Opinion: Fraternities and Their Misguided Ideas of Brotherhood Have No Place in the Modern World
John Matthew Salilig’s killing is the latest in the tragic history of hazing-related violence in the Philippines. Once again, we reminded of the lack of accountability among fraternities and how they tend to brush things aside to keep the “tradition” going. These groups have long perpetuated a culture of violence and impunity that represents the worst ideals of "brotherhood."
I'm a fratman myself and I think it’s high time fraternities are abolished.
Salilig was beaten roughly 70 times as part of his initiation rites. The Adamson University student had been missing for a little over a week before his body surfaced and identified by his brother, who wailed at the gruesome sight of his sibling’s demise. In an ANC interview with Lieutenant Colonel Michael Batoctoy of Imus Police, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Batoctoy confirmed that Salilig’s body was buried in a vacant lot in a subdivision in Imus, Cavite. He was dumped like a no-good rodent.
“It’s a gated residence," Batoctoy said. "Sa likod, may bakanteng lote roon na madamo tapos may daan na rough road. Sarado ‘yung gate ng subdivision roon eh parang backdoor nila.”
Cavite Police Director Col. Christopher Olazo also told The Philippine Star that, while Salilig’s body was in an advanced stage of decomposition, it exhibited visible injuries. “Medyo iba ang kulay ng balat niya sa bandang hita," he added.
The police have identified about 15 persons of interest in the 24-year-old Zamboanga native’s death.
School officials from Adamson University, who conducted a separate probe into the death, say that Salilig died on February 18. They have yet to confirm which fraternity was involved.
February 28, 2023
Immediately, outrage poured in from sympathizers across the national consciousness. But this isn’t an anomaly, by any stretch.
In 2017, it was the demise of University of Santo Tomas law freshman Horacio Tomas Castillo, whose lifeless body was found in a bag along the sidewalks of Tondo, that shocked the nation. Two years before that, it was 14-year-old Christian dela Cruz’s True Brown Style 30-second massacre that made headlines. Ariel Inofre, in 2014, died of kidney failure after getting bruises from hazing rites conducted by the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity. In that same year, Guillo Servando was one of four Tau Gamma Phi fraternity neophytes who underwent initiation rites. The 18-year-old student was the only one who didn’t make it.
Each had their entire lives ahead of them. Each time, we were as shocked as the last. Each time, we would forget about it not too long after. Several fraternity brothers would be placed on trial. Some would be sent to prison. Most escaped punishment, no doubt assisted and coddled by their frat brothers in the legal and political system.
The men responsible for these kids’ deaths violate the Republic Act 11053 or the Anti-Hazing law. Its enforcement, however, isn't as strong as it should be (it's not difficult to see why). Salilig’s perpetrators will likely face the same sanctions again. Again, we’re going to likely forget about this until the next death comes.
We have gotten so desensitized by the violence that we chalk it up to being frat bro things or just another fact of life in the Philippines. But Christ, how many more kids have to die a senseless death?
An Oral History of Mike De Leon's Batch '81
ML is a Violent, Searing Depiction of the Real-Life Horrors of the Past
In Filipino popular culture, we’ve seen hazing and fraternity life portrayed in films like Batch ’81, Frats, or Kapatiran. They're romanticized as a means of upholding the spirit of comradeship. Each fraternity has their mission and vision and values and founders. How great. We’ve heard about the Freemasons, whose members include even Jose Rizal. We’ve heard about all the law school success stories of frat members who ranked in the top 10 in the bar exam during this year and that. We are told that it’s a requirement of sorts to get into whatever the hell. Everyone wants to get in on the padrino system, after all.
That includes me. As a (former) fratman myself, I am aware of the hypocrisy of these sentiments I’m writing. I joined a fraternity during my freshman year in college, and was hazed and beaten myself and had our insignia burned at my nape. I was sold on the idea of brotherhood and camaraderie, only to find out that it was all a fraud. My delusions and aspirations of being included in a group of honorable men got the best of me.
All these, I’d come to learn, is nothing but a sham to keep an outdated tradition alive. It’s a model that has continously relied on exclusion and violence. I would be inactive myself after watching some neophytes go through initiation rites. I regret everything.
It’s such a pity that these people continue to fool impressionable teens and young adults into thinking that neophytes need to be dehumanized to belong. Initiation rites are meant to prove to your brothers that you are all in on their values. So you let them treat you like a dirty dog.
I'm one of the more fortunate ones. During my time, there had been instructions cascaded from higher-ups in the fraternity that we were no longer allowed to shame neophytes the way they did before. Neophytes before me were smacked simply for answering a question. They weren't even premitted to look at their "masters" in the eyes. Other times, their hands were used as ashtrays. Their backs were used as stools and tables. Some of them were made to endure trials of humiliation, like how neophytes were told to lick garbage, to (non-consensually) jack another neophyte off, or to eat cigarette butts. I can go on with the horror stories.
Upon hearing of the news about Salilig, I am again reminded how fortunate I was to not have died during my own initiation rites. How painful it was to see his brother weep. I'm tired of fraternities releasing flimsy, half-assed statements and defending this culture of impunity.
In a way, I guess I was an enabler of this culture of violece myself, even for a short while. I would become inactive in my fraternity after just a year or two. I never felt like a "brother" nor did I feel like these were the kind of people I should be around. I was disillusioned by everything and the moral degredation was just too much.
But it should never have gotten to that point to begin with. But for the guy I used to be, who yearned belongingness and "meaning" in a new city, it just seemed like a viable option. I now know I was duped and now that I'm seeing kids getting duped, too, it can be gut-wrenching.
I have long concluded that fraternities should be a thing of the past. There is no good reason for them to exist in the modern world. This is why they cling desperately to the old guard: they’re almost extinct and they know it. They are no longer the proud fratment of yesteryear. But the thing is, this padrino culture allows them to survive. Neophytes are sold on ambition and glory, all of which are relics of the past. If we join, we can find our so-called "purpose." If we join, we get an easier path to our desires. More privilege. More power. “Brotherhood all for something greater than ourselves.”
But the beauty of brotherhood relies on empowering our fellow man and doing good. Fraternities don't do this as often as they did before (yes, the charitable work is still there, but do we let charity overshadow bloodshed?). "Good men" who protect criminals and minimize murders are no good men.
Salilig won’t be the last hazing-related death. That's pretty much a guarantee. There are neophytes running around campuses as I write this. Fraternities will get more creative with their recruitment measures in the long run. They hope to adapt to the times and be more humane with aspiring members of these glorified boys' clubs.
Another student in a body bag will come along and we are supposed to be stunned by it yet again. We’re going to send our thoughts and prayers to the victim’s family and friends. We’re going to move on and forget about it soon enough. Violece has become part of the fraternity tradition. No matter what they say: they will kill again in the name of survival. And quite frankly, with fratmen politicans, policemen, lawyers, and judges, they're going to get away with it every fucking time.