How Fraternities started in the Philippines?

By Louie Blake S. Sarmiento
MA in Industrial/Organizational Psychology I

In all times and among all nations which have reached a sufficient level of cultural development, there have always been fraternal associations formed for higher purposes. The development of Fraternities can be traced from trade unions or guilds that emerged in England. These guilds were set up to protect and care for their members at a time when there was no welfare state, trade unions or National Health Service. Various secret signs and handshakes were created to serve as proof of their membership allowing them to visit guilds in distant places that are associated with the guild they belong.

However, many of these Guilds were suppressed starting the 16th Century. In major cities such as in London, some Guilds survived by adapting their roles to a social support function. Some of these groups evolved in the 1700’s into more philosophical organizations focused on brotherly love, charity and ethical living now known as a Fraternal Order or simply, a‘Fraternity’.

By the late 1700’s to early 1800’s, many of these Fraternal Order’s were transported to America by English immigrants. At that time, these groups served important social, philosophical and insurance purposes. Later, the concept of brotherhood was established in colleges. The first among these are the Flat Hat Club (1750) and P.D.A. Society (1773) focused on literary and scholarship. The oldest Greek-named fraternity is Phi Beta Kappa founded on December 5, 1776 but this fraternity do not have any chapter in the Philippines and also converted into an honor society rather than a social fraternity. By the mid-1800's, fraternal organizations flourished in America and established lodges (chapters) in different parts of the world.

In the Philippines, Spaniards and other colonizers established several Philosophical and Fraternal Societies in our country as early as 1850'sbut these chapters only admitted Spaniards or their own race and did not welcome the natives (Filipinos). In the book, History and Geography of the Philippine Islands (1908), author O.W. Coursey stated:

“The awakening of the Filipinos to a deep sense of injustice being practiced upon them by the colonizers was the introduction of 'fraternal' societies in the Islands, and to the influence of higher education obtained by those of means to schools of Hong-Kong and other old-world countries.”

The book mentioned that the Odd Fellows Brotherhood spread in the Philippines in 1872. The Freemason Brotherhood followed in 1877 brought by the Americans. The lodges (chapters) are also established mostly by military men assigned in Manila. Most members were basically American Military men and their allies who helped fought the Spanish-American war. The fraternity established their lodges (chapters) and held their meetings in naval and military base camps.

The first brotherhood to be founded by Filipinos is the Katipunan, short for Kataastaasang Kagalangalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Supreme and Venerable Society of the Sons of the People), which was founded by anti-Spanish Filipinos in Manila in 1892. The primary aim of the fraternity was to gain independence from Spain through revolution. As many of us know, the brotherhood already disbanded.

In 1899, the ties between Filipino and Americans was disrupted and the Filipino-American war emerged. When this war ended in 1902, fraternities started to rise again. Odd Fellows, Freemasons and even the Elks established lodges in Manila area.

Later, college fraternities began to form especially when American Education (philosophy) reached our shores. State Universities were the first to enjoy Fraternity Life, particularly in the University of the Philippines, when the first College Fraternity Rizal Center, a brotherhood of Jose Rizal followers and who viewed the hero in iconic fashion, was founded (This fraternity is already defunct). The first Filipino Greek Letter Fraternity, Upsilon Sigma Phi, was founded in 1918. This fraternity is now considered the oldest in Asia and continues to exist up until today but membership is exclusive only to UP Dilliman and UP Los Banos students. The oldest sorority in the Philippines is the UP Sigma Beta Sorority founded on February 14, 1932. Membership is exclusive only to UP Dilliman, UP Los Banos, UP Iloilo and UP Davao students.

The progress of fraternities was again interrupted when Japan occupied the Philippines in 1941. When the Filipino-American-Japanese war ended in 1944, Philippine fraternities started to rise up again and many Filipinos started setting up their own fraternities and sororities.

The peak of fraternalism in the Philippines was probably in the 1950's to 1990's when many fraternities where founded. Several American fraternities were also imported to the country such as the Alpha Phi Omega. Also, some locally founded fraternities made allies with some fraternities in the United States. Afterwards, the rest is history...

Note: Above are based on educational research and do not represent as a personal stand of the researcher or his affiliations.

Source: Sarmiento, Louie Blake S. (2011). Research studies and lectures on Philippine fraternalism.

Further reading:

Major O.W. Coursey, U.S. Volunteer, author of the History and Geography of the Philippine Islands

Philippines Fraternity Websites

Books about Fraternalism