most number of Greek-lettered organizations out of the leading universities in the Philippines. They have been present since 1918, only ten years after the university was founded, and have continued to flourish ever since.
The stronghold of fraternities can be traced back to the beginning of American occupation in the country in 1898. Dr. Filomin Gutierrez, a professor of sociology in UP Diliman, found in her research that college fraternities were driven by the need for political, economic, and cultural leadership in the time of colonization.
Fraternities have since been considered as breeding grounds for the country’s next leaders, starting from positions in student councils to seats in the national government. While this is true for most of history, brotherhoods have also cradled violence and toxic masculinity not only within their ranks but as well as within the student body.
Patterns of Violence
In November 2018, two incidents of fraternity-related violence (FRV) erupted in UPD: the rumble between Alpha Phi Beta (APB) and Upsilon Sigma Phi, and the infamous Lonsi Leaks. Students witnessed the APB-Upsilon rumble in the AS-CAL walkway and reported an exchange of homophobic slurs between the two fraternities. A CCTV footage corroborated the eye-witness accounts. Upsilon was also embroiled in another scandal that same month when alleged conversations between their members containing misogynistic and homophobic comments, among others, were exposed online.
Less than a year later, another leak of an alleged 2017 conversation among some members of the Sigma Rho fraternity, of which three were members of the student council, alarmed the UPD community. On top of the misogynistic remarks shown in the thread, it also contained a photo of an alleged neophyte covered in bruises. The repercussions of this incident are said to have stretched as far as the loss of a student's life, partly over the blowback online from the alleged hazing activities of the same fraternity.
These four incidents are examples of how fraternities perpetuate violence within and outside their circles. Within fraternities, it is often carried over from notorious initiation rites, which may even lead to death. Outside their brotherhood, they threaten the safety of students as they engage in public brawls and express misogynistic or homophobic ideas to assert their masculinity.
“I feel unsafe especially on campus na maraming mga fraternities … knowing na ganu’n yung culture nila, knowing na yun yung way of thinking nila,” said Daine Torregosa, chairperson of The Sanctuary Project (SARC) UPD, an organization that advocates for safe spaces.
Sadly, all this is but a small part of the longstanding history of violence brought by fraternities. In her research, Gutierrez has counted 264 fraternity-related rumbles to have taken place in UPD from 1991 to 2013, excluding 1999 to 2000. Some 1,563 people were involved in these incidents resulting in 207 injuries.
The number of fraternity rumbles from 1991 to 2013 has actually decreased, but, as Gutierrez manifested, “a sustained and uniform pattern of decline ... cannot be concluded.” A tragic death, whether from a rumble or initiation, could suggest a drop in the FRV cases. Still, it can be observed that there is an escalation in the number of cases years after the death.
While the decision on FRV cases over the last three years has yet to be made, it is undeniable that the patterns of violence inflicted by fraternities, both physical and psychological, have put the lives of students in danger.
Patterns of Responses
The response of the administration to FRV cases undergoes a systematic order to ensure that due process is observed, as provided in the 2012 Code of Student Conduct of UP Diliman.
Generally, the offices involved in FRV cases are the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (OVCSA), which is the first to intervene when an incident erupts, the Office for Student Ethics (OSE), which handles mostly legal matters and deals with fraternity members as individuals, and the Office of Student Projects and Activities (OSPA), which deals with the fraternities as an organization.
In terms of hazing cases, the Code of Student Conduct adheres to Republic Act 11053 or the Anti-Hazing Law. On top of expulsion from the university, under RA 11053, those found guilty of hazing will be jailed for at least six months if the victim sustained injuries.
While the university says it is doing its part to ensure accountability, the process to get there takes a long time. “Mabagal yung process of filing cases, of processing the cases… [Napaka]hirap for them (victim survivors) kasi nga they feel na walang justice in the process, in the system,” Torregosa said.
The APB-Upsilon rumble in 2018, the most recent fraternity brawl on campus, is still on its appeal stage, according to OSE head, Atty. Rosalio Aragon, Jr. This is after the UP Diliman Police filed a case on December 11, 2018, against the students allegedly involved in the incident.
On the other hand, the rest of the FRV cases, even the ones involving deaths, have not yet reached finality. In fact, after 25 years since the enactment of RA 11053, only one case has reached resolution: In 2015, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of two Alpha Phi Omega fraternity members for the death of Marlon Villanueva, a UP Los Baños student, in 2006.
As a more immediate response to the FRV cases, the university releases statements condemning these incidents and assuring its constituents that something is being done to address the issue. In 2014, there happened a Fraternity Summit, which was arranged to resolve hazing issues and attended by 18 fraternities in the university.
However, as the pattern of responses, from statements to legal actions, shows, the administration’s actions are rather reactive and sanctions-based. This is evident from the trend in fraternity rumbles where a decrease in cases is not sustained and only happens after a death. There is also only little affirmation from the university about assisting the victim survivors of FRV cases.
Breaking the Pattern
The long history of FRV and the fact that it occurs to this date, despite arguably stronger rules and a relatively raised political consciousness among students, suggest a need to reevaluate administrative response to these cases.
In the hopes of addressing the FRV issue in a reformative manner, the university aimed to focus more on strengthening the ethics of its constituents by transitioning the Student Disciplinary Council to the Office for Student Ethics. “Gusto nating pag-aralan ang ethical behavior in campus, including how fraternities and sororities move,” Aragon said. “We have to go back to values.”
To react proactively, the OSE is devising modules that would promote ethical behavior that would include fraternity-related activities. Aragon said that they would focus their efforts to strengthen and inculcate values in freshmen and sophomores because they are often the first ones to get recruited.
Following the 2019 Sigma Rho incident, calls to strengthen the Code of Student Conduct have surfaced. Currently, the OSE is reviewing the code, eyeing a way to regulate fraternities and sororities. “Usually, wala silang registration with the university records. Parang they wanted to be free of any responsibility,” Aragon said.
For Kristel May Magdaraog, head of UP Diliman Gender Office (DGO), “there is a need to review the ASH (Anti-Sexual Harassment) Code so that it can investigate cases such as the Lonsi Leaks, especially when there is no complainant,” noting that the code is limited in that a formal procedure could only be initiated as a first response to a sworn written complaint.
In line with this, there is already an ongoing talk to reassess the ASH Code. Recently, the UPD Office for Anti-Sexual Harassment (OASH) has initiated a consultation with the student stakeholders of the university to explain the code and gather their feedback on what works and what does not.
The DGO is also planning to coordinate with the OVCSA for a specialized gender orientation for fraternities and sororities. Currently, they are creating a so-called Masculinity Module for the constituents of UPD, especially fraternities.
The backlash to FRV cases also comes overwhelmingly from other organizations in the university. Concerned groups have always immediately released statements expressing their condemnation of these incidents.
In 2019, UP Babaylan went as far as to call for the abolishment of fraternities after the Sigma Rho conversation leak incident. In the second anniversary of Lonsi Leaks, they released a joint statement with SARC UPD reading, in part, “[fraternities] can never be progressive for women and the LGBTQI community because their foundation is built on toxic masculinity, patriarchal violence, and exclusion.”
The call to abolish fraternities has already gained momentum in other countries, especially in the United States. In 2017, a Harvard University faculty committee recommended, as a further step, the elimination of the Greek life on campus after the university president ordered to bar members of fraternities and sororities from holding leadership positions in the university.
While the abolishment of the Greek life was not successful, Harvard stood its ground on its policy not to put frat men in power. Like Harvard’s plans to abolish fraternities, UP Babaylan’s campaign did not gain much traction from the UP community but led to an overdue discourse on how to address the problem, one step towards breaking the cycle of perceived inaction by university officials with respect to FRV cases.
Meanwhile, SARC UPD is another organization initiating a victim survivor-based response to sexual harassment, including FRV cases. With the help of the OASH, they are planning to promote safe spaces in organizations, as well as create a physical sanctuary in the university where victim survivors can go.
Years and years of fraternity issues have shown intertwined patterns of violence and responses that have been counterproductive for most of history. Through time, offices and even student organizations in the university have presented their takes on the topic. It is the administration’s responsibility now to listen and start questioning whether it is time to consider more proactive and radical responses, be it a revision of existing codes or an altogether abolishment of the Greek life. ●
This article was first published on February 8, 2021.
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