Saturday, 4 November 2017


By Louie Blake S. Sarmiento
Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
Juris Doctor - III

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 origin of fraternity, as a principle, is as old as humankind. Humans always have that natural desire to associate with each other for a common purpose – either for social, philosophical, political, religious, charitable, mutual-benefit, or business purposes. Fraternities or so-called brotherhoods existed since the early civilizations, first among sworn kinsmen, Roman collegias, Orders of Knighthood, craft guilds, and burial clubs. Although ordinary men did not yet have a recognized “right to association” during the days of monarchy, fraternity as an idea existed in so-called ‘secret societies’ or ‘secret brotherhoods’- where the working class, middle-class and even some aristocrats fraternized with each other and practiced early democracy.

A Medieval Master Baker and his Apprentice
The development of Fraternities, as a type of organization, can be traced from trade guilds which emerged in England. Trade guilds, also called as craft guilds, are an association of artisans or merchants who oversee the practice of their trade in a particular town. There were over a hundred trade guilds in London alone. The Fraternity of Butchers, for example, owned a meeting Hall as early as 975 and has charters dating 1605 and 1637. The Fraternity of Cooks owned the first cook’s shop in 1170, and, in 1438, there is a reference to the “Masters of the mysteries of Cooks, Pastelers and Piebakers”.

These guilds were sworn brotherhoods that had binding oaths to support one another in times of adversity and back one another in trade ventures alongside with their philosophical and ceremonial role. Meetings involved proper decorum and wearing of regalia such as chains of office, special robes and so on. They have elaborate initiation ceremonies in which apprentices who join go through a step-by-step “initiatory rites” intended to teach them the mysteries and secrets of the trade, moral principles, and to ascend them into hierarchy within the association – from apprentice, fellow craft and Master of the trade.

The Guild of Free Gardeners can be traced
back to the 14th Century. The group evolved
into the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners
during the 17th Century.  There remains
very few fraternal lodges of Free Gardeners today.
Traditionally, these guilds provided material and financial aid to their members in times of sickness, economic distress or in finding employment when out of work. When a member could not obtain work in his town, he can travel to the next town and ask assistance from fellow members. Noting that there were no telephones at that time and mode of communication was still very slow, the brotherhoods used secret hand-grips, symbols and passwords as proof of membership so that a member could avail food or financial assistance from the same Guild located in the next town.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, however, the ‘Statute of Apprentices’ was passed which took the responsibility for apprenticeship away from the guilds. The nature and scope of work was also changing, thus, the role of the guilds eventually went into decline. This removed an important form of social and financial support among ordinary workers.

In major cities such as London, some Guilds survived by adapting their roles to a social support function focused on brotherhood, mutual-aid, charity and ethical living, now known as a Fraternal Order or Fraternity. By the early-1700, a number of such groups emerged in England. Some lodges of the Guild of Free Masons, for example, allegedly evolved to become the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. The Guild of Free Gardeners evolved to become the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners. Several other fraternities with a guild-like name, such as the United Order of Cabinet Makers and the Ancient Order of Odd Fellows, also came into existence.

United States

By the late-1700 to early-1800, many of these fraternities were imported to America by English immigrants. These groups offered social and financial support at a time when governments barely provided social security and welfare services. By joining, members can be contributors or recipients of charity and could protect themselves and their families against illness, accident, injury or death. The network of fraternal lodges furnished proxy families that could help disabled and distressed members and, at the same time, also served as a social network for traveling members looking for a job in a new country. Initiation ceremonies, on the other hand, taught moral codes and principles which presented civic virtues and equality before the law.

Later, the concept of fraternity 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 in 1776.

The Age of Enlightenment was a time when religious fanaticism and violent executions by the church and power abuse by the ruling class were beginning to be publicly criticized by intellectuals. A new way of thinking based on reason over superstition emerged. New ideas such as democracy which supported working men’s freedom and rights to vote, fair wages, fair education and religious tolerance were beginning to reach the minds of common people. The idea “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” was born. The French Revolution and American Revolution resulted to the birth of today’s democratic societies which further allowed the fraternities to flourish under the protection of the constitutional ‘right to association’.

By the mid-1800, fraternities flourished in North America. Along with European and American colonization of Asia and the Pacific, lodges or chapters of these fraternities were eventually established in different parts of the continent.

The seal of the Supreme Council of the KKK
suggests an influence or a link with the Freemasons
and Odd Fellows Fraternity. The seal used a square
and compass (prominent symbol of the Masonic Fraternity),
intertwined chain links (prominent symbol of the
Odd Fellows Fraternity) and the skull (an emblem which
symbolizes the mortality of mankind, both used by the Masons
and Odd Fellows in their initiation ceremonies to teach the
lesson of the temporary nature of human life).
In the Philippines, Spaniards and other colonizers from Europe established fraternities in the Islands as early as the 1850's but these groups did not yet accept the natives. Primera Luz Filipina, a clandestine Masonic Lodge under the Grand Oriente Luisitano or Continental Freemasonry, was established in the Islands in 1856 which admitted only Spaniards. Being mere ‘subjects of Spain’ and not treated as equals, the native Filipinos did not yet enjoy the right to association and the concept of fraternities’ was still a foreign idea.

The book, History and Geography of the Philippine Islands (1908), author O.W. Coursey stated that: “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”. This is perhaps the propagation of the ideals of democracy, equality, and fraternity (freedom of association) freely shared and taught by these fraternities in their degrees of initiation.

The book further mentioned that the “Society of Odd Fellows” spread to the Philippine islands in 1872, and was largely responsible for the petty insurrection of the following year. Regular Freemasons or Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry followed in 1877. Most of the early members of these groups were American Military men and their allies who eventually helped fought the Spanish-American war. These fraternities established lodges or chapters in the country and held their meetings in naval and military base camps in Manila. Wealthy Filipinos who had the opportunity to study abroad, on the other hand, were accepted as members in Europe under the promise that they will remain loyal to the Spanish crown. And when they returned to the Islands, they also formed fraternal lodges beginning 1891.

The first documented brotherhood or fraternity originally 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), founded by anti-Spanish Filipinos in Manila in 1892 with the primary aim of gaining independence from Spain through revolutionAfter the Spanish authorities learned of their existence in 1896, Bonifacio and his men tore up their c├ędulas and started the Philippine Revolution.

In 1899, the ties between Filipino and Americans was disrupted and the Filipino-American war emerged so the development and progress of fraternities in the country was interrupted. When the war ended in 1902, the Freemasons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and Elks officially established lodges or chapters in the country.

Later, the concept of college fraternities began to form when American Education (University system) was introduced in the colony. State Universities were the first to enjoy “College Fraternity Life”, particularly in the University of the Philippines (UP), when the first College Fraternity, Rizal Center, a brotherhood of Jose Rizal followers 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 and is considered as 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 colonized the Philippines in 1941. When the Filipino-American-Japanese war ended in 1944, Philippine fraternities started to rise again and many Filipinos started setting up their own brand of fraternities and sororities.

The peak of fraternalism in the Philippines was probably in the 1950's to 1990's when many foreign and local fraternities were founded all over the country. Several American fraternities were also imported, such as the Order of DeMolay in 1946 and the Alpha Phi Omega in 1950. Some locally founded fraternities also tried to make allies with fraternities in the United States. In 1984, the Alpha Sigma Phi of the Philippines was able to establish fraternal ties with the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity of the United States of America, although this relationship was eventually annulled in 2013. 

Decline of Fraternalism in the Philippines

Beginning year 2000, there is a noticeable membership decline of fraternities in the Philippines. The reasons are numerous: One is due to the negative public image of fraternities brought about by deaths due to hazing, fraternity rivalries that resulted to violent riots in the past and alcoholic or drug abuse commonly associated to fraternity members. 

At present, the number of fraternities in the country continue to diminish. Over a hundred fraternities formed in the 1980's to the 1990's have died-out or are now dying out because of lack of members. In the past, the number of active members is at least 25-40 per chapter. At present, the average number of members per chapter is only 8-15 active members. Several chapters are struggling with only 5 people attending its meetings and activities.

  1. Melling, J.K. (2003). Discovering London's Guilds and Liveries. UK: Shire Publications.
  2. Smith, T. (1870). English Gilds. London: Early English Text Society
  3. Dennis, V. (2005). Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: Their badges and Regalia. UK: Shire Book publications
  4. O.W. Coursey (1908). History and Geography of the Philippine Islands.
  5. Fajardo, R. (1998). The Brethren: Masons in the Struggle for Philippine Independence. Manila:      E.L. Locsin and the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines.
  6. Odd Fellows Sovereign Grand Lodge (1897-1940). Journal of Proceedings of the I.O.O.F. USA: Sovereign Grand Lodge.


The book, "Odd Fellows - Rediscovering 200 Years of History, Traditions and Community Service", is available on different amazon marketplaces:

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HISTORY OF PHILIPPINE FRATERNITIES By Louie Blake S. Sarmiento Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology Juris Doctor -...