Life with knights
I had to struggle with my parents for two years before I could finally enter UP and study veterinary medicine. They worried about UP for the usual reasons (sex, drugs, communists, etc.), and that there was no income for vets because people couldn’t even afford health care for people.
My first day of vet school, I marched triumphantly down the corridor of the college past the bulletin boards of the organizations. I can’t quite remember the correct sequence, but here are the names: Rodeo Club (RC), Society of Men (SM), Society for the Advancement of Veterinary Education and Research (Saver), Venerable Knights Veterinarians (VKV) and Lady Vets.
As I made my way to the end of the corridor where my first class was, I saw my future classmates, mostly male. One of them, now a famous veterinarian in the United States, was Efren Zuniga. He smiled, came up to me and asked: “Didn’t I see you at the Santacruzan in Kamuning last month?”
I smiled back, not sure what he was getting at. Then he said, in Filipino: “Did you know there was a diarrhea outbreak there after the Santacruzan? Looks like ginaba.”
“What’s ginaba?” I asked.
That broke the ice, I think. Word spread about this skinny, burgis, singkit guy who didn’t know what gaba was and how it connected to a gay Santacruzan, and who wanted to be a dog and cat doctor among classmates who were aiming to treat farm animals.
Soon, everyone was trying to recruit me into their organizations. I learned later that two of the organizations were affiliated to the more elite Greek-letter frats: SM to Upsilon Sigma Phi and Saver to Beta Sigma.
RC was coed, Lady Vets was obviously for women and VKV was, well, VKV, determined to carve out its niche as a veterinary organization, and almost incidentally a frat.
They were doing this niche-making well, I realized, as I met more and more VKV faculty. There was Dr. Jose Solis, who was teaching my first vet subject, anatomy. He had mellowed, I was told, but anatomy was still harrowing. While medical students struggled through one human cadaver, we had to do several animals, from horses to cats.
Life was tough in vet school, but the students made a difference, caring for each other. I was steadfast, remaining a barbarian, the term given by frat people to people who remain nonaffiliated. But I appreciated what the organizations did.
I was a friend to all, and it was the vet students, not “activists,” who exposed me to the realities of life in the Philippines, teaching me about gaba and many more words in Tagalog, as well as other regional languages. More importantly, they welcomed me into their dorms and boarding houses, the carinderia where they ate and, during breaks, into their homes in the provinces, taking the bus.
Many of my friends were VKV because, beneath their tough surface, they were knights with hearts. When we needed people for volunteer work, after a typhoon for example, or for a summer of medical and veterinary missions, they’d be there.
There are too many of these knights to mention here, some in high positions now but always ready to help.
This year, to mark its 60th anniversary, VKV is inaugurating a museum in the veterinary college in Los Baños that will have bone exhibits dedicated to Dr. Jose Solis.
When I was told about the museum, I said it was so timely, because it would be a resource not just for vets but also for forensics and archaeology.
There are frats, and there are frats. The Greek-letter frats were introduced by the Americans, with elite connotations and hypermachismo values that are now often criticized as toxic masculinity. But some of them stopped hazing and rumbles decades ago, almost always because their own alumni and elders would declare an end to the barbarism.
Martial law provided a diversion, some frats taking a position against the dictatorship. A prime example was Alpha Phi Omega (APO), whose titillating Oblation Run started out, and still is, a protest against government violations of human rights.
(The Oblation Run scheduled last December was postponed to coincide with UP Diliman’s 70th anniversary celebrations. The run will be, quick now, today, Feb. 8 around noon, still at Palma.)
There are so many other innovative projects from the different frats, like Epsilon Chi’s sports center, which includes a world-class basketball court that helped boost our UAAP standing. (I’m still waiting for the electric vehicles they promised, to shuttle students.)
With time, we’ll see frats being less the tribal warriors and more the knights for good. Take it from someone who’s lived with such knights.
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