MANILA, Philippines - Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima called on Congress yesterday to pass a law that would regulate fraternities in the country’s colleges and universities following a post-Bar exam grenade attack that wounded close to 50 persons, mostly from her alma mater, the San Beda College of Law.
“It’s okay to regulate these (organizations) for as long there is reasonableness – as long as you don’t curtail rights like freedom of expression of these fraternities. So that’s okay,” she told reporters in a press conference.
De Lima, who co-founded the Lambda Rho Sigma sorority when she was in law school, said she believes fraternities are not “untouchables” and could be penalized for violations, or even crimes, they commit.
De Lima said she is hopeful that the investigation of the grenade attack initiated by the Supreme Court (SC) would result in positive changes that would prevent similar incidents in the future.
“I think it’s a question of putting up safeguards,” she commented, calling on leaders of fraternities and sororities who may be called in the probe to cooperate as “part of their legal and moral duty.”
The SC panel, chaired by Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr., will meet today to officially start the probe.
‘Too early for frat war angle’
De Lima said it is still too early to conclude that the grenade attack outside the De La Salle University (DLSU) last Sunday was caused by a war between fraternities.
She said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which she has tapped to probe the incident, still does not have a clear lead after holding a case conference yesterday morning.
“Nothing is clear yet - not even that fraternity war angle. At this point, the NBI is not willing to state with certainty that it’s frat war,” she revealed.
Still, De Lima said the NBI is pursing this angle and “has started interviewing some frat members already.”
The SC earlier received initial information showing that most of the victims are students of the San Beda College of Law and members of Alpha Phi Beta fraternity and sorority, which strengthens the possibility that a frat war could be behind the attack.
The APB has a “long-standing rivalry” with another fraternity also in San Beda College, Lambda Rho Beta (LRB), which is the fraternity of De Lima’s sorority.
A frat member who witnessed the incident, however, told The STAR that a scuffle between LRB and Sigma Rho fraternities ensued prior to the incident.
“The Lambda and Sigma Rho threw bottles at each other. A Lambda (member) was stabbed,” the source said.
Police reports, however, state that the one who threw the explosive device was wearing a shirt that bore the Greek letter emblem of Alpha Kappa Rho (Akrho), which was allegedly at odds with members of the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity.
She said the NBI has also received an information that five young men “who did not look like law students” were spotted near the scene of the explosion shortly before the incident.
Asked if there is a possibility that the attack was done by street thugs, she replied: “Why not?”
As for the angle that the real target of the attack was Bar examinee Datu Mohammad Abdul, a member of the Ampatuan clan, De Lima said it “seems that it was just coincidence that he was there.”
Meanwhile, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) said yesterday it will provide medical assistance to victims of the grenade attack.
Pagcor spokesman Jay Santiago said they will give law student Raissa Laurel prosthetic legs. Laurel, 25, had both her legs amputated and is confined at the Philippine General Hospital.
Chief Justice Renato Corona visited Laurel yesterday and offered her a job with SC after she graduates from law school. She is currently in her second year.
Edu Punay, Philippine Star