I am a sorority quitter. I don’t feel good about being branded as one but I am. I remember not feeling so happy that I quit but I remember the huge relief that my mom felt when I did.
The sorority that I was supposed to be part of is one of the most prestigious ones in the Diliman campus. Ces Drilon and Winnie Monsod were just two of my would-have-been sisses. No less than the late former Pres. Marcos and Ninoy Aquino were just two of my would-have-been brods. But I quit. Because I couldn’t take the girly stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the sor’s ideals and thrusts but during that time, I didn’t feel that I fitted in with the other girls. If I were to turn back time, I wouldn’t have quit. Why? Because it meant that I could be hanging out with the filthy rich guys and future leaders of our country. I could be in the parties of the “in” crowd. I could be hosting movie premiere nights, concerts, charitable activities and what nots. But I guess those were precisely some of the main reasons that I quit. I wasn’t scared of the FR (final rites) because I knew what was going to happen. But at the back of my mind, I knew that my mom was really scared even if I assured her that it was going to be ok. Perhaps I didn’t sound too convinced myself that’s why my mother never really believed me. And so, I quit.
Months and years after that, I still received invitations from various sors but upon learning that I was a quitter, they never tried to get in touch with me again. Close friends who hailed from other sors told me how sayang it was because I would have enjoyed being a “sis” and I’m sure I would have. A blockmate who happened to be a lady editor-in-chief of the university paper joined the “rival” sor of the one that I quitted from and she used to tell me everytime we met then how sayang that I said yes to the rival sor first. I should have joined the sor that she was a member of because it was way better. Her sor happens to be the sister org of the very controversial frat nowadays.
In my first official week as a UP student, I witnessed what would be the first of many fraternity-related “rumbles” in the hallowed halls of my beloved university that I would get to see. My blockmates and I were walking along AS Lobby (the main lobby of Palma Hall, formerly College of Arts and Sciences, thus the nick AS) and were in our typical freshie patingin-tingin when all of a sudden, someone from the AS Steps (the main steps leading inwards the AS Lobby), armed with a lead pipe rushed to one guy who was standing somewhere in the lobby and tried to bash the latter’s head. What ensued was a series of moves reminiscent of arnis combats that I used to watch in the gym. Our block stood motionless–open-mouthed and wide-eyed. We were officially welcomed to UP.
I am proud to be a product of the best school in the our country. A university that nurtures a culture of intellectual excellence, liberal thinking, and a tradition of standing out from above the rest. It is the university where people run around naked in the cold month of December, and are applauded. I had the best lessons–academic and practical. I must admit, I got some of my worst habits from the school. I can’t blame it on the bastion of academic freedom though. I only have myself to blame for all the mishaps in my life. I recognized my freedom and took full advantage of it. But you see, with this emancipation comes great responsibility. I saw it all. While UP grooms every one of us to become independent and to value our individualism, there was another unspoken truth–affiliations help. And it is with this unspoken truths that these so-called brotherhoods cross the line.
You see, when we were in our first year, UP pride was already inculcated in us. Pride that stemmed from jokes, boasts, and arrogant statements here and there. It was a lot of fun bashing other schools and laughing at “inside jokes” in the campus and out. By the time we hit our second year, we already realize how “smart” we are and how “hireable” we all are. So that brings in the most “obvious” solution–connections. We live in a country where padrinos [patrons] rule. And those who have bigwig patrons make it to the upper echelon of our society. The common logic being–we are all from UP and so that alone is impressive to job recruiters but what if all the applicants are UP graduates whose grades pretty much go head to head against one another? What would be the clincher? Sororities. Fraternities.
There are many organizations in UP–regional orgs, interest orgs, hobby-related orgs, sports orgs, college orgs, etc. Not really the type that would jump out of one’s CV. Looking good on paper is very important. Greek-lettered organizations are different. They give that much needed vignettes in an otherwise boring ceevee.
Those who aspire to be lawyers are the most common preys to frats. You see, most big-time frats in UP are based in Malcolm Hall–the College of Law. If you want to survive in law school, join a frat. Because your brods will not only help you make it through law school, they will also help you get a possible partnership in one of the most prestigious law firms in the country where other brods are now junior and senior partners. And of course, there’s the long list of politicians who hail from the same fraternity. As a self-preserving sophomore or junior (it is illegal for freshies to be recruited–most are still being invited but it’s kept a secret), joining is almost inevitable.
But a brotherhood demands a lot. It can be expensive. It can sometimes be worth an arm and a leg–sometimes, a life. Alexander Miguel Icasiano paid that price. That fateful night was not only cold and full of uncertainty. It was also an eye-opener. You see, the guy’s batchmate and the would-have-been star witness was my batchmate. We share the same student number prefix and we used to live in the same dorm as freshmen. Tension was building up in our dorm that night. I was in my third year then and a phone call to a friend who was a member of the fraternity that Alex was getting his FR for confirmed the buzz–Alex died. I didn’t know Alex before that night. But when I learned of his death, I never hesitated to run around the campus to fight for justice. Alex died a senseless death. Senseless death. A phrase that has been overused but has never been made any sense over. Alex’s corpse looked horrendous. It was bloated from internal bleeding and he had bruises all over his body including his neck. He was the poster boy for the Pulp Fiction line, beaten to a bloody pulp. Alex got his justice. But he never got his life back. Like Cris Mendez, he also was an NCPAG (National Center for Public Administration and Governance then just College of Public Administration) student.
Three years before we came to UP, Dennis Venturina, a Sigma Rhoan, died after having been ganged up on by a rival fraternity while eating lunch in the Beach House, a popular lunch destination for barbecue lovers who didn’t want to spend too much. The place was just a few meters from the UP Main Library. Dennis was literally beaten to death with lead pipes and metal baseball bats. An orgmate in MCO (Mass Communicators Organization) told me that she heard his cries of agony but mistook them at first for sounds of pigs that were being butchered. And indeed someone was being butchered that midday, only, it was another human being. He fell into a coma and eventually died.
Personally, the most painful senseless death was that of Niño Calinao. He was then a journalism student, like I was. He was shot in point-blank range just a few meters from our dorm. He was shot in the AS Walk. A place where organizations usually set up booths/tables for membership applications, exhibits, sale, etc. That unfortunate day, the poor guy was lounging in his org’s table with his orgmates. He happened to be seated near the Scintilla Juris’ tambayan [a place where they hang out]. The hired gun, who didn’t bother to wear a mask, walked up to him and shot him because he was mistakenly thought of as the member of SJ that was “hunted” by the killer. It was traumatic for some of my dormmates because some of them were seated beside or near Niño when the trigger was pulled and so NBI peeps came by to ask a few questions. Prominent people figured into the incident but nothing fruitful really came out of it. It was an unfortunate case of a mistaken identity that cost so much. Niño’s case was the last major frat-related incident that I was personally in the know of.
I feel so bad about the death of Cris Mendez. I am far away from my alma matter but it has struck a chord because I thought after all the peace agreements and all other disciplinary actions these things would no longer happen. His case, albeit sad and serious, is so typical of frat-related FR-related deaths. And in my own wild guess, his death will just go down in history as part of the statistics.
There are still rumbles here and there in the campus but in UP, it’s not that big a deal anymore. Sad, but true. Frat-related violence makes me sick to my stomach. When I was in the campus and I heard about guys beating one another because the guy from the other frat gave him that look–hell, they can’t even describe what that look is!–I kick myself because there were times when I wished that they would just kill everybody else like them. I puke everytime I see features of fraternities and whatnots on TV and on other media when things like these happen. No one seems to learn anything.
I can never empathize or even begin to understand the sense of hazing, be it psychological or physical, to test someone’s honest desire to be a part of a group. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the rites of passage cannot be changed. I cannot fathom the seemingly deep logic of being able to use lead pipes as proof of manhood. I cannot understand for the life of me, why a former dormmate’s purpled thigh made HER really proud.
This is no longer a UP problem because for all things bright and beautiful, this is a reflection of what our country has become. This is no longer about fratboys who would kill for a single glare. This is about a culture of knowing that one can get away with doing something really bad because his/her brods who are already up there will get him/her off the hook. This is about a social disease that no one wants to even take the first step in curing. Because in one way or another, every single one of the powers that be is entangled in the web of brotherhood, sisterhood and gratitude.
I’m sorry, Cris. I can’t do anything to help you. Perhaps quitting was a good thing. At least I did something to save myself. At least I spared my parents from possible sorrow or shame.