Pax you, fratmen

In San Beda College’s official seal, the Latin word ‘pax’ appears prominently. The word is also engraved in various campus structures as it is supposedly etched in the heart of Bedans who are, as our hymn goes, “men of prayer, work, and peace.”

But my dear Alma Mater shocked the nation last week with reasons other than peace. Marc Andrei Marcos, a freshman law student, died in initiation rites under the bloody hands of men he wanted to be his ‘brods’. The incident, which happened in a farm somewhere in Dasmariñas, Cavite, was believed to have been participated in by over thirty members of the Lex Leonum Fraternity. Marcos, black and blue in various parts of his body, was brought to the hospital not by his would-have-been brods, but by two farm helps.

What aggravates the nation’s grief and fury is that only five months ago, another Bedan law student, Marvin Reglos, suffered the same fate under the Lambda Rho Beta fraternity.

As expected, CHED chair Patricia Licuanan condemned “in the strongest terms” the death of Marcos. She reminded the college of its “heavy responsibilities and duties under RA 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law.” Other schools, particularly the UP and the Ateneo, have also had similar episodes of fraternity violence, each time fueling public uproar but only to be forgotten after the issue subsides, no thanks to the Filipino’s short-term memory coupled with the ningas-cogon vice.

San Beda has responded by saying that it does not recognize fraternities, sororities or similar organizations. Since they are not recognized, the Benedictine-run institution said that it could not submit to CHED a “certified list of officers and members of such organizations.”

Meanwhile, administration lawmakers urged CHED to enforce a strict “no-hazing policy” in schools as the Filipino people mourn for the death of yet another young man who had a full and bright life ahead.

Before admission to San Beda, I had to sign a contract stating that I could be expelled if the college finds out I am a member of any fraternity. I really did not find any need to join one. Among most active student leaders in my batch, I did not lack belongingness nor self-esteem. But then I was in undergraduate San Beda. I knew our law school was different; joining fraternities there are more of norm than exception They hold activities in the open and display banners bearing their groups’ Latin names even in interschool activities like bar operations. Today, San Beda reportedly bans fraternities in law school though I doubt if administrators seriously believe it is possible.

Banning fraternities or hazing, however, is only a part of the solution. Making it less appealing is the more difficult task.

An aspiring lawyer perceives membership in a fraternity as ticket to legal success. The exclusivity and influence of a group proves beneficial not only in ensuring survival in law school but even more when one has become a lawyer who finds connections handy in cases he handles (e.g. when the judge is one’s brod). Having passed the initiation, after risking life and limb, the neophyte becomes a full-fledged member of the fraternity, part of the old boys’ network. “The pain lasts a few days, but the perks are forever,” this explains the resilience of hazing as a law-fraternity practice despite RA 8049.

In 2010, Jejomar Binay credited his vice presidential success to the support he got from the Alpha Phi Omega. In one episode of the impeachment trial of Renato Corona, widely watched by aspiring lawyers, fraternity prestige was proudly displayed by the senate president himself. When Rep. Raul Daza stood up to introduce himself as prosecutor, Presiding Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile formally acknowledged him, and fondly called him “brod.” Enrile then quickly turned to the senior defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, and likewise referred to him as “brod.” Broadly smiling, the venerable defense lawyer impishly nodded to the chair, and forthwith called out the other “brods” among the senator-judges – Senators Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon.

Public officials cannot in good conscience condemn fraternity violence while becoming poster boys, wittingly or otherwise, of these barbaric groups. We are in dire need of statesmen like former Senator Jovito Salonga who in 2007 resigned from his fraternity, Sigma Rho, which was implicated in the death by hazing of a UP student. Any politician who does a Salonga today deserves our vote.

Until then, ‘pax’ would remain as elusive as justice is in this country where lawyers turn liars propagating the fraternal mystique.

*****

The first opinion column I ever wrote, and that was in high school, was against fraternities very active then in Northern Christian College. It’s title: “Mga anak ng frating.”

Obviously, fratmen were unhappy with it, and even before the school paper was circulated, the picture in my column was defaced in almost every copy, with the permission of a security guard who turned out to be their supporter. Alarmed, people began warning me about possible danger. But I was not afraid.

Then one afternoon, in a street adjacent to the campus’ main building, four teenage boys suddenly circled me as I was walking home. With my head locked in the muscled arms of a gangster, my face was on the receiving end of powerful jabs. While I tasted blood dripping from my nose, I saw nothing but black, except stars and twittering birds circling my head (the kind of which I thought only appeared in cartoons). I was a helpless punching bag until members of the Samahang Ilocano came to the rescue. They shooed away my attackers.

I was thankful to S.I., of course. God knows what more injuries I could have sustained if they did not come. Yes, I was grateful, but only until I figured that the four action stars were their brods from INNHS, a nearby school. All of them arranged the plan so that I would have a debt of gratitude to them. Bravo.

A couple of months after, a riot erupted in the campus, killing one student and injuring a security guard. Only then did administrators ban fraternities on campus.