Barbarians

I do not feel like mincing words. As many of you probably well know by now, another UP student has been killed in a hazing incident at the hands of his so-called “brothers”.

The 20-year old graduating NCPAG student, Chris Anthony Mendez, was declared dead on arrival at the Veterans Memorial Hospital just after midnight Monday, August 27. Students from the NCPAG and Chris’ friends have reportedly been told not to talk to media by the Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs, especially about his affiliations in the University, because this would “blow the incident out of proportion.”

This makes me wonder… In times like this, what would be the “proportionate” response? A life has been taken – must we speak of this in hushed and careful tones? Must we contain our grief and outrage because we know that the perpetrators too are our friends and walk amongst us and we must take care not to offend them? Is there even grief? Is there even outrage? Or perhaps, our silence is due to our collective guilt? After all, aren’t we all somehow responsible by our mere acquiesence to the culture of violence and hate and elitism and patronage that goes on around us everyday, especially in the UP College of Law?

I don’t know Chris personally but I try to imagine how his family must feel about their loss and I know that the senselessness of his death can never be justified — least of all by the notion that somehow, the infliction of pain to another somehow seals the bonds of brotherhood, friendship, and loyalty. Or that it is tradition that must be respected. Or that it is worth it because it secures your future, with brods in positions of power ready to give political and economic favors (and perhaps even “Get-out-of-jail-free” cards). That there are those among us who, at such a young age, subscribe to these notions, somehow explains to me why the world can be such a harsh, hateful and unjust place. And that these people have the gall to call those who are non-frat members “barbarians” attests to a very demented species of arrogance…

Below is a copy of an article on frat violence written several years ago by a UP student, a frat member, once charged for the killing of another frat member. Maybe it will help some of us understand the culture of hate and violence that pervades fraternity traditions. It is high time that the university, from the administration and faculty to the students, take a long, hard look at hazing and fraternity volence in the campus, and find a way so that not another life is lost so senselessly… Please, not another life.

The following was originally posted on September 17, 2002 at the peyups.com fora by Raymund Narag:

I believe that everyone is concerned about the growing problem in the fraternity system. Much as the frat members want peace, they cannot do it themselves. One way of promoting peace in the campus is understanding the nature of frat violence. Here is my view. Please share me your suggestions / comments / violent objections. It will enrich me in my advocacy against fraternity violence. There is a reason why God put me in jail for almost seven years. I equally believe that there is a reason why HE plucked me out. I wish to respond to the new mission HE gave me. You can also share this to your friends and e-groups. And advise them to send their messages at raymund.narag@up.edu.ph Thanks and God bless. Raymund E. Narag

Some Thoughts About Fraternity Violence

Introduction

So many young promising men had been put to waste. So many dreams had been shattered. So many families had been broken.

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.

Externally, it has imbibed the culture of the tribesmen and treats other tribes as an unforgivable “enemy”.

With the barbaric culture of the fraternities, school administrations have responded with iron fists. They apply more stringent measures and harsher penalties to those caught in the act of violence. Others have totally banned the formation of the fraternities in the campus and deny the fraternities’ existence. Some schools even equate frat members with criminals preying on unsuspecting students/victims.

However, the strict mechanisms did not deter frat members from the acts of violence. More so, the frat members simply evolved their instruments and methods of war to the changed terrain. From mere fistfights, there arose the cutters, lead pipes and baseball bats. To elude identification, there were the masks. With the advent of cellular phones, (it became harder to make a “hit” and so when there was a chance to maximize harm over unknowing members of the other party) came the handguns and the grenades. The war continues and continues more recklessly.

Worse, the administrative and criminal cases filed in school and judicial authorities had become, in itself, a venue of war among the frat members. It does not matter if the parties are telling the truth or committing perjury. And expulsion from schools and putting innocent men behind bars are by themselves “score” over the other party.

The frat members of UP DILIMAN had been noted to have the most number of sensationalized fraternity-related violence. The names of Dennis Venturina, Mark Martin, Miguel Icasiano, Nino Calinao and Den Daniel Reyes had once and again put the university in a bad light. And since UP students are the SCHOLARS NG BAYAN, most students look up to them and view them as models. An ugly model, however, on how to make pillboxes and how to maim a fellow student. It is not alarming therefore that there are stories of grenade throwing by university students in Metro Manila campuses. And alas, even high school students and out of school youths in the provinces and slum areas have their gory tales to tell. Fraternity violence has become a big concern that poses a considerable threat to the educational and social system.

The seeds of violence

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.

Hazing

The seeds of violence are sown into the heart of a frat man the moment he enters the fraternity. The rites of passage required before an applicant can be considered a “brother” is a ritual replete with physical and psychological violence. By testing the mettle through pain and humiliation, the new members are inducted to become blood brothers. In hazing or initiations, the neophytes are made to believe that their fraternity is the one and only fraternity existing. All the rest are mere dance troupes. The “masters” would let their “neophytes” hate the “enemy” and vow for their enemy-fraternities’ destruction.

The physical violence impinged on frat member during initiations becomes the rational for the acceptability of the other forms of violence. The members accept the violence as a normal practice. Fountains of hatred.

The culture of hate is passed on from one generation to another. Stories of “war exploits” by senior and alumni members are told again and again to young members exhorting them to do their fair share in advancing the fraternity’s “glorious tradition.” They have evolved the “warrior class” to be the vanguard in the military efforts. The warrior class has the special mission of collecting information against the other parties, in plotting attacks and development of the paraphernalia of war. Members who do not adhere to the militarist tradition are considered outcasts or have low standing in the fraternity stature. The voices of those who cracked more skulls or who had proven themselves to be “the man” ring more stringently than those who wish to simply study and be an ordinary student.

Psychological Violence

The other kind of violence that is less latent but equally repressive is the psychological violence imposed on the frat men. Frat members are obliged to conform to the “high ideals” of the fraternity. They are asked to do some tasks which test their loyalty to the fraternity yet could be a humiliating personal experience. As junior members or new recruits, they cannot air their opinions and ideas in the policy making of the fraternity officers. The members should follow rules without question. In the process, the individuality of the members is subsumed by the greater “interest of the fraternity”.

This setup makes it easy to mobilize the frat members in times of war. The head of the frat can easily command the whole membership and assign them to their specific tasks. Even those who are anti-violence and peace advocates within the frat have no option but to comply. They are asked to hold a lead pipe or baseball bat even if their hearts and minds do not find any logic in it. In a frat war situation, the other party does not distinguish who are the hotheads and the cool heads. The only consideration is that they are members of the “enemy” and the target of the hit.

Members who do not want to be involved in this practice are considered pariah. They are the butt of jokes and the objects of scorn. Some frat members would simply become less visible in the tambayan because they cannot accept the norms of the frat. However, they would be called upon once in a while to perform some tasks. Also, they would be doing this at their own risks. In times of rumbles, they cannot be easily informed and updated about the status of war. They may attend their class and end up in a hospital. It then pays to become one of the boys.

Those who have inclinations to campus politics, academics, campus papers etc. are given high esteem only if they have proven themselves to the fraternity. While it brings glory to a frat to have members in the student councils and school papers, nonetheless, the higher premium is still given to those who had become the head and officers of the frat. That is why, there are members who are “picked” and “arranged” to become campus politicians. Their being in office is a manifestation of the fraternity’s flexing of the muscle.

The psychological violence is therefore cloaked in sophistication. While the frat members are obliged to surrender some of their individual rights, the promise of reward for the members come in the full enjoyment from the benefit the frat receives as a whole.

Code of Silence

The fraternities anchor their strength on secrecy. Like the Sicilian code of omerta, fraternity members are bound to keep the secrets from the non-members. They have codes and symbols the frat members alone can understand. They know if there are problems in campus by mere signs posted in conspicuous places. They have a different set of communicating, like inverting the spelling of words, so that ordinary conversations cannot be decoded by non-members.

It takes a lot of acculturation in order for frat members to imbibe the code of silence. The members have to be a mainstay of the tambayan to know the latest developments about new members and the activities of other frats. Secrets are even denied to some members who are not really in to the system. They have to earn a reputation to be part of the inner sanctum. It is a form of giving premium to become the “true blue member”.

The code of silence reinforces the feeling of elitism. The fraternities are worlds of their own. They are sovereign in their existence. They have their own myths, conceptualization of themselves and worldviews. Save perhaps to their alumni association, they do not recognize any authority aside from the head of the fraternity.

Rumbles

Rumbles are the physical manifestations of the psychological state of war among the members. Simple actions like “titigan” or “pagdaan sa tambayan ng kabilang frat” can be misunderstood as invitation for trouble. “Panliligaw sa girlfriend,” or “nakabangga sa inuman” are explosive causes of war because it directly questions the manhood or macho image of the frat member. There are also more childish reasons like “trip manghanap ng away”. This usually comes after young members are high with stories from their alumni members during their drinking spree. The young members are regaled about incidents of war during the alumni’s time. After the drinking session, the first “enemy” to be seen from nowhere is mauled and will become part of the frat’s war exploits.

There are also rumbles waged in the interest of the fraternity. This is usually in the defense of the fraternities’ name and image. Examples would be in the conduct of campus elections and when other fraternities encroached in the traditional projects of other fraternities. School debates or sports tournaments, thus, cannot be handled by another frat if there is a fraternity that had traditionally implemented such projects.

Other reasons of rumbles could be “Godfather-like” proportions. Rumbles are meant to strike fear in the heart of the “enemy”. When a frat is engaged in rumble, it must bit the “enemy” with a strong exclamation point, such that the “enemy” will no longer have the physical and psychological strength to wage a rumble.

The culture of rumble is also self-perpetuating. When a fraternity has “lost” in a particular incident of war, that fraternity would present itself as a “victim”. It would contact friends in the media, file charges in the administrative and judicial bodies and portray itself as the aggrieved. Any bad publicity against the other party, expulsions and suspensions from schools and incarceration in jails is also a way of getting back at the “enemy”. Then the fraternity buys time. It waits till the “enemy” is complacent and then unloads its vengeance and makes its score. Physical violence is still the highest premium in exacting flesh and blood. The other party now becomes the “victim”. It would file the appropriate charges and undergo the same motions. And then, the attack comes.

Rumbles are cyclical. And it excludes no one. Not even the grade-conscious, peace loving frat members. Worse, they could be the easy targets. They attend classes regularly and more visible in the campus. Thus, their schedules are easy to discern. They could be immediately plotted out in retaliation for an attack.

Cool heads and hotheads

Not all frat members however share the inclination or penchant for rumble and violence. In a fraternity there are more cool heads than hotheads. Perhaps in every ten members, there could be eight cool heads and only two hot heads. However, the cool heads are the silent majority in the fraternity. They seldom speak during meetings and are not elected during frat elections. Their opinions and views on how to run the affairs of the fraternity are not properly and openly articulated. The cool heads have no identity in the frat. They are lost in the multitude. They do not know each other. They do not even know that they exist. Their longing for peace is gobbled up by the voice of the hotheads.

The hotheads, on the other hand, are the speakers and articulators of the “glorious tradition of the fraternity”, the tradition of war and violence. They would egg the other members to always look on to their frat’s “pride and honor”. The hotheads would continually put premium on the need and necessity of putting up a fight if the interest of the fraternity so demands. They would continually search for new members who share their beliefs and pass on to them the practices and techniques of war. They are the moral vanguards of the fraternity. They applaud members who had the recent experience of proving their mettle, of gallantly fighting during rumbles. The hotheads make and determine the policy of the officers by default. If, for example, they wish to consolidate the fraternity, they could simply launch an attack against another frat. This will compel all the frat members to be united again in one cause.

The hotheads and the cool heads in a fraternity thus could not easily be distinguished. During times of rumbles, they act as if they are one. The cool heads become hotheads if after some prodding and exhortation, they eventually adhere and become a convert. The hotheads also become cool heads, if after some horrifying experiences, they rediscover that there is nothing good that comes out in fraternity violence.

Battle of two cultures

The culture of violence and the culture of peace have adherents in every fraternity. Among the fraternities themselves, there are always continuing debate on why there should and there should be no rumbles.

Most of the time, the adherents of the violent culture hold sway. It is an adventurous way of life anyway, and there seems to be no hazards at all. Since most of the members are teenagers, they are young and wild and free, then it is the fashionable thing to be engaged in. Having a rumble once in a while drives up all the adrenaline inside the body and it is a healthy way of releasing unspent energies. During and after rumbles, especially if the frat wins, the members are all high and ecstatic in sharing their little war exploits. It bonds the members together.

However, when the culture of violence reaches a certain level where the occurrence of accidents become regular, the voice of the adherents for peace can be heard again. The deaths or convictions in criminal cases of fraternity members, especially when it is reported by the media, is like a cold water splashed on the frat members. For a while, the culture for peace becomes more dominant. . After an incident that puts the entire fraternity system in a bad light, the different fraternities, either sincere or not, put a semblance of intention in maintaining peace in the campus. The fraternity members would rediscover the beauty of having friends with other fraternities again and would forge peace alliances. Different fraternities would come together to play basketball and vow to settle their disputes, if ever there would be, in a peaceful manner. The fraternities would be conscious not to add in the steering debate about fraternity violence. The fraternities are aware of having lesser recruits as a result of the bad public image.

However, when the issue in the media about frat violence boils down, or when a new set officers takes control of the affairs of the fraternity, the seeds for maintaining a culture of peace slowly fade away. The hotheads in the fraternity and the stories of the alumni members about the need to always look out for the other fraternities once again take upper control in the battle of the two cultures. There would be little misunderstandings and the mechanisms for dialogues as a way to resolve dispute are forgotten. And when there is a crack on the foundations of peace, a rush of violent confrontations sets in, as if, the fraternities had come from a long hibernation and now have rediscovered their first love.

Public Apathy

Non-frat members do not understand the mechanics of the fraternities. They do not see any logic why fraternity members engage themselves in violent activities. The non-fraternity members simply dissociate themselves from the problems that plague the fraternity system. They do not care if the frat members become maimed or killed in an incident of war. While they feel the loss and the pain of the families who have been victims of frat violence, their sympathy is extended only to sighs of utter hopelessness. They blame the depraved sense of values of the fraternities yet mock the frat member of becoming too stupid to join a frat. But when the issue dies down, the public loses all its bitterness. This happens till another person becomes a victim again.

Worse, in little fracas that does not have mortal results, the public gives its approval. They would ask the score in a rumble and applaud those who did the greater damage over the other party. This would in turn feed the frat members’ ego and give the fraternities more reasons to join a rumble.

Peace efforts

The realization that too much a toll has been passed on the shoulders of a frat man is a cry that is constantly heard yet not often listened to. There are individual alumni members who had seen the futility of waging wars with other fraternities and initiated a campaign for peace. There are resident frat members, who, after one of their own brothers had been killed, modified their procedures in the initiations of the applicants. The university administration, after a drop in the enrollment and low government budget due to the negative publicity caused by the rush of rumbles, implemented programs and activities jointly conducted by the fraternities. There are students, who after witnessing their friends had been beaten to death, declared their areas as peace zones.

These are all efforts to curb the ills that afflict the fraternity system. Yet, the efforts are not sustained. Many campaigns are launched only during the heat of the issue. They live only as long as the papers cover them. Worse, there are some campaigns launched in order to prop up the public image of the fraternities but not to make a genuine change in their system and culture.

Most efforts fail also because they come from the outside. There are efforts initiated by the alumni members that did not involve the participation of the residents. There are highly publicized peace accords signed by distinguished luminaries of the fraternities only to be ignored the following day. The residents were unaware that they are not supposed to be in rumble against a particular frat because they made an eternal peace pact.

Also there are no structures for conflict resolution and mediation among the fraternities themselves. The atmosphere is full of suspicion and the fraternities are apprehensive of the motives of each other. While the fraternities may adhere to the idea of maintaining peace, they do not have a workable guideline on how to achieve it. For example, the fraternities may have a consensus that they will police their own ranks and give disciplinary actions against erring members, there is no mechanism to ensure the penalty. They have to rely on the integrity of each other’s word, which is the word of their “enemy”.

The university administration effort to mediate conflicts is superficial. Upon learning that a rumble erupted, the administration officials would summon the heads of the fraternities and oblige them to make a truce. The head of the fraternity who fails to attend the truce in a specified time face dire consequences like suspensions and expulsions. The heads, given such conditions, would sign the truce and promise not to engage their group in any additional forms of aggressions to the other party. A formality of peace is forged.

The conflict however runs deep to the core of the fraternity. The general membership would simply change the head of the fraternity in order to absolve him of any responsibility. This will untie the fraternity of its previous commitment. Also, in order to avoid identification and the formal filing of charges, the fraternities would simply go underground. The fraternity would not present its roster of members and the set of leaders (but in order to continue with its programs and activities, it would form a new student organization, with the frat men as members and register this with the administration.) While, the administration may be able to temporarily shelve the problem, the possibility of a rumble erupting can happen anytime.

Peace efforts will fail as long as the fraternity members do not have the realization—that peace comes from within. No amount of coaxing from the alumni members, no perfect structure for conflict mediation, no joint activity, no arm twisting from the administration will ever put the violence down.

Voice of the victims

Fraternity violence has destroyed many lives. There are many students now staying in jail. There are many more who were expelled from schools. There were those who met their untimely deaths.

Yet, despite fraternity’s hotheadedness and penchant for violence, the fraternity members are all victims here. The members are drowned in a culture they themselves do not understand. The frat members are like moths playing in the fire. They never know when their wings will be smoldered.

The victims should speak now. They should not meekly accept their fate. Their experiences should not simply be sad stories in the frat lore. The thought that their doom is a simple consequence of being a frat man should be shattered. The victims are not mere accidents. They are flesh and blood who would carry the bitter experience through out their lives. They should break the code of silence and voice their concern over the growing barbarism of the institution that they belong. The victims should speak saying that all those who ever held a paddle and lead pipe are all guilty to the fate that had befallen them. The victims must initiate the voice: the enemy here is not the “other” fraternity, the enemy is ourselves. The culprit is the culture of violence that engulfs the fraternity system.

Here is the first voice.

Raymund Espinosa Narag
27 years old. Acquitted in a fraternity related case. He was under detention for nearly seven years. He was just released from jail.
Please send comments to: Email address:
raymund.narag@up.edu.ph

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7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    […] Barbarians “This makes me wonder… In times like this, what would be the ‘proportionate’ response? A life has been taken – must we speak of this in hushed and careful tones? Must we contain our grief and outrage because we know that the perpetrators too are our friends and walk amongst us and we must take care not to offend them? Is there even grief? Is there even outrage? Or perhaps, our silence is due to our collective guilt? After all, aren’t we all somehow responsible by our mere acquiescence to the culture of violence and hate and elitism and patronage that goes on around us everyday, especially in the UP College of Law?” […]

  2. 2

    linked to this post, because of cris mendez’ slaying. i hope you don’t mind.

  3. 3

    ionaks said,

    i don’t mind.
    in solidarity –

  4. 4

    Kid Kilatis said,

    Has Philippine society been almost totally desensitized that only a few people — apart from the immediate family of the victim — are genuinely outraged by the barbaric and inhuman crimes happening all around us?

    Chris Mendez’s senseless death… seven year-old Geraldine Palma’s rape and strangulation… the OFW who was beaten to death by her Policeman employer in Saudi Arabia…

    What must it take for more people to say ENOUGH!!!

  5. 5

    Anti-hazing mom said,

    I am just enraged how people are silenced by this senseless killings. The Malu Fernandez brouhaha has elicited more response, to think that nobody died from reading her stupid article. If frats/sororities, fratmen and women are serious about ending this tradition of violence, my challenge is this: that your frat or sorority release a condemnation of these hazings and a commitment to a hazing-free initiation rites.

    I have just read the official statemet of the UP Law Student body on the death of Mendez and this is what I have to say: cut the crap!! I have enough of your cry for temperance. This is the only statement I need to hear from you and your orgs: WE CONDEMN HAZING AND WE WILL NEVER CONDUCT HAZING FOR INITIATION RITES EVER AGAIN. Simple and clear, you don’t have to be a lawyer to say that!!!

  6. 6

    anti-frat mom said,

    The way they are handling the situation (the students involved in the hazing and the accomplices) is just a reflection of how they are going to be when they become politicians in the future–corrupt, untrustworthy, no moral integrity, cowardly, liars and will use and abuse power just to get off the hook. Iyan ang legacy ng mga alumni ng mga buwisit na fraternity na yan na ngayon ay nakaupo sa senado, kongreso at kung anu-anong posisyon. If within their “brotherhood,” they don’t have the balls to stop violence, should I expect them to solve the ills and curb the crimes in the society? Nakakapagtaka pa ba kung bakit walang aseson ang Pilipinas –pinamumunuan tayo ng mga duwag at sanggano.

    I dare these people (fratmen and their alumni) to clearly condemn frat violence sans flowery words lawyers are known to employ in their statements para pasakayin
    ang mga tao. And I expect these statements posted in their tambayans, websites, newsletters, etc. Actually, ito lang ang gusto kong makita: Sigma Rho (or any other fratname) says no to frat violence!! Tingnan ko lang kung mag-commit kayo.

  7. 7

    Nick said,

    I can’t seem to read the right portion of the text. Please edit the text portion, so that we can read the full text.

    @Anti-Hazin Mom, we will be writing about Cris’ death. I join you in your anger, sadness, deploration.. We will make our stand. Too many people, especially those in higher positions are trying to silence the truth, and trying to keep those involved from ever seeing the inside a prison.

    They are all cowards.


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