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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

Philippines must abolish 'murderous' fraternities

Students from Adamson University attend a prayer vigil on March 1 following the death of a freshman John Matthew Salilig

Students from Adamson University attend a prayer vigil on March 1 following the death of a freshman John Matthew Salilig. (Photo: Adamson University)

Published: March 20, 2023 11:45 AM GMT
Culture of death that pervades hazing rites and rituals is detrimental to youth and it ought to be banned forever

What savage animal instinct overcomes a human being when he gets the opportunity and power as a member of a group to inflict pain, suffering and hurt on another human being?  The members of fraternities come together and seem to enjoy the power and the pleasure of sadism as they torture and beat another human to death.

This is not a historical event that happened in a Nazi concentration camp, in a Russian torture chamber, or in an ISIS prison camp. It happens frequently in the so-called Catholic universities of the Philippines as well as in state universities such as the prestigious University of the Philippines.

The brutal and savage murder on Feb. 18 of a young student, John Matthew Salilig, after 70 blows to all parts of his body during a crazed frenzy of continual beating with wooden paddles during a hazing ritual of a fraternity initiation happened at the hands of his fellow students of the Catholic Adamson University.

Did the students and teachers of the university run by the Vincentians condemn the killing as a murder most foul, demand justice for Salilig, and insist that charges be brought against the cruel perpetrators? I don’t think so, going by their official statement on his death.

They wore black shirts and had a Mass in sympathy. What kind of students commit this sort of brutal evil if they are taught Christian values of respect for the human rights and dignity of every human person?

After the murder, 15 suspects were identified and it emerged that they tried to cover up their crime. They carried the body of the 24-year-old chemical engineering student to a student’s car and drove to the back of a subdivision where they buried their victim in a shallow grave.

A week later, the body was discovered in a vacant lot in Imus, Cavite. The autopsy report said he died from severe blunt force trauma suffered during the brutal fraternity initiation rites. His brother, Michael Salilig, filed a formal complaint of a violation of the anti-hazing law against six suspects.

Over previous years, there have been similar murders. John Matthew is number 58 on the listed victims of hazing murders by Wikipedia, which they say is not complete. The fraternity members that killed John Matthew belonged to the Tau Gamma Phi (ΤΓΦ), a distinguished fraternity that ought to condemn the killing.

I asked one victim who barely survived a hazing by a fraternity at the University of the Philippines to tell us what happened to him. Here is his story.

“As a freshman in the university, I wanted to ‘belong’ and I thought joining a fraternity is the way to go. Fraternity members are aggressive in recruiting members as it is the lifeline of the fraternity. They convince possible recruits by mentioning the names of ‘illustrious’ members- like this senator and that congressman, for example.

“These senators and congressmen, and many others in the high echelon of society, are in fact members of fraternities so for them ‘hazing’ is an open secret. They also make membership in a fraternity very attractive. They inculcate the belief that ‘brotherhood’ merits priority at all times. You can have access to review materials when taking the bar exam or any other board exam. Once you've graduated from the university, they offer possibilities of connecting you to influential people.

“When I joined the fraternity, I knew that there would be some sort of initiation rites. The process takes several days, even weeks, culminating in one night when the actual ‘hazing’ is done in a ‘frat house’ a house owned by one of the ranking/most active/most committed members of the fraternity. Prior to the hazing itself, we were already made to do some physical and mental challenges. We were made to run around the UP academic oval as many times as we can until we were heavily panting for breath. We were made to do humiliating acts and memorize the Preamble and Constitution and memorize the names of the charter members as if they are some kind of deity.

“Although I was expecting some kind of initiation, I did not expect it would be like what I experienced that night. Simply said, what I experienced was torture. Beaten several times with a paddle at the back of the thigh, until it's as purple as an eggplant already. Knees kicked such that the side of your kneecaps painfully hit each other, numerous blows to both arms, melted candle wax allowed to drip on your palm. The mental torture was already unbearable. At that moment, I thought I would die. I accepted that fate already and surrendered myself to them. They could have killed me that night and dumped me in the septic tank of that house and no one would know. My parents didn't know, they wouldn't know, because I did not tell them I'm joining a fraternity.

“But at that point, there's already no turning back. I passed out and woke up the following day already a ‘fratman,’ no longer a ‘barbarian.’ Fraternities are named after Greek letters. Those who do not belong to a fraternity are referred to as ‘barbarians,’ as in the barbarians referred to in Greek society. But nothing is as barbaric as the hazing I experienced.

“By the way, the ‘brothers’ that did this to me, seem to be genuinely good people. They are smart people, excelling in academics and their fields of discipline. They were good sons of their parents and now most of them are successful in their chosen careers and are responsible and loving fathers to their own children. It's difficult to understand how they can hurt a fellow human being the way they hurt me and I can't forget how delighted they were doing it.”

Philippine Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said: “The culture of secrecy in the guise of fraternal 'brotherhood' is abhorrent, and each and every single person involved — from those who planned, those who participated, even those who were just present but did nothing to stop the hazing — should be thrown in jail as well. Under our law, they are all responsible." 

The culture of death that pervades the hazing rites and rituals is detrimental to youth, and a disgrace to the fraternity members, and hazing ought to be banned forever. Let’s see if John Matthew Salilig and his family will get justice or if the suspected killers get protection from any powerful members of that fraternity. Justice must be done and seen to be done by all.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

1 Comments on this Story
Thank you Father for writing this article. I am deeply shocked learning about this horrific practice. One needs to ask what can be done to fight this kind of crime.
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia