Notes & Essays

Why Do Fraternities Still Exist?

A frat brother defends the institution.

At the beginning of every semester, I always ask my students about their reasons for going to law school. Some of them answered they want to continue a family tradition. One student even had the audacity to say that being a lawyer would make him well-connected and rich. Others replied that they want to fight for those who cannot defend themselves. Their reasons range from the mundane to the sublime.

Similarly, the same is true for young men who joined fraternities. Some of them joined because their fathers, uncles, and brothers are frat men. Most of them joined for connections that would propel their careers after graduation. A number joined because they idolize heroes and martyrs associated with a particular fraternity.

When I entered UP as a college freshman, I had no intention to join any fraternity. My mother strongly advised me against it: “Don’t associate with atheists. Don’t join rallies. Never join a frat.” As a dutiful son, I complied.

But not for long.

In his book On the Good Side of History, journalist Nelson A. Navarro claimed that fraternities “were nothing new or alien to the national experience.” He wrote: “The Philippine Revolution of 1896, for instance, grew out of home-grown secret societies of distinctly Masonic or anti-sectarian origins that were all proscribed and severely punished by Spanish colonial authorities. Rizal, Bonifacio, del Pilar, the Luna brothers and others were dedicated masons, some directly influenced or initiated by European lodges, for whom blood compacts, secret codes, physical initiations and loyalty tests were deeemed standard practices.”

Founding Fathers of the UP Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity. Front row, fourth from left: Senator Ambrosio Padilla. Middle row, second from left: nationalist historian Renato Constantino

Indeed, the need to belong and the urge to be where the action is are deeply ingrained into the human mind and that is the alluring and enduring power of fraternities. Millenials have a term for it: FOMO, or fear of missing out. It was this fear of missing out that made me reconsider joining a fraternity. Thus, when an invitation arrived from UP Alpha Phi Betaa fraternity based in the UP College of Law whose alumni include historian Renato Constantino, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senator Chiz Escudero, and Albay Representative Edcel LagmanI reluctantly agreed to hear them out.

Sen. Chiz Escudero shares his experiences in the UP College of Law and the Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity. 

Bakit ako sasali sa inyo e namatayan kayo, I asked them this question pointblank. I did my research beforehand and I discovered that in 1998, neophyte Alex Icasiano died while undergoing initiation.

One of them answered me: “Join us because we learned from it, we faced the music, and more importantly, Alex’s family forgave us.” He said wryly: “At kasama ako sa mga nakulong. But I also learned that there is life after jail.”

Sensing his sincerity, I manifested immediately my intention to join their frat. The member who answered my question is now a lawyer.

Growing up in the frat, I realized that it was more than just FOMO or expanding my network that made me join. I was looking for something elsea sense of purpose. All fraternities rest on a powerful idea: that men could band together and stand up for something greater than themselves. A higher sense of purpose.

It was more than just FOMO or expanding my network that made me join. I was looking for something elsea sense of purpose.

Fraternities offer not just personal connections but a feeling of being connected to a higher sense of purpose. Senior brods would mentor the younger ones about their fraternity’s traditions and values, both the mundane and the sublime. It was like having a backstage access to a rock star’s concert when I, just a law student, was able to talk with then incumbent Chief Justice Puno and ask him for tips on how to succeed in law school and how to find one’s niche in the legal profession. He hastened to add that my efforts would be useless if not done for the good of the country. 

This higher sense of purpose drives fraternities and their members to take up leadership posts in organizations, take part in campus politics, engage in philanthropy, uphold the standards of their respective professions, among others. It would be naïve, however, to believe that everything is pure and sublime. Every fraternity could be anything its members would want it to be, for better or for worse.

Critics say that fraternities breed elitism, nepotism, and other undesirable traits. It would be wrong to dismiss their claims but it would also be wrong to call for the abolition of fraternities. If fraternities were banned, they would only go underground and as such, it would be harder for university officials to monitor them and to identify their members in case they run afoul of the law.

Critics say that fraternities breed elitism, nepotism, and other undesirable traits. It would be wrong to dismiss their claims but it would also be wrong to call for the abolition of fraternities.

Unfortunate incidents hounding fraternities remind us of a bitter truth about the human condition: noble intentions could be perverted. There is, however, a silver liningthe point where the mundane meets the sublime. It is called redemption.

The Unpopular Opinion is Esquire’s space to provide additional insight and introduce new perspectives to issues that we may think have foregone conclusions. These articles don't always reflect our editorial stance, but we publish them here to continue the discourse. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.

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