Death by ‘brotherhood’: Family, university in grief
ZAMBOANGA CITY — Jeoffrey Salilig, father of the 24-year-old chemistry student who died in hazing rites, said he and his family were on a quest for justice for his son who was brutalized by his fraternity brothers.
Salilig tried to hold back his tears as he and the rest of his family reunited with John Matthew, the youngest of his seven children whom they fondly called Matt-Matt, whose battered body was flown home to Zamboanga City on a military plane accompanied by elder brother John Martin.
There were no more tight hugs, no more kisses, no jokes, no more surprises for Matt-Matt, who arrived in a casket received by his grieving family on Thursday morning.
“I wanted to shout, I wanted to cry, but I am trying to hold back everything for the sake of the family,” Salilig said. “I need to stay calm because everyone is emotional.”
He shook with anger as he looked at pictures of Matt-Matt’s naked body after it was recovered from a shallow grave two days earlier.
“How could they do this barbarian act to a person? Imagine, 17 people delivering six paddle hits each to Matt-Matt. Definitely, that was not a welcoming rite; it was murder,” he said.
Police had informed him that six of those involved in the Tau Gamma Phi initiation rites were in custody.
He said he wanted to see all 17 rot in jail.
He should be the last
“Our family and the communities here are embarking on a quest for justice,” he said. “Our aim is to make sure that Matthew is the last person to be victimized by hazing, we will not stop demanding justice until everyone involved in the crime is jailed for life.”
Matt-Matt, a third year student at Adamson University in Manila, has been a member since 2020 of the local Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, Cabato Road Chapter under Triskelion Grand Fraternity and Sorority, Zamboanga City Council.
John Martin, 26, and their eldest sibling, John Michael, 39, both Tau Gamma members, had approved the Adamson chapter’s invitation to Matt-Matt to attend the “welcoming” rites since these just usually involved a simple get-together among fraternity members.
“It is really heavy on our part. We never expected this to happen,” said Martin.
Appeal to parents
Salilig, who is an assessment officer in the city assessor’s office, said that when he learned that his sons had joined the fraternity, he reminded them “to stay grounded and not to harm any person.”
“I raised them as good people. Not all in the Tau Gamma are bad people,” he said.
He appealed to parents whose children were victims of hazing to join them in seeking justice.
“Let us bond together to put an end to this barbaric act. Brotherhood is about love and protection, not killing,” he said. “As parents, we love our children, we take care of them. Let us stop this act of brutality. Let’s join together in a crusade against hazing. Let’s be one in helping our children have a better future.”
Matt-Matt’s coffin was placed beside his grandfather’s at La Merced funeral homes. The 86-year-old Romulo Salilig died of multiple organ failure on February 22, four days after his favorite grandson was reported missing.
Matt-Matt was last seen by Martin heading to Biñan City, Laguna province, on February 17. He was reported missing the next day and his body was found in a shallow grave 10 days later in Imus, Cavite province, about 27 kilometers away by car.
Zamboanga City Mayor John Dalipe visited the wake on Thursday morning and assured the family that the local government would provide all the necessary assistance in pursuing justice against those responsible for Matt-Matt’s death.
Persona non grata
In a March 2 resolution, the Zamboanga City Council of the Triskelion Grand Fraternity and Sorority declared all members of the Tau Gamma Phi-Adamson University chapter persona non grata.
The group denounced the Adamson chapter’s members for “inflicting great violence against a fellow who already had a ‘full pledged membership,’ and conducting welcoming rites that resulted in the murder of a fellow member, blatantly disregarding the Codes of Conduct and Tenet of the fraternity and sorority.”
“We … condemn the actions and activities of the Adamson University Chapter… as unbecoming of [that of a] Triskelion and declare the group and its affiliates undesirable and unwelcome,” it said in a statement.
A first in Adamson
The private Catholic university, which is run by the Congregation of the Mission in Manila, banned fraternities many years ago, according to Fr. Marcelo Manimtim, an Adamson alumnus and the university president who led the requiem Mass for Matt-Matt on Thursday.
“Now that it has happened under my watch, you will understand the grief, sorrow and consternation that we experience because it has come too close to us,” Manimtim told reporters.
It was the first fraternity-related violence that resulted in the death of an Adamson student, according to him.
Manimtim said the school authorities were aware that two fraternities were still active despite the ban and they knew the student members.
He said the fraternities’ recruitment and initiation rites were being done outside campus.
The activities of the fraternities were out of their hands as they could not forbid students from getting involved in affairs off-campus, Manimtim said.
“We have to take action in the case of John Matthew because our student has been involved. We owe it to the community to have the feeling of safety, not only within but also as much as we can even outside the university,” he said.
Manimtim said the students directly involved in the death of Matt-Matt who are currently enrolled would be expelled from the university as soon as an investigation established their responsibility in the case.
Matt-Matt, a petroleum engineering student who shifted to chemistry last year, was “super nice and jolly,” according to Larsen Alvarado, one of his close friends.
“He didn’t deserve this and it hurts to lose him because of the frat,” he said.
Alvarado said some friends were planning to go to Tagaytay on the day of the initiation rites and Matt-Matt did not respond to their invitation to join them.
Manimtim said all of their students call each other “classmate,” no matter the course or degree program they’re in.
“So, for the other students, John Matthew is always a classmate and you know that feeling, we’re a big family. We’re not so big a university so the feeling of a family, even among the faculty members is very strong so maybe you understand that feeling of loss for somebody who is close to us,” he said.
The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) also condemned the hazing death and vowed to take steps to eradicate “all forms of senseless acts of violence” in colleges and universities.
“CHEd enjoins all higher education stakeholders, especially our schools, faculty, staff and students, to join hands and actively strive to end this culture of violence that continues to plague our institutions of higher learning,” said CHEd Chair Prospero de Vera III.