November 23 has been designated International Day to End Impunity, coinciding with the Maguindanao massacre that included 32 media workers.
It is mainly mass media organizations and journalists’ associations that are marking the day but, as the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression puts it, the day is for demanding justice for anyone killed for “exercising their right to freedom of expression” and can include “musicians, artists, politicians, and free expression advocates who are being silenced, often with no investigation or consequences to their persecutors.”
Moreover, the CJFE notes that we need to “shed light on the issue of impunity,” considering that globally, the murderers go unpunished in 9 out of every 10 of the murders. In the Philippines, the Center for Freedom and Media Responsibility (CFMR) has counted 121 murders of journalists since 1986, with only 10 cases having been solved.
I am part of a multidisciplinary team of researchers, sponsored by Unesco and Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, looking into the sources of this impunity in the Philippines and I have been assigned the cultural component. I couldn’t help but relate the research to a serious problem we are having at the University of the Philippines’ Diliman campus: frat-related violence. Because it involves mainly young people, I have wondered how much of impunity is linked to the way we deal with violence among young people.
There have been 13 fatalities in UP frat-related violence since 1954, many associated with hazing. There have been prosecutions, even convictions and imprisonment, but there have also been cases that went unresolved.
Frat-related violence is certainly not limited to UP, but given that UP is supposed to be the national university, training future leaders and citizens, any kind of violence, and accompanying impunity, is totally unacceptable. Note that homegrown frats have appeared all over the country in public schools and in streets, aping UP’s frats down to the Greek letters. And while some UP frats have tried to become more civil and civic-minded, the street frats have deteriorated into nothing more than gangs of thugs with fancy-sounding names.
Since March of this year, we have had a spate of violent incidents, not around hazing but involving attacks and counter-attacks. No one has been killed but there are disturbing new trends in the violence, suggesting the frats are becoming more like street gangs.
For one, attackers are using masks, supreme acts of cowardice for organizations that pride themselves on their machismo. Second, the attacks are taking place within school buildings: in the toilet for example of Palma Hall (“AS”), and in the parking lots around two colleges. Third, one attack involved entry into the home of a frat member, again an unprecedented development.
Violence is violence, whether in the streets or in an academic building, and whether attackers are masked or not, but clearly there is growing impunity here. This impunity is bound to escalate because too little is being done to bring the perpetrators to justice. There has been preventive suspension of the officers of two of the frats involved, but investigations have been slow, with missing police blotters. A security logbook that included reports on some of the outbreaks also went missing, stolen from the guard by two young men.
Our College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) had a Faculty Assembly Monday, and these attacks were discussed. The concern is not just the feuds between frats but the way frats behave in general. The college’s premises have been a favorite tambayan (hang-out) for several frats and they lord it over like gorillas guarding their “territory.”
One frat staked out the CSSP parking lot as their territory and were blocking people, including faculty members, from parking. After a rumble broke out in the parking lot, the authorities cracked down and the frat has tried to tone down its presence.
Another frat is known to harass women students who pass through their tambayan. At one point, one member threatened the college student coordinator, who is known for being strict with student organizations in general.
As dean of the college, I have had to intervene, mainly by talking to their officers or, in some cases, the alumni (or “elders”) and the dialogues have generally been cordial. But I am beginning to feel the civility is almost token. The frat associated with harassment has promised an apology to the student coordinator for several months now, but nothing written has been produced. You can imagine how upset I was when I finally heard from them recently: it was an invitation to watch the Manny Pacquiao fight on television.
I know the student frat members are watching each other, seeing what they can get away with. They are also watching their alumni, and seeing how far these esteemed elders will go to protect them.
Finally, they’re watching the administrators. There is no lack of laws in the country or of university rules and regulations that can be used to punish hazing and other frat-related acts of violence. The SAWA statement appeals to the recently installed UP president, Alfredo Pascual, to act, and included a reference to his being a fratman.
Several student organizations have formed an alliance, Student-Led Anti-Fraternity-Related Violence Watch (SAWA) to show they are sawa na( fed-up) with this violence. There are real fears of being caught in the crossfire, as in the case of Nino Calinao who was shot to death in 1999. He was not a member of any fraternity but was probably mistaken for a frat man.
There have been calls to declare zones of peace, as was done in the College of Law. I should say many of the frats mainly recruit pre-law (political science and public administration, in particular) and law students, which makes me fearful about the future of these professions.
My own college is planning several measures not just to prevent more violence, but also to counter the impunity. We are fed-up, too, and are fearful about the welfare of the students entrusted to us. Older faculty members know only too well the grief and anger that come with losing a student about to graduate, students who had a full life waiting for them. Youthful impunity snuffs out not just lives, but the hopes of a nation.
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