In The Name Of The Brother

By Sophia Mireille Remulla Echivarre

The advantages gained from a fraternity, a sorority, or any organization should be turned towards the service of others, and not the self. But until we realize that, patronage culture will fester in Filipino society like an infected wound — a wound that will never heal if nobody treats it.

Imagine being in your first year at the university. You want to do something worthwhile. You want to participate in activities outside academics. But above all, you want to make friends who will be there for you, even after graduation. And you know that joining an organization with connections and prestige will make it so much easier.

That’s why you’re in a dark room with your upperclassmen, being beaten as they call your names. But you’re determined to hang on, and after what feels like forever, your seniors welcome you, feeling the burn from your bruises — convincing yourself it was worth it.

Many things push freshmen to go through that sort of humiliation and violence, to become fratmen who give their brods a leg up at the expense of others, whether that is favoritism in the workplace or covering them up when they’re in trouble with the law. The padrino system is one of them.

Under the Paddle

Fraternities and sororities are definitely attractive. On the surface, many are attracted by their lifestyle — it may be their socials, their open tambayan days, or their friendships. But going deeper, it’s the opportunities open to members that attract pledges. The chance to gain experience by organizing events, connections to powerful alumni one gains upon joining, and their brotherhood can all push one to join.

Students join fraternities and sororities for the same reasons they join other orgs — people want to be in groups they feel are aligned with what they want and who they are. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists belongingness as a social need. While it is not as basic as food, it is still greatly influential, because the groups people align themselves with help solidify and validate their identities.

In line with the hierarchy of needs, self actualization is also a need, and the desire for power and achievement comes with it. Networking helps one in this respect, and that is something a fraternity or sorority offers — the chance to get to know people who provide social support and future opportunities, which is a great incentive to join.

A fraternity or sorority isn’t just a way to connect with others. They are an avenue to develop one’s sense of self by joining an organization in line with one’s values. Sometimes, belongingness is taken a step further by tradition, with children joining the same fraternity or sorority as their parents — the Filipino values of filial piety and respect for family tradition play a great role as to why children seem to blindly follow their elders, never minding of any risks that may come along.

Initiation is something pledges must pass before that. Part of belongingness is ensuring only the most dedicated will be welcomed, and that contributes to why initiation is difficult. Some fraternities and sororities are only by invitation to begin with, and pledges are made to complete tasks before becoming members.

The process itself is necessary. It exists for the same reason other orgs require applicants to go to training or submit requirements — pledges must show how much they want to join, and how much they are prepared to give, because getting what one wants requires much dedication.

The problem arises when this process subjects pledges to hazing. Hazing is usually seen as a way to test loyalty and strengthen bonds among members who have undergone it, especially since it is highly secretive. However, injuries compromise pledges’ health, and mental strain can damage their psyche. Particularly sensitive pledges may even stop trusting upperclassmen, accomplishing the opposite of what the process aims for.

Despite that, many pledges see initiation as a bitter pill to swallow before tasting the sweet fruits of brotherhood. Thus, they do their best to trust their seniors, even as they are brought under the paddle. This mindset can lead pledges to equate the quest for brotherhood with pain, which shouldn’t be the case. Hazing cannot exist in a fraternity or sorority that aims to be family to each other. Pledges must be treated as if they are truly younger brothers and sisters, and at no point in their application should they be subjected to serious harm.

Nevertheless, applicants continue to hold this mindset because succeeding after graduation is also very difficult. Many times, it is necessary to bend the rules to get ahead. Sometimes, being close to those at the top helps one advance more than merit.

Above the Rest

The bonds of brotherhood extend beyond the tambayan. Besides friendship, networking is one of the lasting benefits of joining a fraternity or sorority. Students are drawn to organizations with prominent alumni — being in proximity to power gives pledges hope that later on they, too, can achieve glory. And they aren’t wrong — membership brings ties to powerful brods and sisses, who can secure one’s admission to grad school, help one find work, and even cover up one’s wrongdoings.

It’s not always about what you know, but who you know. Sometimes, you get a job not because you were the best student, but because one of the higher-ups at the company is your brod or sis. The padrino system is alive and its effects are felt — from favoritism in school to Marcos’s cronies being given free rein to steal from public funds. (Incidentally, Marcos was a fratman himself).

No matter how much one disapproves of patronage culture, sometimes the best one can do is work with it, and often, people have no choice, especially in difficult and competitive fields. Joining a fraternity or sorority certainly helps students in this respect. The connections gained there aren’t bad. They provide opportunities for members, and form strong friendships. Alumni often give back to their alma mater, working as faculty or sponsoring projects of the school.

The ugly side of networking is seen in political dynasties, in favoritism in the academe, in many spheres of life. Using one’s connections as a shortcut to the top or a way out of jail is not the way to go. Members of fraternities and sororities can make the best use of their connections by sponsoring quality projects, and giving their less fortunate brods and sisses equal opportunities. Networking should be a way to better oneself for the good of society, not an opportunity to advance without pulling one’s weight.

There is nothing wrong with fraternities and sororities, who have many admirable qualities. But propping up the padrino system is not one of those. Brotherhood should be a constructive relationship that makes one a better person, not a convenient connection that allows people to get away with whatever they want. The advantages gained from a fraternity, a sorority, or any organization should be turned towards the service of others, and not the self. But until we realize that, patronage culture will fester in Filipino society like an infected wound — a wound that will never heal if nobody treats it.

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The Manila Collegian

The Manila Collegian

The Official Student Publication of the University of the Philippines Manila. Magna est veritas et prevaelebit.