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Shared: In Practice: Dr. Google has mixed results –

In Practice: Dr. Google has mixed results –

Using the search engine can be a boon for physicians — if they do it right.

By Rahul K. Parikh, Special to the Los Angeles Times

August 23, 2010

During an otherwise unremarkable afternoon at the office, I was sitting at my desk plowing through paperwork when a colleague came knocking — and forever changed how I practice medicine.

“Hey, Rahul, what’s McMurray’s sign?” he asked.

It is said that a physician needs to carry some 2 million facts to practice medicine. Though I knew that McMurray’s sign had something to do with examining a patient’s knee, it was one of the 2 million facts that, like some tattered scraps of paper pushed to the back of a file cabinet, I had long since forgotten.

I shrugged and turned toward my bookshelf to pull down a decade-old volume of Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics. Somewhere in that tome was the definition of McMurray’s sign and how to elicit it on exam.

Just as I was reaching for the book, I had another idea. I turned back to my workstation, clicked on that little “e” to bring up my Internet browser and went to Google. I typed “McMurray’s sign” in the search box and hit “enter,” and up popped several links to YouTube videos. We clicked on one and, like two medical students learning the basics of our craft, watched the short mini-lecture that showed an instructor moving the knee joint to check for a positive McMurray’s sign. And with that, my colleague was off to try it on his own patient.

Eureka. No more pencils, no more books. With a computer and Google (sorry, Bing, statistics show that Google is where we go first and frequently) in your office and your exam rooms, it’s a whole new world — for better or worse.

Continue reading “Shared: In Practice: Dr. Google has mixed results –”


The New Secretary of Health

Dr. Enrique "Ike" Ona

A new Secretary of Health has been recently appointed by P-NOY, Dr. Enrique “Ike” T. Ona, former director of the renovated and refurbished National Kidney & Transplant Institute in Quezon City, a tertiary specialty PUBLIC hospital known as one of the leading kidney transplant centers in Asia.

Dr. Ona is quite unknown for the common people which probably explains the raising of eye brows of some when he was appointed by the adminsitration. Unlike the popular choice Dr. Jimmy Galvez-Tan (my own favorite, I really gladly thought it was him that P-NOY will choose), who’s really known for his uncanny ability to lead people (doctors, health care workers, and government officials) through his NGO and WHO work; connect with the masses through his various media appearances; and of course his previous achievements as past secretary of health, Dr. Ona’s own achievements have been unknown to most people.

Unfortunately, including me. I didn’t even know that he was one of the choices for the position until the news broke out this afternoon that he was already appointed. Dr. Ike is my brod in the Phi Kappa Mu, and I’ve met him only about twice during my undergrad years, so I didn’t get the chance to really get to know him. I only knew him as the topnotch Transplant Surgeon brod who headed the NKTI and brought it up from the ashes (literally and figuratively!).

That’s all about him that I knew until I saw this write-up from the graduation souvernir programme of UPCM Class 2008. He was their graduation speaker.

I’d like to share this with you so you could also get a glimpse of who Dr. Ike is. Remember that this was NOT written by me (but by Dr. Chay Sanchez of UPCM 2008). Also, it is not my intention to justify his being chosen through this write-up.

The post of the DOH secretary plays a vital role in the transformation that P-Noy wants to happen (or that all Filipinos want to feel, for that matter). The Secretary should be able to lead and implement projects, programs and laws concerning health which, for the past administrations, has not been given much emphasis or support. Who wants to run a country with an unhealthy population? I guess no one. We’re taught in the UPCM that health is a basic human right, not a commodity that only those who can afford avail. The DOH secretary should, at least, be able to uphold this assertion, as we say it in the hospital, WITHOUT FAIL!

I know Dr. Ike did an awesome job at NKTI, transforming it into the best transplant hub in the Philippines and in SEA, but no one can really tell if he can do an equally awesome job in transforming the DOH or the Philippine health care delivery system, or health education, or the national health insurance program.

But here are some points that, in my opinion, can justify why he can do great things in DOH:

  1. Leadership skills-wise, he’s been part of the government system as Director of NKTI for many years, and NKTI is under the system of DOH. He knows the ins and outs of government service. He even transformed the way NKTI procures/manages their funds such that it now becomes a self-sustaining government hospital (wonders when can PGH do this also…)
  2. He graduated from UPCM. ‘Nuff said. Takot na lang niya sa mga alumni kung may gawin siyang kalokohan.
  3. He’s Phi, and definitely a man of integrity, honor and justice.

So with that I offer my unwavering support for the NEW Secretary of Health, Dr. Enrique T. Ona, Φ ’57, UPCM ’62! Please steer the health care system of the Philippines to greater heights!

Dr. Enrique T. Ona
by Dr. Chay Sanchez, UPCM Class 2008

It has been a tradition to ask one accomplished personality in the field of medicine to inspire each year’s graduates as they start their journey. This year, the UP College of Medicine Class 2008 chose Dr. Enrique Ona, undoubtedly one of the Philippines’ best in the field of vascular and organ transplantation surgery, to share his experiences and thoughts about learning, living and loving the life of a physician.

A native of Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Dr. Ona graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in 1962. After passing the licensure exam for physicians, he decided not to join the clamor for the very limited residency slots in the Department of Surgery of Philippine General hospital, which were then seemingly reserved only for the top graduates and the “anak ng Diyos.”

Instead, he took his residency training in surgery at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, earning himself the position of chief resident and later obtaining fellowship degrees in surgery and experimental surgery in Boston and New York.

Training with other doctors from prestigious medical schools such as harvard, Dr. Ona realized that he was actually at par with them. “Kaya ko rin pala ang mga ginagawa nila,” he humbly thought to himself. It was then that he decided to train further as a Colombo Scholar in Organ transplantation at Cambridge University in England.

Realizing his social responsibility as a UP graduate, Dr. Ona came back to the Philippines to pioneer in what was then lacking in the country – organ transplantation.

Thus began his enviable record as a leader in his profession. He organized medical congresses and symposia, became an active member of international medical organizations and even had time for research. In 1979, he was recognized as the Outstanding Filipino Physician for Medicine.

One of the highlights of his career was his revolutionary work as the executive Director of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. Believing that quality training, service and research are all possible if done systematically and with passion, Dr. Ona transformed the NKTI from being a fire-ravaged hospital into a modern, state-of-art health institution in just nine months. He established the most modern hemodialysis center in Southeast Asia and a word-class laboratory for hematology and oncology. Under Dr. Ona’s leadership, NKTI developed strategic planning processes for procuring funds to be used in the institution’s advancement. Indeed, much of what the NKTI is at present can be credited to his genius.

Despite his hectic schedule, Dr. Ona has not forgotten his alma mater. He is president of UPCM Class 1962, who have recently donated to the college a Students Lounge, where students may conduct meetings and practices, or simply, study. He is also a member of the Most Venerable Fraternity of the UP College of Medicine, the Phi Kappa Mu.

Dr. Enrique Ona is the husband of associate professor and hematologist Dr. Norma Ona. They have four children.

*taken from the Souvenir Programme of the 99th Commencement Exercises of the UP College of Medicine, May 18, 2008.

Saw this article from Yahoo news. It has snippets of PNoy justifying his choices for his cabinet members. Here’s what he said about Dr. Ona:

Health: Director of NKTI, Enrique T. Ona.

“In our interview we saw in him the potential to become a complete alter-ego, especially given the fact that health agenda is No. 3 on our platform. And he has been given instructions specifically with regard to expediting universal coverage of PhilHealth, one of our campaign promises,” said Aquino.

No. 3 pala ha. Tignan natin. 🙂

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Patience with patients (From Youngblood, Inquirer)


Friends, family, alumni, Co-interns, young clerks and ICCs, read on. This article by Chara really sums up the realities, kahit na medyo masama minsan, of being an Intern/Clerk in PGH. Hay…

Patience with patients
By Charisse Hanne Te
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:35:00 05/09/2009

Filed Under: Healthcare Providers

Earlier this evening, I was walking along Padre Faura Street in Manila on my way home to the humble apartment where I have been living for the last six years. It was not an unusual night. There were many shoppers rushing home after spending the day at the mall. I saw resident doctors and a couple of fellow medical students either walking home or walking to the hospital, which really did not matter because they all looked tired and weary. The street was filled with cars and jeepneys tailing each other closely and honking every time the vehicle in front stopped.

As I was approaching the part of Padre Faura fronting the Outpatient Department of the Philippine General Hospital, I noticed the all-too-familiar huddle of patients camped outside the hospital gate. Most of the time, I would catch them sleeping on the empty boxes they had spread on the ground to temper the coolness of the hard ground. This time, I came upon them as they were eating supper and preparing for bed. I saw a couple of men and women, who looked to be at least 70 years old, bundled up in their knitted hats and sweaters, eating the dinner they had brought with them. As my eyes scanned these faces, the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood up, giving me a tingling feeling that reached my fingertips.

These are our patients. Here are the people who patiently wait in countless lines just to be able to tell their doctors about their dry throats, backaches or the queasy, indescribable, bad feeling they have been having lately. These are the patients whom we sometimes end up scolding after we have to repeat the same question several times because they cannot give us the straightforward answer we expect.

As doctors at the Philippine General Hospital, we try desperately to be kind, sympathetic and extremely patient with them despite the many hurdles we encounter every day: the far-from-ideal patient load, the severe lack of supplies, the extreme poverty which comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. But even the most patient doctor has his limits, the breaking point, which when reached, causes us to snap at an uncooperative or agitated patient.

Definitely we are not proud of this. Nobody encourages us to react this way. Early in our medical education, we were taught time and time again that we should never become hardened and numb. But despite our many personal promises and resolutions, we always end up doing what we shouldn’t do. It could be because of a mother in labor seems to move too slowly. Or because another mother cries uselessly instead of pushing her baby out. Or because a son in the Emergency Room Triage pesters us to admit his unwell, though relatively stable, mother amid a sea of patients needing urgent attention. Or because a disoriented watcher cannot find a stretcher for his patient. Or because a man has allowed his mass to get so huge that you cannot imagine how he could have endured it for five long years. Or because a stubborn patient does not understand the meaning of maintenance medication. Or because a woman simply replies “siguro” or “medyo” to all our questions instead of giving categorical answers.

Whether it is because the supply of alcohol, cotton or linens has run out; or there’s a sign on the door that says, “Interns proceed to the bathroom behind the stock room” as if we were dirty, lowly people who were not worthy of using the toilet at the nurses’ station; or we are forced to push the heavy stretcher beds and oxygen tanks around the hospital as if we were born to do such work; or we have not slept in more than 48 hours; or somebody has made the scary observation that our ankles are swollen from all the running, pushing and crouching—somehow, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, we do reach that point when we become irritable, seemingly less sympathetic and harsh to our patients.

After observing that scene outside the OPD this evening, I realized that stress and pressure sometimes cause us to snap, it is during such hellish moments, more than ever, that we should remember that our patients entrust their health, and their lives to us, that they spend the night on a dirty, cockroach-laden Manila street just to be able to see us in the clinic the next day and that the last thing they want to hear is a surly employee telling them, “Sorry, puno na ang slot. Hindi na kayo umabot sa quota. Balik na lang kayo bukas.”

I am not the nicest, kindest and most patient intern. I have my own moments of impatience and irritation. But it is unforgivable to just acknowledge this and say, “Hey, this is PGH,” as if that explains everything. We owe it to our patients to always try—and try even harder—to be more patient, understanding and sympathetic, like every doctor should be.

(Charisse Hanne T. Te, 23, is a medical intern at the Philippine General Hospital.)

UP 100

Friends, fellow UP students and alumni (uma-alumnus na o!) hahaha. Got this from an email. Worth reading and writing naman. Read on…

Fellow UP Alumnus:
Greetings of peace!, one of the flagship online projects of the Vibal Foundation, is building UP 100, a WikiPilipinas special portal about the University of the Philippines (UP). This project is the contribution of the Vibal Foundation and in celebrating the centennary of the establishment of the Philippines ’ premier institution of higher learning.
UP 100 aims to provide a comprehensive body of information and knowledge on UP institutions, alumni, faculty members, students, organizations, and ideas unique to the university. This organized collection of articles will showcase the best of UP as an institution of learning, an instrument of social change in the country, and – just like the Oblation – a symbol of selfless dedication and service to the nation. More importantly, UP 100 aims to inspire all Filipinos, UP alumni or otherwise, to make excellence the cornerstone of their lives and to use their talent and capabilities to serve their country and their fellow Filipinos.
In this regard, the WikiPilipinas editors and staff are inviting all UP alumni to participate in this worthwhile endeavor and celebration by contributing articles about UP. Log-on to and click on the UP 100 icon to view the special portal as well as the outline of suggested UP topics that you can work on.
Thank you very much for your time. Let us join hands in this shared and collaborative enterprise to tell the special story of our alma mater heading towards its second century of meaningful existence grounded on excellence and service.
Respectfully yours,
Vibal Foundation and WikiPilipinas Team

Brothers as keepers: Fraternities as service organizations

Another article from the UP Forum about Phi Kappa Mu’s service activities as well as other UP fraternities who share the same ideal.

Brothers as keepers: Fraternities as service organizations
Alicor L. Panao

When not doing the rounds in the hospital, members of a medical fraternity in UP Manila spend their free time building wheelchairs for poor people with disabilities. Somewhere in UP Diliman, a business fraternity teaches basic stock market analysis and gives free entrepreneurship seminars to students. Meanwhile, in one of Gawad Kalinga’s adopted sites, more than a hundred fraternity members from around twelve different fraternities join hands together to build houses for the poor.

These rarely find their way into the newspaper pages. But these young men are out to show that the negative image in the public is not all there is to fraternities.

“It’s quite unfortunate that people seem to always equate fraternities with violence when in fact some of these organizations have been doing a lot of good things for a long time,” says Roland Joseph Tan, a senior at the UP College of Medicine and superior exemplar of the Phi Kappa Mu fraternity. Phi is one of the two recognized medical fraternities in the UP College of Medicine (the other is Mu Sigma Phi). Tan and his brothers at Phi spend their time putting together hundreds of wheelchairs that they distribute for free to persons with disabilities. The program started soon after US-based Phi alumni forged a partnership with the Free Wheelchair Mission, a US non-profit Christian organization that gives out free wheelchairs to poor people in various countries. Phi receives the wheelchair parts in bulk, coordinates with the customs bureau to facilitate their shipment, assembles them, then distributes them to beneficiaries through social service institutions such as the Manila City government, the Philippine National Red Cross, the Philippine College of Surgeons, non-government organizations, hospitals and charity houses. “If everything turns out fine, we plan to do this as a continuing project,” Tan says.

But wheelchair distribution is only one of the activities that have been keeping these future physicians busy. Through its service arm, Pagkalinga sa Kalusugan ng Mamamayan (Pagkalma), the frat members and alumni volunteer time, effort and resources in medical missions and community assistance projects in far flung communities all over the country. They have also been doing volunteer service to programs like the annual “Operation Gift of Smile” in Palawan. Volunteer doctors do free surgery to children with cleft lip and palate problems, as well as in a number of livelihood and community projects in other provinces. At the PGH where Phi residents do internships, they sponsor the Operating Room Assistance (Opera) program which provides antibiotics and other surgical materials to social service patients who cannot afford the fixed P1,500 pre-operation expense that even indigent patients must pay.

Service organizations
But Phi is not the only fraternity getting its hands dirty, so to speak.

A few months ago, about a hundred members from eleven UP-based fraternities picked shovels and built homes for the poor beneficiaries of the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Iskolar ng Bayan Village in Quezon City.

Gawad Kalinga (GK), a community development foundation originally started by members of a Catholic lay community (Couples for Christ), helps the poor regain not only their faith in God but their self-worth by encouraging them to literally rebuild their houses as the first step in becoming self-sufficient. GK, however, is not a charity organization and does not do dole-outs. Beneficiaries must agree to undergo a 13-week values formation course, provide sweat-equity by building their own homes and the homes of their neighbors, and abide by the rules of the “kapitbahayan” or community association that they establish in their GK village. As a community association, the beneficiaries are responsible for the cleanliness, peace, order and upkeep of their GK village. Currently, GK is a growing multi-sectoral partnership of various international and national sponsors.

“We brought fraternities to the GK site as teams but not after agreeing in a memorandum that hostile acts shall be avoided before, during, and after the project,” explains Upsilon Sigma Phi senior resident Eric Pasion. “Fortunately, no untoward incident occurred and for the first time I witnessed frat members actually working together.”

Upsilon Sigma Phi is the country’s oldest fraternity and the first to venture into a partnership with the GK. The partnership involves the identification of possible sites for its housing projects, the selection of beneficiaries, and resource generation schemes for the construction of houses, funding for livelihood programs, and support for capacity building.

The fraternity was also instrumental in institutionalizing GK’s partnership with the University of the Philippines. A Memorandum of Agreement between the Upsilon and GK was signed on August 23, 2005 witnessed by UP President Emerlinda R. Roman. In a September 2005 UP Newsletter article, Roman applauded the fraternity’s initiative to go “beyond UP and [reach] out to help alleviate problems that plague most Filipinos”. Currently, more than 30 organizations and fraternities have signed MOAs with GK.

“But it wasn’t always this smooth,” says Pasion, who coordinates the GK project for his fraternity. People were apprehensive at first and it did not help that a fraternity was taking the initiative. The negative preconceptions people had about Greek-letter societies already defeated the noble intention. Pasion, then a member of the University Student Council, had to rely on personal contacts and acquaintances from fraternities and organizations with which there were existing tie-ups. Membership surged almost expectedly when the Upsilon-GK partnership was renamed into “UP Gawad Kalinga.” At present, the UPGK stands as a separate organization accredited by the Office of Student Affairs.

Nevertheless, Upsilon never ceased to work actively in the background. “It is enough for us to be able to contribute silently by funding some of the projects, and occasionally providing manpower and moral guidance,” Pasion says. In the beginning, most UPGK officers were from the fraternity. But now, almost half are Youth For Christ (YFC) members. Pasion believes the change was good because it “toned down” UPGK’s image as a frat initiative and encouraged more partners who might have been biased against frats to participate.

Small ripples
Some fraternities, however, like to keep a low profile. Pan Xenia, based in the UP College of Business Administration, for instance, prefers small but client-focused programs. “Right now we concentrate mostly on giving seminars, lectures and training conducted by industry experts and alumni members on such topics as investment, business ethics, and entrepreneurship,” says Gabriel Limson, the governor of Pan Xenia. Sometimes the fraternity also sponsors university-wide fora on relevant national issues. But the much-anticipated Stock Wars remains the most popular of Pan Xenia’s annual events. A stock market simulation game, Stock Wars is pretty much like a simplified version of what traders actually do at the fund market. Contestants invest a hypothetical amount in stocks and mutual funds and compete for the best portfolio. “The point is for the ideals and good intentions to remain, even if they are usually too small to attract notice,” says Limson.

Pan Xenia is Latin for “all embracing.” Members dedicate themselves “to the promotion of interest in foreign trade, and the establishment of higher standards and ideals of business ethics.” It counts among its most notable alumni House speaker Manuel Villar and former UP President Francisco Nemenzo.

However, as it is a business fraternity, Pan Xenia’s recruitment is very exclusive. “While non-business majors do get admitted, the majority have to be CBA students.” Limson himself took math as an undergraduate degree and now teaches at the UP Department of Mathematics.

But Limson does not deny their limited membership sometimes prevents them from embarking on large-scale activities that require larger manpower. There are only about twenty Pan Xenia residents every year and recruitment remains very selective. “Nevertheless, we still prefer quality over quantity,” he maintains. “The fact that we are small is in itself an assurance that we will never engage in hostile behavior against other fraternities or in violent initiation activities that would scare away potential recruits.”

Pan Xenia has never been known to engage in rumbles or fatal hazings. “I am sure though that there are other fraternities with records that are just as clean,” Limson points out. “But as far as we are concerned, all I can say is that we do not violate any laws and try to keep a low profile.”

Limson is silent on whether or not the fraternity has totally abandoned hazing. He says there is hardly any organization that does not have certain rites of passage for new members. Even indigenous societies have initiation rites—sometimes accompanied by excruciating ordeals—to officially mark the entrance of an individual into active adult life. In UP, on the other hand, the application process for an aspirant typically culminates in initiation activites that range from tests of mental and physical endurance to public humiliation.

“But frankly, when you invite potential members, the first thing they want to be assured of is that they will not get hurt,” Limson points out. And with Pan Xenia’s reputation, recruitment should not be a problem. “However, we want people to join not because of what they hear, but because they believe in our alumni and they believe that the fraternity and its network will be beneficial for them in the long run.”

Peaceful alternative
Fraternities are prestigious organizations but students who want to get in are also motivated by post-graduation benefits, such as alumni connections in business and industry. It is also for this reason that they are willing to endure an admission process rooted in long-held traditions, many of which have become obsolete.

According to Pasion, the need to introduce gradual reforms is the reason why Upsilon was so keen about partnering with GK. Upsilon’s former alumni president Danny Gozo felt the need to redefine the initiation rituals that fraternities have become notorious for. “His idea was for residents to have an alternative to the traditional initiation process and to inculcate to members what brotherhood and service really mean.” GK’s concept of leadership, Pasion explains, is quite different. “At GK, the community head will be the last person to get a house. Now that is really selfless service.”

This does not mean, of course, that neophytes will no longer have to endure the hardship of initiation. “Only this time, they will experience it by rendering selfless service to the community,” he says.

This is part of current efforts within the fraternity to do away with the traditional concept of initiation which may have lost its true purpose with the changes taking place in the larger society. The paddle for instance, according to Pasion, originally represented the staff or cane which signified the status of those in authority. Long ago, a neophyte was hit with this staff as a ceremonial gesture of driving away evil spirits and cleansing him prior to his entry into the brotherhood. Through the years, however, it has become a test of strength, endurance, and determination, completely missing out on its original intention.

“The alumni saw this transformation through the years and felt guilty about not being able to do something about it,” says Pasion. “When I become a parent, I don’t think I would want my son to undergo the same ordeal I went through.”

Upsilon even encourages recruits to inform their parents and explain to them what the fraternity is, what it does, and how initiation is conducted.

Paradigm shift
Tan could not agree more. “Since parents tend to be the first to discourage students from joining, it is important to be transparent early on.” And even though parents may not be convinced at first, some eventually have a change of heart after hearing or reading in the news about the fraternity’s community projects.

But more importantly, adds Limson, students themselves should exercise prudence for they alone can tell whether or not a fraternity will be able to provide the ends they seek. “Some people tend to look down on those who join fraternities just because they want to take advantage of the alumni connections. But what is wrong with that? That is reality,” he says. The important thing is for the student to be aware of what he is getting himself into.

Nevertheless, members need not wait till they graduate to take advantage of what their fraternities—or organizations, for that matter—have to offer. All UP students are expected to come to the University to study and earn their degrees. But these narrow criteria are hardly enough to define an educated person. Organizations allow a student to associate, interact with others, find role models and guidance from alumni, deal firsthand with ambition and apathy, and learn from the experiences, values and abilities of peers.

“Come to think of it, once we become full-fledged doctors, we will not be confined to practicing medicine alone. Fortunately, the fraternity has taught me what it is like to handle events, manage people, deal with the media and government officials, and even work in partnership with other fraternities,” says Tan. More importantly, he says, the fraternity has opened his eyes to the socio-economic realities ailing the country’s health system.

For Pasion, being in the fraternity itself is a lesson in leadership. “They say that to become an effective leader, one must understand humility. But what could be more humbling than being face to face with poverty?”

What is the legacy of Greek-letter societies? – UP Forum

An good article in the UP Forum explianing the relevance, still, of greek-lettered societies. Some PHI brods were mentioned and quoted. Wala lang.

What is the legacy of Greek-letter societies?
Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

In the initiation rites of one well-known brotherhood, a neophyte is brought into a dark room lit by a single candle. There, he is asked a series of questions and oriented toward the aims of the brotherhood, then compelled to undergo ordeals to test his loyalty. At the end of these rites, the neophyte is brought to a table upon which lie a sheet of paper and a bolo. There, he swears an oath in the name of God and country to defend the aims of the brotherhood and signs his name in blood.

This is the initiation rite of the Kataastaasan Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or the Katipunan, as recounted by Reynaldo C. Ileto in his The Diorama Experience: A Visual History of the Philippines. From the first initiation rites held in 1892, membership into this brotherhood soon grew to the tens of thousands, until the cumbersome ritual—replete with symbols taken from the traditions of Freemasonry—had to be streamlined into a simple oath-taking ceremony. The secrets of this brotherhood eventually came to light after the Katipunan was betrayed to Spanish authorities, sparking the revolution that would shape our nation’s destiny.

Today, the tide of public opinion seems to have turned against such organizations, with their shroud of secrecy and exclusivity, and their willingness to shed blood—not necessarily their own—in the name of brotherhood. Earlier in the year, UP Public Administration student Cris Anthony Mendez became the latest name in the list of victims of fraternity-related violence and the public’s rallying cry against Greek-letter societies in general. In the subsequent storm of negative publicity for both the UP College of Law-based fraternity Sigma Rho and the University itself, the questions once again arise: Do fraternities and sororities still have a place in society today? Is brotherhood still worth the price of a life?

At first glance, there appears to be no common ground between the Katipunan and the fraternities under fire today. Their circumstances and the context of their formation are completely different. But Agerico M. de Villa, Associate Professor of the UP Department of Philosophy, begs to differ. He asserts that not only are fraternities, sororities and other similar organizations necessary in developing Filipino society, but they are also inevitable products of UP’s brand of liberal education. The explanation, he says, lies in the answer to a question that occasionally crops up when dealing with fraternities: Why the Greek-letter names anyway?

For this, he says, we need to go back even further. Specifically, to around 600 BC, the time when the ancient Greeks invented two things that were to become the bedrock of the entire Western civilization: democracy and philosophy.

The wisdom of the ancients
“Before the concepts of democracy and philosophy became known, people believed that their lives could only change by a miracle,” says de Villa. “In other words, our destinies were believed to be in the hands of the gods and the deities.” The ancient gods constantly asserted their will upon human beings, often through the intervention and mediation of the ruling kings, emperors and high priests, the gods’ chosen people. Many aspects of a person’s life—from the naming of a child to the time of planting and harvesting—hung on the word of the deities. Those seeking the favor of the gods would occasionally sacrifice chickens or cattle; in extreme cases, the sacrifice of human prisoners or children was required to please the gods. “Everybody believed that they could not live their lives independent of these gods. If someone made the mistake of saying they could act independently of the gods, they would be lucky not to be buried alive.”

Then, through a string of happy historical coincidences, the concepts of democracy and philosophy began to develop in ancient Greece. After the fall of the Mycenaean civilization, there was a need for the remaining Greek states to establish new political and economic structures. Since the land was not conducive to agriculture, people turned to trade, giving rise to a merchant class. Lacking any strong fervor for any religion, there arose instead a kind of civil religion. The monarchies were replaced with city-states, and in Athens, Solon’s reforms established a democratic form of government. The tradition of democracy, along with the practice of debating every point in a discussion, continued for several generations, until the habit of asking questions, using logic and looking at all sides of an issue became second nature to the Greeks.

This curious mindset soon traveled to Persia and through Persia, the rest of the world. “The Greek mindset is open to possibilities,” says de Villa. “They were accustomed to debating and asking questions. They were the first to ask what the universe is made of and what the nature of matter is. Is it any wonder that the Greeks are the ones who invented physics, biology, geometry—the same subjects you still study to this day?” Through the use of science and mathematics, the Greeks developed the technology and infrastructure, including irrigation systems, bridges, highways, even plumbing and sewerage systems, that enabled them to surpass the civilizations in Egypt, Persia and China in a relatively short time. “It was the Greeks who first said that through our own efforts, our capacity to reason, to be inventive and to be innovative, we can control our own destinies independent of any gods and deities.”

Whom God favors
This mindset, according to de Villa, held sway until the reign of the Roman Empire, only to be lost during the Early Medieval period around 400 AD. “Until the Renaissance period, there was a return to the attitude of pre-philosophical times—that human lives are controlled by the gods. In this case, by the God ascribed by the Catholic Church.” During this period, people were to be concerned only with the state of their souls, and any intellectual endeavor that dissented from the Church’s worldview was met with swift, painful and often fatal retribution.

“Nowadays, if you’re raking in money, people will assume you’re into information technology,” says de Villa. “In the time of the Romans, you were a general. During the medieval period, you were either a monarch or a priest.” With the Church controlling the purse strings, coupled with its preoccupation with the building of churches, chapels and cathedrals—structures that will show that man is a superior, creative being made in the image of God—the biggest business of the time was construction. These included painting, sculpting, window-making and, of course, masonry.

After the Crusades, the knowledge of the ancient Greeks began trickling back into Europe through the Crusaders’ and later the merchant classes’ contact with Muslim intellectuals who had kept the writings of the Greeks intact. With this knowledge came scientific concepts, including mathematics, alchemy and physics, that would enable a painter to mix better paints and a mason to create better building materials. “They needed to study the ancient texts of the Greeks in order to improve in their craft. The problem was, anybody caught reading such texts were burned at the stake as heretics, and their books burned with them. So what could they do?”

The guilds and the Freemasons
Hence the birth of the fraternity known as Freemasonry, although there are many other factors leading to the formation of this prominent society, whose true origins are obscured by legends. “Many authenticated historical documents establish that during the Middle Ages there existed bodies of the Masons who built the cathedrals and other public buildings of those centuries,” writes Emmet McLoughlin. “They were called Free and Accepted Masons. Those working at their trade were called ‘operative’ Masons. This designation covered many crafts besides stonemasons, such as carpenters and even tailors. Others—burghers, noblemen and even kings—were gradually initiated into the lodges as ‘speculative’ Masons…”

Concurrent with these were the formation of secret guilds by the merchants. In the centuries that followed, these societies and their members became the guardians and proponents of the ancient knowledge that became the driving force behind the development of Western civilization, knowledge that would otherwise have been lost to the blind ignorance of the masses and the unthinking arrogance of the powers who believed in their divine right to rule.

“The use of Greek letters in the names of fraternities is no accident. Through fraternities, the lessons of the ancient Greeks—that man can control his own destiny through the use of his own powers of reasoning, innovativeness and inventiveness—are kept alive for the rest of civilization,” says de Villa. This practice is rooted in the ancestry of fraternities and sororities and other like-minded organizations. As scholar Manly P. Hall writes: “The ancient philosophers believed that no man could live intelligently who did not have a fundamental knowledge of Nature and her laws. Before man can obey, he must understand…They taught man to use his faculties more intelligently, to be patient in the face of adversity, to be courageous when confronted by danger, to be true in the midst of temptation, and, most of all, to view a worthy life as the most acceptable sacrifice to God, and his body as an altar sacred to the Deity.”

During the Renaissance, more and more people gained access to the writings of the ancient Greeks, spurring a new age of scientific inquiry and humanistic philosophy that eventually led to the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment and the end to the absolute reign of monarchs. The impetus toward “liberty, equality and fraternity” manifested in the American and French revolutions, which gave power to the republic through government parliaments. In time, these ideas reached across the oceans to other parts of the world, including a small Spanish colony in the Far East, and were eagerly studied by the intellectuals and reformers there. “Jose Rizal’s idea of a united Philippine archipelago in La Liga Filipina was based on the confederation of ancient Greek states,” says de Villa. “His writings inspired two other Filipino philosophers—Emilio Jacinto and Apolinario Mabini—and in their own writings you can read traces of the mindset of the Greeks, which is precisely what Greek-letter fraternities are supposed to stand for.”

Pinoy fatalism
Then, as now, Filipino thinkers saw the need for a systemic shift in the attitudes of the people in order to enact truly effective change. De Villa points to the icons of Philippine society today, which include such apparently disparate things and persons as the EDSA Shrine, Cory Aquino, Cardinal Sin, Erap Estrada, Mike Velarde, Robert Jaworski and Nora Aunor in the fairly recent past. All these have one thing in common. “They represent the belief of the Filipino that their lives can only change by the stroke of a miracle,” de Villa observes. The lives of Estrada, the perceived bad boy from the slums, and Aquino, the widowed housewife—both of whom managed to become president—have taken on the patina of rags-to-riches, favored-by-the-gods legend, to say nothing of superstars such as Aunor and Jaworski. Even the 1986 overthrow of a dictatorship is proudly touted as an act of God. “A Chinese person with money problems makes plastic yoyos to sell on the street. A Filipino with money problems crawls on his knees in the churches of Baclaran and Antipolo, then goes out to buy a lotto ticket or bet on jueteng. This pre-philosophic mindset is precisely what Rizal, Jacinto and Mabini sought to change.”

As a fraternity, the Katipunan had three goals: to free the Philippines from the yoke of Spain, to teach good manners and good morals and eradicate obscurantism, religious fanaticism and weakness of character, and to promote civic cooperation and support of the poor and defenseless in particular. These goals were immortalized in Jacinto’s Kartilya ng Katipunan and Mabini’s Dekalogo. Unfortunately, things did not go as the original Katipunaneros had planned.

“Most Filipinos believe that their leaders should be like the feudal kings,” says de Villa. “When you died, your king spent for your burial. When you got sick, your king had you cured. When you got married, your king provided for you.” After more than three hundred years of the Catholic Church’s rule, this belief that people are essentially helpless before the fates and must be led by the hand by God’s chosen “kings” has become deeply entrenched—a trait the Philippines shares with other former colonies in South America. “Emilio Aguinaldo, when he became president of the Republic, had a kind of throne constructed on the second floor of his house in Cavite. Behind this throne was a map of the Philippines. He had failed to understand the underlying philosophy in Mabini’s and Jacinto’s writings. Aguinaldo represents the typical Filipino.” The Filipino intelligentsia, according to de Villa, do not.

Philosophia Bios Kybernethes
The revolution against Spain and the war against the new colonizers later had left the Filipino intelligentsia, an embattled group of thinkers, orphaned. Then in 1908, a new kind of university was founded, created in the image of the universities in America, the birthplace of the first Greek-letter organization. According to various fraternity and sorority websites in the Internet, the first Greek-letter organization, Phi Beta Kappa, was organized almost immediately after the birth of the American Republic in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. During its meetings, its members discussed the pressing issues of the day, creating a need for secrecy to avoid discovery by disapproving school authorities. As one of its founders was a Greek scholar, the Phi Beta Kappa adopted a secret grip, ritual and the use of Greek letters, a practice adopted by subsequent fraternities and sororities. During the anti-secret movements in the 1830s, Phi Beta Kappa revealed its secret Greek name, Philosophia Bios Kybernethes, or “Philosophy (is the) guide to life.” Phi Beta Kappa still exists to this day as a scholastic honor society.

“America is a creation of Western civilization, the civilization founded on the wisdom and principles of the ancient Greeks.” According to de Villa, many of those who drafted the US Constitution were Freemasons after all, as were many of the members of the Malolos Congress who drafted the Philippines’ first Constitution. So it is no surprise that, given its ancestry, the intellectuals of the Philippine revolution have found a new home in the University of the Philippines.

“This is why it is at UP that the first Greek-letter organizations in the Philippines were founded,” de Villa says. “UP is a fertile ground for such organizations precisely because of the nature of the UP education.” As a bastion of democracy and philosophy, UP has ingrained in its students and faculty the habit of using their reasoning, inventiveness and innovativeness. “Here in UP, we are willing to fight for our academic freedom. We are willing to die for it; sometimes we will even kill for it. But we will never tell you we can never be wrong.” Fraternities, sororities and similar organizations flourish in this kind of environment. Professor De Villa will go so far as to say that preventing people from forming such organizations in UP would be practically impossible.

It is true that there are far fewer intellectuals willing to teach and serve than there are people languishing in ignorance, but according to de Villa, as long as the ideals are kept alive by the Filipino intelligentsia, our country still has a chance.

The price of brotherhood
Over the decades, fewer and fewer fraternity members are taught the real roots of their organization. The usual enticements for joining a fraternity nowadays include gaining a place in a kind of snob society and the promise of a social network that would secure one’s future career—things that do not exactly lead to the ennobling of the human spirit. In the public mind, fraternities have been equated with brawling street gangs, regardless of whether they are based in UP or not. Joining a fraternity has become a game of Russian roulette, and the names of those who have lost have fed media frenzies for years.

According to the GMA News Research team, those who have died due to hazing include Gonzalo Mariano Albert of Upsilon Sigma Phi in 1954; Ferdinand Tabtab of Alpha Phi Omega in 1967; Arbel Liwag in 1984; Joselito Hernandez of Scintilla Juris in 1992; Mark Roland Martin of Epsilon Chi in 1995; Alexander Miguel Icasiano of Alpha Phi Beta in 1998; Marlon Villanueva of Alpha Phi Omega in 2006; and Cris Anthony Mendez of Sigma Rho in 2007. Those who have been killed in rumbles include Rolando Perez of Upsilon Sigma Phi in 1969; Rolando Abad of Alpha Phi Omega in 1977; Dennis Venturina of Sigma Rho in 1994; and Den Daniel Reyes of Alpha Phi Beta in 2000. Even non-members are not spared: The only time Niño Calinao was involved with a fraternity was when he was mistaken for a member of Scintilla Juris and gunned down in 1999. If fraternities today are known only for their lethal initiation rites and violent rumbles, there is perhaps a good reason for it.

Every secret society since the dawn of time has had initiation rites, designed to protect the teachings of the society from the undeserving. Later, besides the need to protect the teachings, there was also the need for the society to be able to trust its members, especially during the period when not being able to trust even one of your brothers led to a scorching death for everyone concerned. “[The initiation rites of a group] boils down to this: You should be prepared to die so that others within the community will not die,” says de Villa. An initiate of old would be blindfolded, brought to the edge of a bridge and told to jump. A willingness to jump meant a willingness to sacrifice oneself rather than betray the brotherhood. Trust in your brothers, something an initiation rite is supposed to instill, can spell the difference between life and death.

Arguably, the circumstances today are far different. With freedom of association enshrined in the Constitution, there is no need for such secrecy. What happens instead during initiation is hazing, defined in the website as “any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate”.

Hazing is a problem in all organizations, not just Greek-letter societies, and is not limited to Philippine fraternities. In fact, journalist Hank Nuwer produced a book in 1990 entitled Wrongs of Passage based on his research on the deaths and injuries caused by hazing among college fraternities and organizations in the US.

There was a time when fraternity initiations weren’t always so harsh. Top fashion designer Jose “Pitoy” R. Moreno (BFA’51), an alumnus of the Upsilon Sigma Phi, recalls his own initiation period: “The master brought us to the Ideal movie theater in Avenida, where the film ‘The Unfinished Dance’ was being shown. After the movie, when the curtain came down over the screen, our master told us to climb up onstage, announce to the audience ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we will finish the unfinished dance!’ and perform ballet moves. We were chased off by the security guard.” Another time, his master brought him to a room in the Philippine General Hospital, where they had to enter via the window. The room housed several cadavers, one of which Moreno was forced to kiss.

Dr. Rodolfo L. Nitollama (BS’71), also an Upsilon alumnus and alumnus as well of the UP Medicine-based Phi Kappa Mu fraternity, relates: “The initiations in the Upsilon were known to be one of the longest and toughest among the UP frats. Due to the length of the recruitment period, a lot of neophytes eventually ‘quit’ and an unsavory stigma was usually reserved for these ‘quitters’.”

There are exceptions, though. “I quit every day,” Moreno recalls laughingly. “In Upsilon, if you get rejected just once, you’re out. I had 32 rejections.” That he actually managed to finish the initiation period was thanks to his being the youngest and smallest of his batch as well as the only Fine Arts recruit at the time, and to his protectors, who included Salvador Laurel and Gerry Roxas.

Engr. David M. Consunji (BSCE’46; LLD’93), Chairman of the Board of DM Consunji, Inc. and alumnus of the UP Engineering-based Beta Epsilon fraternity, remembers a brother who was made to roll a ten-centavo coin up the steps of a building using only his nose. “It took him all day. He ate there, slept there, went to the bathroom there.” Consunji himself had to count every single window in their building.

With regard to whether hazing is practiced in the fraternity, a Beta Epsilon alumnus who requested anonymity, says, “Lahat naman ng frats meron.”

For some fraternities—even the Phi Kappa Mu, Nitollama recalls—there was a certain amount of ceremonial paddling involved, but none were as brutal as the hazing that had allegedly killed Mendez, although Moreno still recalls the neophyte who died of a ruptured appendix, an incident that tossed Upsilon into the same hot water Sigma Rho is in today.

Rebels without a cause
Humiliating and arduous as the initiation rites were, casualties were rare. According to de Villa, the nature of fraternity initiation rites shifted toward the extremes during Martial Law in the 1970s. General Order No. 5 declared illegal any gathering of five persons or more, which forced all UP organizations, except the UP Student Catholic Action which was under the protection of Jaime Cardinal Sin, into retirement.

“Fraternities suddenly had a monopoly on student organizations. With such a huge market of potential members, each fraternity came up with its own gimmicks to entice membership.” One of these gimmicks is the now-famous Oblation Run of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. Others were far worse as fraternities competed with one another over which one was “better”; in fact, de Villa recalls incidents in the late 1970s of UP fratmen who kidnapped the son of a public official for ransom and ended up stabbing their victim to death, while other UP fratmen were charged with raping two girls and killing their boyfriends. The need for secrecy in order for a fraternity to slip through the net of Martial Law also played a part, although the excesses were equally caused by too many members, too much booze and narcotics, and too little control.

The rumbles and inter-fraternity wars are also part of the negative image of fraternities in general. Dr. Jesus U. Socrates (BS’69cl; MD’73), a member of the UP Medical Alumni Society in America and alumnus of Phi Kappa Mu, recalls: “As a college student in UP Diliman, I witnessed two fraternities hurling stones at each other in front of the Vinzon’s Hall. Some of my classmates proudly showed me their fresh third-degree intentional burns that marked them as fratmen. On my last Lantern Parade, Rolando Perez became a victim of a fraternity rumble—clubbed on the head to death with an iron pipe. I was in the fourth pavilion of the Arts and Science building when I heard the threatening voices of one frat group hunting down members of another, seeking vengeance. [Back then], there was no incentive for me to even think of joining a fraternity.”

Given all this, is it any wonder then that most non-frat people feel outrage at being called the barbarians by these groups? “During the medieval period, the term ‘barbarian,’ as opposed to the members of the secret brotherhood, meant the people who were only beginning to be introduced to civilization,” says de Villa. “Literal barbarians [were] those who didn’t know the unspoken rules of city life, rules established by men based on their capacity to reason” and form social contracts necessary to hold together a civilization. In that sense the term is obviously no longer appropriate today.

Whom the gods favor
“It’s disappointing how a kind of elitism has developed among our fraternities,” de Villa says. It is the same kind of elitism fostered by the Church and other organized religions, what he calls “the chosen people” syndrome.

Consunji phrases it more bluntly: “Filipinos are mahambog. It’s something our educational system has failed to cure. It’s always ‘we’re better than you,’ whether it’s between tribes, regional groups, professional associations or any other group.” Humility, he adds, is one other thing a fraternity is supposed to teach a young neophyte, beginning with the initiation period and lasting the rest of his life—to be humble enough to know that there are things you can learn from all your brothers, and things you can teach them in turn.

“This ‘chosen people’ syndrome among fraternities needs to be corrected,” de Villa says. “If fraternities forget their historical context, they will soon destroy one another. They will be so preoccupied with competing with one another that they will reach the point where the only thing they have in common is that they are all wrong.”

Not all is lost, however. There are still fraternities that remember their purpose. Oddly enough, certain college-specific fraternities such as the Beta Epsilon fare a little better perhaps due to their commitment to a particular craft, a throwback to the guilds of old. “A medical fraternity is unique compared to undergraduate fraternities,” Socrates adds. “It is a homogenous mixture of students as far as academic, extra-curricular and professional interests are concerned. What you look forward to in a medical fraternity is a college experience among brothers who are striving for the same goal to become the best physicians they can be.”

Consunji also recommends that the fraternities be managed well, a task that ought to be done by the university administration and the faculty advisers of each fraternity. “Young men have a lot of energy [that] the University can harness,” he says. “As of now, [they] are not being managed at all, which is why you have cases such as Mendez and Sigma Rho.”

De Villa believes that peace between fraternities is possible. More than possible, even. In his college days, he recalls regular get-togethers with friends from different fraternities—and De Villa himself an UPSCAn—in order to talk and play poker. These friends, even those members of fraternities that were constantly at each others’ throats, called each and everyone in that gathering ‘brod.’ He also remembers an inter-fraternity group in the 1970s called Tanglaw, founded by Clarence Agarao who became a human rights lawyer and was killed several years ago. Fraternity members of Tanglaw were Pi Omicron, Pi Rhoxie [sic], Upsilon Sigma Phi, Beta Sigma, Sigma Rho, Kappa Epsilon, and Alpha Phi Omega—a remarkable thing considering that some of these fraternities, such as Upsilon and Beta Sigma, were warring with each other back then.

Decades later, the spirit of Tanglaw continues in the UP Barkadahan, a golf group consisting of alumni of different UP fraternities who regularly hold tournaments and who address one another as “brod,” no matter what fraternity he came from. The UP Barkadahan is proof that the spirit of brotherhood can outlive the members’ life inside the University.

“[True brotherhood] can happen,” De Villa says. “I have actually seen it happen.”

Hall, Manly P. An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Research Philosophy (1977). Los Angeles: The Philosophical Research Society (21).

McLoughlin, Emmit. Introduction. A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (1970). By Arthur Edward Waite. New York: Wing Books (xxxiii, xxxiv).

Nuwer, Hank. Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing, and Binge Dinking. Bloomington, Indiana, USA: Indiana Univ Press, 1999.

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