Once more, a young man tragically loses his life at the hands of fraternity “brothers.” Once more, there is a national outcry against what is now characterized as the “diabolic” streak to all fraternities. And of course, as if pointing fingers could assuage our collective grief, many fingers are pointed at many. Who is to blame?
Issues have to be distinguished. A ban on fraternities (or sororities)? The Constitution stands in the way of such a sweeping proscription, because fraternities and similar groups are associations the right to which Constitutional provisions stand as guarantee. And there is no fraternity that will acknowledge that its purpose is the extirpation of the “weak”—as indeed happens at hazing rites. Since every fraternity proclaims the lofty ideals of brotherhood (sisterhood) and camaraderie, mutual aid and comfort, there is no way that that they can be universally interdicted.
Not even hazing procedures are necessarily criminal. The law defines hazing to include the requirement that the initiate perform some ridiculous, self-demeaning or hilarious stunt—and provided that there is no physical harm (nor permanent psychological damage) inflicted, there will be no legal objection to this type of hazing. But there are conditions that the law sets forth, among these, that the institution’s administration be informed ahead of time of the conduct of initiation ceremonies.
What the college or university can lawfully do is require the accreditation of all organizations that recruit its students. It is well within the academic freedom of an institution to lay down conditions for the admission and retention of members of the academic community—and one such disciplinary requirement could be that students seek accreditation of the organizations of which they are members and to whose rites they become subject.
I was asked in a television phone-patch interview recently whether the administration may be blamed for the murder of an initiate. It really all depends. If the school’s administration took every measure to protect its students from the pernicious accoutrements of membership in fraternities and organizations—such as putting the necessary rules in place, issuing helpful admonition and exercising necessary diligence (that may include preventing the clandestine recruitment of its students—where it can!), then there is no way that blame can be pinned on the dean, or on the whole administration of the school. This was the case with San Beda College not too long ago. The hapless victims were recruited outside San Beda, and were beaten to death outside San Beda. How were the the dean and the law professors, the Benedictine monks and their associates ever to know what groups the students join when they are outside the campus after class hours, or even within class hours, if students absent themselves?
We should be looking rather at the student culture that makes membership in fraternities attractive to neophytes. First, there is the myth that law school is so grueling and tough that one’s chances of survival are best with the support system of a fraternity. That is myth on two counts: other courses are as difficult—medicine with the ponderous tomes that medical students must pour through, graduate studies in the hard sciences, such as physics and chemistry and in mathematics are as tough if not tougher, but rarely do students from these disciplines find the need to seek succor with fraternities. And while group study is certainly one way to do it, fraternities are not necessary for that.
Then there is the fact that many law students come from the provinces after their baccalaureate studies to enroll in what they hope are the more prestigious law schools in the great metropolis. Intimidated, confused and needing support, they are vulnerable to recruitment—especially when they are promised the security of the constant support of their “brothers.” “Brod” is shorthand for “I am covered”.
Finally, if high ranking officials of the land—highly placed personages in the judiciary and in the justice department of the Executive Branch and members of the Legislature—proudly brandish their membership cards in some Greek letter society, why do we not blame that fact for incentivizing membership in fraternities that already account for a number of murders?
Law studies in the Philippines have created a sub-culture, not all aspects of which are admirable. I have written once about the expense, the hoopla and the extravagance and needless institutional rivalry created by so-called “Bar ops,” including the charges of “leaks” in the examinations that these “ops” will not necessarily exclude from their agenda. But the most atrocious of these are the mangled bodies of fraternity victims!