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Raymund Narag, a Scintilla Juris fraternity member, was arrested in connection with the death of another fratman, Dennis Venturina of Sigma Rho, during a rumble at the University of the Philippines in 1994. He was ultimately acquitted, but only after spending seven years in the Quezon City Jail. With the recent death of San Bedan Andrei Marcos, he is moved to share his thoughts on "brotherhoods" and the culture of violence they sow. This article first appeared on Narag's blog. We are excerpting it here with his permission.
The death of Andrei Marcos due to alleged fraternity hazing once again brings pain to my heart. Anger engulfs me to know that his family and many other families of young men will suffer the consequences of his death.
I wish to repost this article I wrote a few days after I got released from Quezon City Jail, after suffering imprisonment due to a fraternity related case. I still hope we can all learn from the collective experience of all victims of fraternity violence. Please share this with all those who wish to learn.
So many young promising men had been put to waste. So many dreams had been shattered. So many families have been broken.
The fraternity system has become a big black hole that sucks young promising men to their graves. The fraternity as an institution, despite its noble and lofty ideals, has degenerated into 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 stringent measures and harsher penalties to those caught in acts of violence. Others have totally banned the formation of the fraternities on campus and deny the fraternities' very existence.
But the strict mechanisms have not deterred frat members from acts of violence. Frat members have 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, as it became harder to score a "hit", 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 have become, in themselves, venues of war among the frat members. It does not matter if the parties are telling the truth or committing perjury. Expulsions from schools and putting innocent men behind bars are by themselves "score" over the other party.
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, 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.
The seeds of violence are sown into the heart of a frat man the moment he applies for membership in a fraternity. The rites of passage required before an applicant can be considered a "brother" is a ritual replete with physical and psychological violence.
In hazings or initiations, neophytes are made to believe that their fraternity is the one and only real fraternity. 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 inflicted upon frat member during initiations becomes the rational for the acceptability of the other forms of violence. The members accept violence as normal.
Fountains of hatred
The culture of hate is passed on from one generation to another. Stories of "war exploits" by senior members and alumni are told again and again to young members exhorting them to do their fair share in advancing the fraternity's "glorious tradition."
Another kind of violence that is less latent but equally repressive is the psychological violence imposed on frat men. Frat members 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 policy-making. Members should follow rules without question. 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 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, 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.
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
Fraternities anchor their strength on secrecy. Fraternity members are bound to keep the secrets from non-members. They have codes and symbols the frat members alone can understand.
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 world views. Save perhaps to their alumni association, they do not recognize any authority aside from the head of the fraternity.
Rumbles are the physical manifestations of the psychological state of war among the members. Simple actions like "titigan" (stare downs) can be misunderstood as inviting trouble. Courting women or drinking sessions are explosive causes of war because they directly challenge the manhood or machismo of fratmen. There are also rumbles waged in the interest of the fraternity - in the defense of the fraternity's name and image. Whatever the cause, rumbles are meant to strike fear in the heart of the "enemy".
The culture of rumble is also self-perpetuating. When a fraternity has "lost" in a particular incident of war, a 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, waiting until the "enemy" is complacent for it to unload its vengeance and make 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.
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 hotheads. 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 or shouldn't be any rumbles.
Most of the time, adherents to the violent culture hold sway. It is an adventurous way of life, anyway. Since most of the members are teenagers, they are young and wild and free. Having a rumble once in a while pumps up the adrenaline. During and after rumbles, and especially if a frat "wins", members are 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 cold water splashed on their faces. For a while, the culture for peace becomes 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.
But when the media coverage dies 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 control in the battle of the two cultures. And when there is a crack on the foundations of peace, a rush of violent confrontations sets in, as if the fraternities emerge from a long hibernation and rediscover their first love.
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 do not have mortal results, the public gives its approval. They would ask for 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' egos.
There are individual alumni members who had seen the futility of waging wars with other fraternities and initiated campaigns 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.
There are universities that implemented programs and activities jointly conducted by fraternities. There are students who, after seeing their friends beaten to death, declare their areas as "peace zones".
These are all efforts to curb the ills that afflict the fraternity system. But 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 do not involve the participation of 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.
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 the other. While the fraternities may adhere to the idea of maintaining peace, they do not have a workable guideline on how to achieve it.
University administration efforts to mediate tend to be superficial. Upon learning that a rumble erupted, the administration officials would summon the heads of the fraternities and oblige them to enter into 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.
In order to avoid identification and the formal filing of charges, fraternities can be driven 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, fraternity members are all victims here. The members are drowned in a culture they themselves do not understand. The fratmen 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 fratman 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 to which 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.