Fraternities and the unlawful practice of hazing

March 22, 2023

Recent news about the death of two college students from severe injuries during initiation rites have raised questions on why fraternities continue the practice of hazing and how the law criminalizing it can have more teeth.

The families of John Matthew Salilig, a 24-year-old chemistry student at Adamson University, and Ronnel Baguio, a 20-year-old marine engineering student at the University of Cebu, are clamoring for justice for the killing of these former neophytes of Tau Gamma Phi fraternity.

The remains of Salilig, who went missing for 10 days, were found in a vacant lot in Imus, Cavite on Feb. 28. Two days later, the Public Attorney’s Office revealed that Baguio had succumbed to alleged hazing injuries inflicted by members of the fraternity’s chapter at the University of Cebu in December last year.

At least four suspects in Baguio’s death who surrendered on March 8 face charges of murder and violation of the anti-hazing law.

Meanwhile, seven members of the Adamson chapter of Tau Gamma Phi have been charged in the Salilig case. Criminal complaints for at least 13 more suspects are under review by the Justice department.

Hazing is prohibited in initiation rites of fraternities, sororities and other organizations under Republic Act (RA) No. 8049, or the anti-hazing law, which came into force in 1995. However, more hazing deaths were recorded despite the passage of the law, which was amended in 2018 to impose higher fines and longer jail term under RA No. 11053.

Section 2 of RA 8049, as amended by RA 11053, defines hazing as “any act that results in physical or psychological suffering, harm, or injury inflicted,” such as paddling, whipping and exposure to the weather, as a prerequisite for admission or a requirement for continued membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization.

Hazing includes any activity, whether intentionally done or not, that tends to humiliate or embarrass, degrade, abuse, or endanger by requiring mental, silly or foolish tasks.

To help explain why fraternities continue to include hazing, often violent, in recruiting members, VERA Files Fact Check interviewed Filomin C. Gutierrez, a sociology professor from the University of the Philippines (UP).

1. Why do fraternities still conduct hazing despite its criminalization under RA 8049?

Fraternities based in schools or communities commonly have all-male members, practice hazing to affirm a culture of masculinity and honor a tradition held by senior members,  according to Gutierrez. She noted that fraternities prefer to use the term “initiation rites” rather than hazing.

“My theory is that as young men find affirmation of their identity as men, the fraternity offers this route, albeit a circumvented route (short-cut) to masculinity,” the professor, who has conducted two studies about fraternities in UP Diliman, said in an email interview.

She added, “This hyper masculine culture in fraternities risk[s] adopting practices such as harsh, physical, mental and emotional testing that can lead to deaths, incarceration, and injuries.”

2. What do fraternity leaders and members get from hazing?

Gutierrez, former president of the Philippine Sociological Society, said fraternity leaders and members find satisfaction from “inculcat[ing]” in neophytes their own experience with initiation rites. Passing on an “honored tradition” from their revered or famous senior members is also a factor.

“Initiation rites are infused with profound meanings about becoming a member of the fraternity, the fraternity’s values, beliefs, ideals, and commitments,” she said. “As a rite of passage or ritual, it serves to test the commitment of the neophyte, someone who is new, an outsider who is entering into the organization.”

Others join the brotherhood because of peer pressure, the need for friends and a supportive social circle, and expansion of their social network for economic, social and political gains.

The usual ritual includes physical and mental tests. Salilig, for example, reportedly died from severe blunt force trauma to the lower extremities due to repeated paddling.

In the United States, Gutierrez said, initiation rites in “white” colleges involve delinquent practices like binge drinking, sexual conquests and extreme partying. Brotherhoods of minority groups, such as African-American and Asian-American, are more likely to conduct violent physical hazing.

3. How can hazing be effectively stopped? Should fraternities be banned? 

Gutierrez offers six suggestions to help stop hazing by university-based fraternities. These include teaching alternative ways to achieve manhood without violence and periodically reminding fraternity members about the dangers of hazing.

On proposals to ban fraternities altogether, Gutierrez said, “It’s for us to think about.” She expressed concern, however, that a ban could simply force these groups to go underground.

“If we recognize and not ban them, we should hold them accountable for their behavior and demand transparency about their practices, something that is challenging to achieve given their exclusivity,” she said.

For example, the Adamson chapter of Tau Gamma Phi did not secure a permit from the university administration for Salilig’s initiation as the fraternity is not an accredited student organization.

Jan Nelin Navallasca, the university’s director for students affairs, maintained that Adamson has not been “remiss” in its obligations to inform transferees and freshmen about its policy against  fraternities.

Section 4 of the amended RA 8049 states that registered school-based fraternities must submit a written application at least seven days before holding initiation rites where at least two school representatives must be present. Since Adamson has a total ban on fraternities, Tau Gamma Phi went underground where its activities were unmonitored by school authorities.

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Sources

Adamson University official website, Prexy offers comfort, support to John Matthew Salilig kin, AdU community, March 10, 2023

Philippine News Agency, PAO provides legal aid to alleged hazing victim’s family, March 2, 2023

Philstar.com, PAO working on case of alleged hazing death in Ceb, March 2, 2023

Rappler.com, Mother of University of Cebu student says son died from hazing injuries, March 2, 2023

CNN Philippines, TIMELINE: The hazing death of John Matthew Salilig, March 6, 2023

GMA News Online, Witness details grueling hazing rites that killed Adamson student John Matthew Salilig, March 12, 2023

ABS-CBN News, TIMELINE: Alleged hazing death of Adamson student John Matthew Salilig, March 8, 2023

Cebu City Police Office official Facebook page, LOOK: Upon the intensive coordination meeting …, March 9, 2023

GMA News Online, Police identify 5 suspects in alleged hazing death of University of Cebu student, March 5, 2023

Philstar.com, Cops set to file charges vs hazing suspects today, March 14, 2023

Manila Standard, Police tag 5 in Cebu hazing death, March 6, 2023

Rappler.com, DOJ to file hazing charges vs 7 suspects over John Matthew Salilig’s death, March 15, 2023

GMA News Online, DOJ indicts 7 Tau Gamma Phi members over Salilig hazing, March 15, 2023

Inquirer.net, DOJ prosecutors indict 7 fratmen tagged in Salilig’s death,  March 15, 2023

ABS-CBN News, TINGNAN: Medico legal ng umano’y biktima ng hazing na si John Matthew Salilig, March 1, 2023

Rappler.com, Adamson student died of ‘severe blunt force trauma’ – autopsy report, March 2, 2023

Prof. Filomin C. Gutierrez, Personal communication (email), March 12, 2023

Official Gazette official website, Republic Act No. 11053, 2018

Senate of the Philippines official website, Republic Act no. 8049, 1995

University of the Philippines Diliman, Filomin C. Gutierrez (profile), Accessed March 15, 2023

Inquirer.net, Senators seek stiffer penalties on schools after Adamson student’s hazing death, March 7, 2023

Panay News, Stiffer penalties on schools sought after student’s hazing death, March 8, 2023

Senate of the Philippines official website, Press Release – Dela Rosa wants schools accountable in Anti-Hazing Law implementation, March 8, 2023

ANC official YouTube channel, Adamson official: We have not been remiss in informing students that frats are not allowed, March 8, 2023

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VERA Files

VERA Files is a nonstock, nonprofit, independent media organization. Founded in March 2008, it is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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