Revisiting fraternities

By Caroline J. Howard, ABS-CBN News Channel

Posted at Sep 29 2010 03:58 PM | Updated as of Oct 02 2010 09:15 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Some are blaming a supposed culture of violence among rival fraternities in Manila as investigations continue into the explosion that marred the last day of Bar exams in Manila on Sunday. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is set to summon several fraternities over the incident that left close to 50 people hurt.

Amid calls to revisit regulations on Greek-letter societies, and renewed questions over the relevance of fraternity organizations and whether they should be allowed to exist following Sunday's incident, some fraternity members choose to defend their ranks. 

While Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo says such moves by the Supreme Court to truly look at the issue are legitimate, he believes the high court should desist from making any blanket prohibition against fraternities.

No blanket prohibition

"We cannot come up with a blanket prohibition against fraternities, that would be the worst decision to make," Quimbo, a member of the UP Alpha Sigma Fraternity, said on ANC's The Rundown. "Instead of over-reacting by banning organizations, we need to regulate and bring out these organizations out into the open. Many organizations that get involved in violence are generally those not recognized by the institutions they come from."

"The perpetrators ought to be brought to justice," adds UP Pi Sigma Fraternity and chair of the League of Filipino Students Terry Ridon. "They ought to be jailed even for what happened that fateful Sunday afternoon."

Ridon and Quimbo agree that banning fraternities may only backfire on the institution.

Instead of doing away with fraternities, Quimbo says, academic institutions should harness the potentials of these organizations founded on the principle of service. He says the UP's efforts in this regard are laudable.

"Schools need to be braver. For a great number of private schools, the tendency has been to ban them entirely because of the complexity of fraternities, but the State University has taken a pivotal role for many of these fraternities which have been great for UP and society," Quimbo says.

"The way to do it is to bring them out of the shadows and bring them to legitimacy. That's why many of the frats in UP have become less violent, particularly because of the deep involvement that schools have. Schools need to be able harness these organizations because it will only become worse if you prohibit. They will not be guided by any laws or tenets as far as the schools are concerned," he adds.

Internal mechanisms

Quimbo says schools should come up with the mechanisms in which these organizations are asked to register a sets of officers, and who will be suspended by the school administrator in the event the organization is found involved in any outbreak of violence.

Law schools and frats
MANILA, Philippines - While law schools may have different regulations, legal practitioners say, all of them teach the value of reputation, good moral character, and compliance to the rule of law.

Those tenets were clear as early as law school, says Atty. Odessa Bernardo, who has been in the legal practice for 6 years, and belongs to a fraternity.

"Hindi iyan ang tinuturo sa law school. You're taught to follow the law, hindi ka tinututruan at nag-aaral para gumawa ng violence," she says.

"Once you become a law student, you become conscious of your rights and obligations so you don't do things against the law," says Atty. Joselito Chan, a law professor and Bar examiner.

It is no wonder a student is asked to sumbit strict requirements before he can take the Bar exam. These include submitting three character references from a law professor or other lawyers, a certificate of no derogatory record, and a certificate of good moral conduct from his university or school.

Some students say the violence that marred the last day of Bar exams was a sign they should check their ranks and push for tougher regulations.

Representatives of various student councils in the different law schools are set to meet on Saturday to discuss possible reforms and steps to take to prevent a repeat of Sunday's incident. -- report from Timi Nubla, ABS-CBN News

"Heads will have every incentive to discipline their ranks. Unlike if they operate clandestinely, there's no reason for them to observe the law," Quimbo says.

Ridon says sanctions are available within the academic system, adding that those involved in hazing cases in UP are facing trial before the UP Student Disciplinary Tribunal.

"The State University provides clear mechanisms for penalizing such actions, and our statutes are available to prosecute those involved in fraternity violence," he adds.

An act of one, an act of all

Unlike many illicit fraternities which resort to violence as an act of rebellion against their schools, Quimbo explains, there is a sense of discipline inherent within legitimate fraternities.

"A fraternity is a society of people who think alike. The best leaders come from many of these fraternities, principally because a frat is different from an organization in that you cannot act alone. There's a great distinction between the violence that happens in U.P.-- it is usually an outcrop of deep competition among these organizations," Quimbo explains.

"When you ban them, they will only resort to illegitimate activities. When you prohibit them, they will no longer be within the ambit of the law or the school administration. They become bandits and become troublesome for the institution," he adds.

Police presence

Quimbo and Ridon believe there was a failure on the part of law enforcement agencies, adding increased police presence could've dissuaded groups out to break the peace in what should've remained a time for celebration.

"The Supreme Court should take a more active role outside La Salle [campus] to ensure examinees are able to enter and exit safely. We need to take deeper control as far as the Bar exam is concerned. It's the biggest event for law students and law schools. We have one of the longest Bar exams in the world. It happens only once a year, for four Sundays in September. The Bar exam is a culmination of so many years of study. So many take it and only 20% pass it," Quimbo says of the energy that characterized the last day of the Bar exams, and drew hundreds to the gates of the De La Salle University in Manila.

Ridon believes the police should be made accountable for the violence.

"There ought to be an investigation inside these universities," Ridon suggests. "We need to hold to task the Manila police authorities for failing to provide security in the area."

"Fraternities, like all organizations, are within the ambit of the Freedom of Association clause under the Constitution. They exist for legitimate and lawful purposes," he adds. 

Ridon also says "there needs to be a refocusing on the basic principles as to why fraternities exist," noting that "many fraternities are involved in civic activities." He cites how some of these fraternities volunteered to assist communities affected by tropical storm Ondoy.

"Those who are involved in violent acts ought to be penalized. There ought to be justice for Raissa Laurel and everyone injured," Ridon says.