Upsilon Sigma Phi logo burned in a celluloid-like effect
Photomontage Gene Paolo Gumagay

Too big to fail, too successful to be defeated, too powerful to get caught.

And yet the members of the university’s most influential Greek formation, Upsilon Sigma Phi, had to cower under tables, hide, and go into damage control mode as a month-long celebration of their first century of glory turned into an accelerated fall from grace.

First, their rose-giving day – an attempt to persuade female students into believing the values of their brotherhood, was marred by a violent 48 hours of brutal lashings-out at members of another fraternity, Alpha Phi Beta, through fists, guns, SUVs, baseball bats, and fighting words rooted in toxic masculinity and homophobia.

Widespread condemnation followed in varying degrees –  from disgusted student leaders to mere sidelining from Chancellor Tan. Suddenly, what was supposedly a cause for celebration turned into a potentially fatal ruckus.

Then, bovine excrement hit the fan.

Unconfirmed screenshots and an archive of a group chat among members of a batch in Upsilon were leaked by Twitter account @100Upsilon 
– now a private account – all captured through a browser extension that compiles all messages, images, and tags, but not names of senders. Reading through the leaked chat, it seemed that it had all the elements that UP org group chats are known for – publicity material checking, event planning, money matters, internal affairs, etc. –  but the group chat was also a festering hole of hatred, bigotry, discrimination, harassment, and violence that teeters on the extreme.

Women are talked about and discussed like they were adult film performers. Gay people are devalued into mere “cracks” – potential suppositories for their almighty appendages. Enemies and critics are met with threats of violence. The dictator Marcos is hailed, Muslims and indigenous people are denigrated, activists are scorned, and people who are not members of their group – “barbarians” – are devalued to mush.

This level of vitriol might be normal for those in forums and conversations with terrorist extremists, conservatives, or any single group of cisgender heterosexual men, but what is different about this is that this is Upsilon Sigma Phi.

In the history of the university, they’ve put five university presidents in place – including the incumbent Danilo Concepcion – 31 UP regents, six chancellors (interestingly, none of which are for Diliman), 18 deans, and nine professors emeriti.

They put through 23 chairpersons and presidents of the UP Diliman student council, including incumbent chairperson Yael Toribio; three in Manila, including the short-lived Voltz Moya; four in Los Banos; countless members of campus student councils, and even more members of college student councils.

Campus publications, student organizations, athletes, national and local government, the judiciary, the media, industry, and the business sector have all been invaded by brothers of the fraternity. The breadth and depth of the reach, influence, and power of these members of the brotherhood is immense, more than one could ever know.

It may be said that not all of the members of the fraternity are assholes, but not all assholes have networks in academia, government, and the business sector. That’s frightening.

Light-refractors

The response to the leak was immediate. Students all throughout the system called out the fraternity. Certain passages were pointed out, such as one exchange that suggested punching their sexual exploits in the ovaries after coitus to prevent pregnancy. Or another that falsely labeled Omid Siahmard, a former candidate for student regent and an activist, as a butthurt Muslim. (Mr. Siahmard is not a Muslim, but explains that his father is.)

Other discussions took solace in the argument that dictator Marcos would have been able to improve the Philippine economy and quality of life if not for resistance such as the First Quarter Storm and the first EDSA People Power march. Still, other conversations downgraded critics as “Classic woke ass non-upsilonian UP student”.

This virulent banter against women, minorities, and students reflects the collective views they evidently hold within their fraternity. This is usual in certain fringe groups, wherein certain opinions about other groups of people are discussed in alarming, almost frightening jest.

What is atypical, however, is that in the same group chat, the members also discuss how they plan to actualize these views.

They boast of having the physical strength and willpower to kick and hurt people. They parade their ownership of guns and modes of transport to take them to their victims. They believe that they can and that they will, take hold of any woman of their choosing to serve them for pleasure.

Their power and influence can help elect their brothers into high positions in the student council and in the administration, setting up quotas for new pledges to comply with in order to make sure it does happen. It’s also used in more trivial but potentially expulsive matters, such as the forgery of medical certificates to escape class in order for them to help out with fraternity matters.

This blatant disregard for human rights, rules and regulations, the public character of UP, and the safety of the university and the national community has far-reaching dangers and after-effects. This is seen in the years of countless evidence against them for being involved in fraternity-related violence in and out of the university, as well as dozens of allegations against their members for violence against women.

The most recent incident with the fraternity before this year was in July of 2015. A frat war between Upsilon and Alpha Sigma broke out after five members of Upsilon assaulted four Alpha Sigma members in two separate incidents.

These five were arrested, and their time in the university as students are suspended by Chancellor Tan. (Note: Suspension, not expulsion) This is not the first time this has happened either: as the oldest student organization in the university, it has been pulled in all kinds of violence, from frat “rumbles” to hazing incidents, all bloody, and some with tragically fatal endings.

The conclusion to that July 2015 saga was a statement from the most influential student fraternity member at the time, former USC Chairperson JP de las Nieves. His response is quite unlike a myotonic goat — playing dead and falling over at the sight of something sudden. He regrets that Upsilon got involved in the incident, but refused to dissociate himself from the formation and resign. He was ousted soon enough by his own political party, UP ALYANSA.

The response posted by the leading members of Upsilon in Diliman, USC Chairperson Rafael Toribio of KAISA and Councilor Ian Serrano from ALYANSA – which have been deleted, and reposted with new words – went as follows: they had read the screenshots and were “disgusted” and “in disbelief,” claiming that it was not the Upsilon they once knew (ignoring the fact that Upsilon has a history of violence and that their brods disrespected women, the LGBT, and hurt the community); demanded identification of the people involved in that chat and that “due process” be followed in order to restore peace, justice, and order; and finally, as in the case of Toribio in his initial post, would be taking a “leave of absence” from the fraternity – a dissonant, contradictory lie that doesn’t hold water as the macho-feudal design of these groups make membership basically last forever. Or, in the case of Serrano, announce their “resignation” from the fraternity to the cries of satisfaction from constituents, praising his principled decision.

Toribio’s new post notes that Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jerwin Agpaoa, the university political parties, and officers from Upsilon to come to a conclusion on the issue, and called on “culture change,” and that institutions need to be reimagined to help students go back to their mandates as the nation’s scholars. 

But from the group chat in which the Alpha Phi Beta incident became public and was discussed, members were told to fully deny the incident and feign ignorance. Is this motherhood response being used now? Probably. Probably not.

Scout published an article charting this recent saga, soon put down by its publishers and higher-ups due to shaky legalities and the possibility of being libeled. The Philippine online edition of Esquire wrote about the groups the frat discriminated against.

Almost two days after the leaks, Upsilon Sigma Phi released a statement on its Facebook page, saying that they “strongly condemn all acts of discrimination,” have coordinated with the OVCSA and the administration (an institution they hold), offer empathy to those offended and hurt by their remarks, and that it was “unfortunate that the postings came in the heels of our Fraternity’s Centennial Anniversary last November 18. It appears that there is a concerted effort to besmirch the reputation of our Fraternity during this momentous celebration.” 

Their banners and their exhibits celebrating their centenary are being vandalized by various angry students in the University Avenue and Palma Hall. It must be noted, however, that the previously lone security guard in charge of watching over the Palma Hall lobby was now joined by two others, standing right beside their exhibit and taking off any and all forms of vandalism being done by students.

Why it matters

In their guise as gatherers of light to scatter, their pre-existing might lies in tatters as Upsilon continues to be torn apart, piece by piece, at the mercy of the university public. Their actions not only have repercussions on themselves but also on all organizations, as the student body becomes more suspicious of the real purpose of fraternities.

Which is what, exactly? In history, they are the product of colonialist tradition, introduced in university culture by American academics in an attempt to mimic American college life. Their traditions and organizational structure are rooted in feudality, and it manifests in their members’ individual dealings with non-members and enemies.

Fraternities, in general, got their start as the consortia of middle-class professionals – predominantly male petit-bourgeoisie – seeking greater power and the ouster of the monarchical state.  

The fraternity has become so intrinsic in Filipino collegial culture that you fail to see one major tertiary educational institution without one.

But why maintain them? Not only are they producers of successful individuals, but they are also effective collective forces in rebellion, as progressive fraternities were key to the downfall of dictator Marcos during Martial Law. These progressive groups still run today and are helping in the eradication of ills within and beyond campus walls.

Still, we ask; wasn’t Marcos an Upsilon alumnus?

Most Greek formations like Upsilon are seen to run under outdated, feudal principles, and therefore pose danger to the society around them, as their power and influence can be potentially used to oppress and discriminate against certain groups of people. Their actions while in the fraternity as students endanger the safety of the university, and their members could soon endanger society as they exit campus walls.

The actions of one group, or even several, should not be seen as the predominant culture that exists in these types of groups. Upsilon’s behavior is enough cause for suspicion about other fraternities – how they are run, their influence, and the attitudes of their supposedly high-standing members – and is enough cause for concern to abolish these Greek formations entirely.

Superfluous in nature and extrinsically disruptive, these groups have had enough of being seen as a source of power and influence in the upper echelons of society. If these groups prove themselves to be progressive in their stance and in their internal attitudes, then they can continue to run – but not with the tension of being called a ‘fraternity,’ which in the colloquial mindset misconstrues their intention and clouds it up in a fog of violent imagery and perception.

We call on the abolition of organizations that seek to gather blood to splatter. We believe in junking groups that perpetuate violence, harassment, discrimination, and unfair power-grabbing. We challenge organizations and student groups to prove themselves to be righteous in their existence through the providence of the highest transparency and accountability. We want misogyny, sexism, racism, and feudal culture within the campus and beyond gone.

Never again should a violent organization thrive in a safe, honest space such as UP. Never again should macho-feudal culture be the hegemony that students and society have to survive under.

And we should never forget the darkness that continues to be contained within Upsilon Sigma Phi, behind their supposed veil as light-scatterers. TNP

Note: Updated 10:38 PM, 22 November 2018 to include official statement from Upsilon

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