A deep dive into the hazy world of fraternities
‘ Walang labasan ng pangalan ah—pangalan ko at ng school ko.” So we agree on Mr. 1925. He is currently a law senior in a well-known law school and holding a position in his fraternity. “Kumbaga in layman’s term, para akong vice president.” Meanwhile, “Golden Phoenix,” the headmaster of a fraternity based in a university in Laguna, agrees to a conversation with us on one condition: We had to do it in his fraternity’s HQ, with no camera in place. “Dito tayo para kung sakaling may maling galaw ka, bugbog ka… joke lang, bro! Mahirap na kasi eh, mainit ang mata ng public sa frats.”
The two frat men’s concern with their anonymity is understandable. Last September, Horacio Tomas “Atio” Castillo, a law freshman at the University of Santo Tomas, died after undergoing hazing rites for Aegis Juris, the fraternity heavily linked to his death. Castillo was just 22. Police reports showed that Castillo had bruises on his arms and signs of candle wax drips on his body.
Since then, the news outlets have written much about the incident, as they should, mostly questioning the practice of violent initiation rites to seal brotherhood in fraternities. It's important to note that hazingrelated deaths have been recorded in the country as far back as 1954; to date there have been roughly more than 30 fraternity-related deaths on record. In 1995, Republic Act No. 8049, the Anti-hazing Law was enacted to hold accountable fraternities and their members who use violence as an initiation rite (though it does not criminalize hazing per se).
Obviously, the Anti-hazing Law is not working as a deterrent to end violent frat hazing. And because it appears that they will still do what they do regardless if violent hazing is a crime, to make sense of this latest death we sought out Mr. 1925 and Golden Phoenix to get insight on two things:
First, how do fraternities really run their initiation? It would seem that university fraternities, founded on the principles of brotherhood and excellence, should be run by smart people. Aren’t there preparations and precautions taken to minimize injury, or worse, death?
Second, if somebody does die, what are the rules of their crisis management? The initial reports on Atio’s death may seem to point that the Aegis Juris members acted in disarray, but did they really? It would make sense to think that every move the suspects in custody were made upon the advice of their superiors, who by the way, are mostly lawyers. In other words, they should know exactly what they're doing in times of crises.
What we are after, then, are the protocols of the so-called brotherhood.
PREPARING THE BROTHERS
“Una, may medical history ka ba? May nararamdaman ka ba ngayon?”, says Mr. 1925. The neophyte is required to not smoke and drink liquor, and to have more than eight hours of sleep prior to hazing. I-che-check namin yung mata kasi kung kulang tulog mo, sasabihin namin, ‘No go yan, tol, no go.’”
Mr. 1925 says that in their fraternity, they always have doctors and nurses in the initiation venue who are, of course, their brod and sis. “Sasabihin namin, ‘Brod, sis, baka pwede pa-check naman yung applicants namin.’ Ganu’n kami kapraning na kailangan wala talagang magiging problema.”
Mr. 1925 says that there is always an officer who is designated to oversee the activities. Think of him as the master of ceremonies.
“Siya yung kadalasang pinakapagod. He oversees yung security ng venue, yung health ng neophyte… yung pinaka-program mismo,” says Mr. 1925.
Mr. 1925 acknowledges the crucial role of the masters not just in the recruitment of new brods, but also in keeping their neophytes safe. “Kaming officers mismo, yung paa namin ang nasa red line lagi. Kapag may nangyaring masama, alam namin na kami ang mananagot.”
Mr. 1925 admits that there could really be some masters in every frat who hit a paddle harder than they’re supposed to, which may be because of excitement. “Minsan siguro, ayun, excited, kasi syempre may bago kaming magiging kapatid eh.”
But what if a prospective brod raises the white flag while being paddled? Would they continue hitting him?
“Sa amin kasi, hindi namin hinihintay na bumagsak yung puno bago buhatin. I-che-check namin yung heartbeat niya. Kaya lagi dapat may medical professionals na naka-standby. Kunwari sasabihin, ‘Okay pa po ako,’ pero hindi kami papayag na ganun lang. I-che-check pa rin namin siya. Kapag hindi mo na kaya, pahinga ka muna. Tapos kung kaya pa ng isang [applicant], tatanungin namin, ‘Kaya mo ba sumalo para sa kanya?’ Kumbaga, tine-test mo pa rin sila. Doon pa lang, makikita mo na kung sino yung may potential na maging loyal brod.
“Although we are usually always 100 percent sure that nothing bad would happen during a hazing, syempre may safety precautions pa rin kami,” says Mr. 1925. “Unang-una dyan, dapat may naka-standby na auto. Parang ambulansya, kumbaga. Kapag may nangyari, madadala agad sa ospital.”
But what if you’re already in the hospital, would you admit that you’re from a fraternity? That the guy you're taking to the ER is a hazing casualty? “Kadalasan, mayroon naman kaming mga brod at sis sa ospital. Sila ang una mong hahanapin kasi una, for security purposes din bilang members ng frat, di ba?” Mr. 1925 is proud that many alumni of his fraternity are professionals, thus assistance is not a problem. “Kaya nga sinasabi ko, ang pagiging brod at sis, hindi “yan natatapos pagka-graduate mo ng school. Tuluy-tuloy ang tulungan ninyo kahit professionals na kayo.”
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
While Mr. 1925 is confident to say that his chapter has never had any record of hazing-related deaths or accidents in recent history, the same cannot be said with Golden Phoenix’s fraternity.
“It was just last year. While a prospective brod was being paddled, he collapsed on the floor. It was my first time to see a body give up during a hazing. It looked so bad; we could barely feel his pulse, and we really thought for a moment that he stopped breathing,” recalls Golden Phoenix. “So what did you do?” “At first, of course we had to stop the activity. We had to vacate the area and make sure that we left no trace. Mahirap na. Mabilis lang yun. I guess we were able to leave the area in three minutes max,” Golden Phoenix recalls. “And then the car of an alumnus, nandun din. Doon isinakay yung body. Then there were two members there; I tasked them to bring the body to the hospital.
“Yung dalawang brod na yun [the ones who took the neophyte casualty to the hospital], pinagsasapak din namin para magkapasa sila. So ayun na yun, when they reached the hospital, they said that they got involved in a gang fight. They were just walking when a group of men attacked them. That was the only info that they disclosed. ‘Yun ang no. 1 na sinabi ko sa kanila before they went to the hospital.”
Golden Phoenix, his fellow masters, and the neophytes all drove to his residence in Makati. They locked themselves in for 24 hours, watching the local news and browsing through their social media feeds to see whether the incident had made it to the headlines. They took the mobile phones of their two fall guys as well as of the neophyte so that the police wouldn’t be able to use them for investigation. “Kaya wala rin kaming way to know kung ano na ba ang nangyayari.”
Golden Phoenix says that while they were hoping that the news wouldn't get big, they also had a backup plan in case the police would be able to locate
them. “We have frat alumni who are now lawyers. I guess this goes the same naman with other frats,” says Golden Phoenix. “Syempre we would bank on that fact that we have connections, of course.”
“So would you say that the reason why the practice of hazing doesn’t seem to stop is because frat members and officers can easily get away with it, because of connections?”
Golden Phoenix refused to answer, but he gave a knowing look.
“I have to say that we were extremely lucky to have gotten away with it. Seryoso, bro.”
The neophyte lived and kept mum about it. He is also now a fullfledged memeber of Golden Phoenix's fraternity—after going through inititation rites again. The two frat member who took him to the hospital left the scene. “Siguro inisip nila na usual away-kanto lang yun kaya baka hindi sineryoso. We were so close to hell. Hindi kami prepared nu’n for crisis eh. I was so fucking prepared for jail. So what, exactly, did he learn from it? “‘Yung sa mga sumunod naming initiation rites, we already have lawyers na on-call. They know all the details of hazing--where it will happen, who’d be conducting it, everything alam nila dapat.”
SO WHAT’S THE POINT Of IT All?
Mr. 1925 says his fraternity feels bad for Atio. No neophyte should ever die because of his desire to belong in a brotherhood. After all, a brotherhood is a family, and you should feel safe and secured in the comforts of your kin.
“Ang nakakasama lang ng loob, tuwing may hazing sa news, ang mga tao, galit na sa lahat ng frats. Nakakasama lang yun ng loob kasi kunwari, kami sa frat, ang dami naming safety precautions lagi para maiwasan yung mga pagkamatay nga and also because we really care for the neophytes, pero dahil sa isang frat-related news nadadamay pati ibang frats.”
Mr. 1925 still defends hazing as a solemn and important ceremony in a brotherhood. “How can you share the same principles if you don’t share the common process? Kunwari tatlo tayong pumasok pero ako lang ang nagbuhat, tapos sinabi ko sa inyo na mabigat. Pag sinabi ko ba sa inyong mabigat, masasabi ninyo rin na mabigat? Ganun siya. All of you have to know what the institution is all about by having a common experience. Brods kayo eh. Sama-sama kayo sa hirap at ginhawa.”
During a Senate hearing on Atio’s death, several senators admitted to being former members of a fraternity and to have undergone hazing during their time. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon recalled being paddled back when he was still a neophyte of Sigma Rho at UP in 1966. Sen. Francis Escudero also experienced it upon joining Alpha Phi Beta in UP when he was still a law student. Senators Richard Gordon and Francis Pangilinan (Upsilon Sigma Phi) and Sonny Angara (Sigma Rho) were also among the solons who admitted to have been hit by a paddle.
Despite this, they said that they wish hazing be completely banned. “Hazing is not a requirement for brotherhood, much less loyalty to a brotherhood. It is an unnecessary and illegal act which seeks to inflict pain on a fellow human being and satisfy the craving for sadism and brutality in some people,” says Sen. Escudero.fhm