Another young man, another tragedy
The tragedy of Horacio “Atio” Castillo III, the earnest law student who died in a fraternity hazing last weekend, touches a raw nerve — in part because his death was not inevitable, and in part because his death is a symptom of a disease that afflicts, not merely the country’s legal profession, but the country itself.
When we point to these, we do not mean to divert our eyes from his family’s personal suffering, but only to try to help draw the meaning out of their pain, and our deepening anxiety.
The Greeks understood tragedy differently; it was destiny revealing itself. The fate of someone like Oedipus, for instance, was inevitable, written in his stars.
We understand tragedy today in the opposite way: Someone’s death is a tragedy when it is not expected. Castillo’s death, at the hands of members of the Aegis Juris fraternity of the University of Santo Tomas, was tragic because it did not have to happen.
His bereaved father said he did not want to join the frat but was only forced by friends and over time to do so; his family did not anticipate any trouble because the dean of the UST law school, a member of the same fraternity, was a family friend; a two-decade-old law is in place to regulate the initiation rites that frats conduct. Castillo himself was no troublemaker; he was, by all accounts, not the sort to become involved in scripted violence.
But his battered corpse, crisscrossed by candle wax drippings and wrapped in a blanket, was supposedly found on a pavement on Sunday morning and brought, supposedly by good Samaritans, to the hospital.
Now those good Samaritans are suspects in his murder. The director of the Manila Police District did not mince words in describing what they tried to get away with.
“Clearly John Paul Solano, with the assistance and cooperation of Antonio Trangia and Ralph Trangia, deliberately misled our operation to the death of Castillo by providing us false and fraudulent statements. They are now considered as suspects in this investigation,” Chief Supt. Joel Coronel said.
This false information “was a cover-up for the actual murder and killing of the victim.”
Both Solano and Ralph Trangia are law students and members of Aegis Juris.
This is not the first time that a fraternity of law students and lawyers murdered initiates in a brutal hazing; this is not the first time that Filipinos are left to wonder why those who are dedicated to the pursuit and practice of the law, which by its nature is civilization’s answer to the riddle of violence, would embrace a tradition that inflicts violence on new members.
Frat violence has been rationalized as necessary to building loyalty and devotion.
Mike de Leon’s classic movie from 1982, “Batch 81,” summed up this excuse in a chilling phrase: “Ang simula at wakas ay kapatiran.” Brotherhood is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega.
This does not in fact make any sense; for law students and lawyers, it is not only dangerous nonsense but actually the antithesis of what they stand for: the rule of law. THAT is the true beginning and end of a career in law.
But this tradition of violence is only a symptom of a metastasizing disease: the worship of power. He who conducts the rituals of violence holds the power — in the exact same way that he who has the money, or the status, or the right connections, holds the advantage in the country’s legal system. This is the fatal flaw, that ultimately allows senators and billionaires privileges that are denied to lesser citizens.
But it is not only the legal system where power is often the determining factor; as “Batch 81” reminded us, the entire government can act as a fraternity built on the rhetoric of clichés and rituals of violence.
Castillo and his family did not set out to become symbols; we respect their privacy and honor his life. None of us can possibly plumb their grief.
More stories will be written about Atio, which will allow more people to see him, not as a victim but as a vital young man, full of compassion and wit. (He once posted a clever tweet that went superviral.) But we can also see him, we must also see him, as representative: He is all of us who are at power’s mercy.
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