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POLITICAL TIDBITS: The Evil of Hazing

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by Belinda Olivares Cunanan

 

When I was entering the UP’s Liberal Arts College decades ago, the university was rocked by the death by hazing of a scion of a prominent family, as well as by wars between the Upsilon and Sigma Rho fraternities. That was my first exposure to the terrible reality of hazing.  Congress was up in arms and efforts were made to prevent its recurrence.

 

Since that time, however, and up to now, the evil of hazing, conducted in utmost secrecy under the iron-clad oath of “Omerta,”  has reared its ugly head from time to time---such as what happened to freshman Horacio “Atio” Tomas Castillo III of the UST Law fraternity, the “Aegis Juris” who died from violent hazing, and who had dreamt of being a lawyer. Unfortunately, however, the uproar and the national breast-beating subsides---until another victim dies.  

 

Police investigations reveal that Horacio Castillo died from a heart attack after severe beatings with thick wooden paddles on his body. At the funeral mass at the Santuario de San Antonio Church yesterday, the mass presider,  Fr. Winston Cabading, stressed that “A brotherhood that seeks to harm does not come from God, but from the devil.”  Calling on the young victim’s man’s parents and friends,  he begged them “not to be buried in darkness when we are filled with anger and hatred.” Fr. Cabading admitted, however, that to the question of the meaning of young “Atio” Castillo’s death, “There is no easy answer.”

 

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When I was a literature student at the UP long ago, we studied a short story titled, “The Use of Force” by American author William Carlos Williams, which narrated in first-person how a doctor, treating a young  child of suspected diphtheria, sought to get some specimen from its mouth. When the child resisted, the struggle became rather ugly, with the doctor this time inserting a spoon into its mouth with more force than seemed needed and still the child refused to cooperate.  At that point, author Williams, himself a doctor, clearly portrayed how the doctor in the story (was it Williams himself?) transformed “from cool professional to animalistic assailant.”

 

In seeking to make sense of the various hazing episodes that resulted in unintended deaths, should we theorize that there is perhaps this same element, whereby, even among friends, there is transformation from being friends to being “animalistic assailants” who lose control of themselves.

 

This could be the case especially if the hazing rituals are conducted under the influence of liquor and very likely even drugs in isolated places like a remote beach resort---plus very little supervision from the frat's elders and the school.

 

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Consider all the accidents from hazing:

 

* State-run military academies such as the elite Philippine Military  Academy in Baguio, the Philippine Marine Academy and the Philippine National Police Academy all had their past share of hazing victims. At PMA, plebe Monico de Guzman was believed to have died from “beat attack” upon seeking entrance in the boot camp. The premiere military academy continued with hazing in secrecy.

 

* In some secular schools, hazing continued to take place as well, and what focused national attention in February 1995 was the death of a neophyte of the Aquila Legis Fraternity at the Ateneo Law School named Lenny Villa. His mother carried a brave campaign against hazing from then on.  

 

* It should be noted, however, that brutal hazing occurs too in the Ivy League schools in the US. I read an account by a student of Dartmouth University who spoke not of physical brutality, but of being sadistically forced to imbibe excrement of all sorts during hazing.

 

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The rash of deadly violence due to hazing prodded Congress to react in the '90s.  Following the huge uproar over the death of law student Lenny Villa in initiation rites, Sen. Joey Lina, then chair of the Senate Committee on Youth and Sports,  authored R.A. 8049, “An Act Regulating Hazing and other forms of initiation rites in Fraternities, Sororities and other organizations, and providing penalties thereof.”  Prior to the passage of R.A. 8049 what was operative on student organizations was the Revised Penal Code.

 

 As former Sen.Lina  recounted to Cecile Alvarez and myself during our dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw” last Sunday, hazing is absolutely forbidden under Sec. 2 of RA 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law.  In fact, MERE PRESENCE at such forbidden rituals is enough to implicate a person as an accomplice to the crime. Punishment includes life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua;  reclusion temporal (17-20 years) and the lightest, 4 years and one day imprisonment for mere presence at such ritual.

 

The Supreme Court upheld circumstantial evidence as stiff in its landmark decision in Dungo vs. People of the Philippines 2015, raising  punishment to nine years.

 

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Obviously, however, the current law punishing hazing is still deemed very weak, as physical violations continue to exist. There is now a clamor to enforce more safeguards in fraternity initiations, to ensure that physical violence is not resorted to, and elements of the community, the police, the fiscal’s office and the courts are enjoined to attend and monitor fraternity activities closely. Cecile Alvarez and I opined that officials of the school where the fraternity members are enrolled have to be present at initiation rites.

 

Morerover, I proposed more creative ways to undertake initiation rites such as for example, making neophytes dress like garbage collectors and actually sweep trash in the Luneta or by Manila Bay, or have them garbed in beggar’s clothes and actually beg by Quiapo Church, the begging proceeds to be donated for soup kitchens.

 

Any initiation ritual except violence which kills. 

 


(Belinda Olivares-Cunanan is a veteran journalist with 25 years of experience writing a political column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She is a Rotary Club of Manila Hall of Fame awardee for journalism. She has also received the Distinguished Alumna Award from her elementary and high school alma mater, the College of the Holy Spirit, and the Alumni Association Professional Award for Journalism from the University of the Philippines (UP).}

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