It is a mistake to think recent fraternity-related controversies are about fraternities alone.
The Philippine Collegian unequivocally condemns misogyny, patriarchy, and machismo perpetrated by these Greek-lettered organizations. For some, this condemnation arrives too late and seems rich coming from an institution helmed by a fratman belonging to the Alpha Phi Beta, which was involved in mishaps with Upsilon Sigma Phi two weeks ago.
We differentiate, however, between noiseless contemplation and tokenism, as we examine whether our anger stands alongside truth. We seek the true source of such disgraceful conduct among our Iskolar ng Bayan, in the wake of two USC resignations and a call for the abolition of fraternities within the University.
Hailing from fraternité, a word which appeared in popular history as part of a tripartite motto during the French Revolution (“Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”), a fraternity may be defined as a brotherhood bound by “common interest,” i.e. shared goals and values. Essentially, a fraternity consolidates resources in order to pursue professional, political, social, or academic aims.
But while pre-war, post-war, and Martial Law-era fraternities in the Philippines exhibited noble objectives for existing – fighting tyranny (whether a Quezon dictatorship or a Marcos one) and establishing a just social order (whether for the repeal of the Parity amendment or for the promotion of nationalism) – public memory retains numerous atrocities associated with fraternity behavior: hazing deaths, violent frat wars, and neo-feudalism.
Such deviance and corruption in the nature of fraternities do exist; it would be foolish to claim otherwise. The fact that fraternities operate mostly within enclaves or exclusive circles makes it more difficult to ascertain cultural aspects which propagate vile masculine notions resulting to criminal activity or outdated proclivities.
In the cases of recent brawls and chat leaks, gender sensitivity training and intensified security do not constitute a full recompense for those maligned and attacked. We demand from the University administration incontrovertible proof that impunity does not exist in UP, if only to assail the false sense of order and the lingering malice hanging over the campus.
But an additional onus is to point out the gaps in existing discourse within a University professing itself to be a bastion of liberal thought:
The freedom to organize and to assemble is a right protected by the Constitution. As objectionable as the current reputations of fraternities may have become, unless we are prepared to exclude from the University every formation with vexing histories, like religious groups or the revolutionary Left, getting rid of fraternities shows only a pretense of critical thinking and a growing disingenuity serving whichever selfish agenda is within reach.
We also maintain that abolishing fraternities to promote campus safety is specious. An official edict for abolition will not drive members to disband; this will only force them to move underground and conduct their affairs in further secrecy. Instead, we challenge fraternities to cleanse their ranks and grant no quarter to members who debase the foundations of brotherhood and who subscribe to antiquated views on gender and influence.
We call on fraternities to actively participate in events and activities initiated by advocates of women, LGBT+, indigenous peoples, workers and other marginalized groups. We further encourage the rest of the UP community to police their own political lines and class affiliations, making conscious effort to educate one another on ways of fixing a fractious nation and even, to an overlooked degree, an ailing planet.
Both the alleged group chat and its aftermath betray the UP community’s failure to manifest honor and excellence, even as we hope to resolve what appears to be an abject disconnect between theory and practice. Turpitude committed in private, malfeasance which goes unchecked, insidious half-jests people make in the name of mutual trust and camaraderie—admitting how every hand is stained is the crucial first step. We all need to remember to uphold the highest ideals even when no one is watching.
When one speaks of the toxic culture of oppression or intimidation, we insist this should be stamped out in every instance, whatever class of organization is involved, whether Greek-lettered organizations, or political mass formations, or socio-political organizations. We cannot keep raising generations of leaders who cannot see past the red in their sights, whose only tools in a new world are the old lies.
In every brotherhood bound by common interest, we need to redefine “common interest” in this age of tumult. “Common interest” should refer to the public good, to the welfare of those who have long been denied justice, recognition, and support. The boys’ clubs of yore must adapt or die. Our men must plant their feet in the 21st century, and open their eyes to a world threatening to leave them behind. Our men can, and must, do better.
We all can, and must, do better.
Unless we admit that complicity and spite reside at the heart of these issues, that it is about institutionalized cruelties, that it is about power, then we only mire UP in shame and we all remain no more than hypocrites.