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New approach to hazing problem

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Commentary

New approach to hazing problem

/ 05:10 AM September 30, 2017

The fatal hazing of University of Santo Tomas student Horacio Castillo III by alleged members of the fraternity Aegis Juris has once again drawn public attention to the initiation practices of some fraternities.

Despite the enactment of the Anti-Hazing Law in 1995, which imposes life imprisonment for physical harm inflicted on neophytes (or applicants for membership) that results in physical injury or death, the prohibited acts continue to be committed.

Twenty-two years after the law’s passage, 26 young men, Castillo included, have died from injuries inflicted during fraternity initiations. In the wake of his death, some lawmakers are proposing to prohibit all forms of hazing and to impose a fine of P3 million in case of death due to hazing on top of the existing penalty of life imprisonment.

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If the lawmakers think a stiffer antihazing law will put an end to physical initiation in fraternities, or make deaths or serious physical injuries from hazing a thing of the past, they’re dreaming.

The 26 neophytes who have died since Congress made hazing a capital offense are proof that a punitive approach to hazing will not solve the problem. The prospects of spending life behind bars have not dampened the derring-do of some frat men to use physical initiation to gauge the extent of a neophyte’s interest to join them.

Assuming stronger sanctions on hazing pass muster in Congress, the practice of physical initiation may abate. After the heat has died down, expect the old deadly practice to rear its ugly head again.

But this should not be taken to mean that hazing should be tolerated or that a blind eye should be turned on a practice that has resulted in the death of 26 men in the prime of their youth. Penal sanctions should remain for acts of hazing that cause physical and psychological damage to persons who seek admission to fraternities. No person has a right to inflict pain or injury on another unless done in self-defense or pursuant to a lawful duty.

However, the hazing problem cannot be solved solely through punitive measures. The effort must be accompanied by some form of “behavioral engineering” directed at the present membership of fraternities.

For starters, let’s stop demonizing these organizations as a menace to society that should be prohibited from being organized or, if they already exist, abolished. They satisfy the need of young men for social relationships and activities. Besides, the right to form associations is guaranteed by our Constitution.

The next step is to change the mindset of the members that physical initiation is the most effective way to develop and maintain the loyalty or fealty of the neophytes to the organization. This attitude proceeds from the belief that a person will value his or her membership in an organization if he or she went through a lot of difficulties or paid a high price to gain admission. The slaps and paddles inflicted on the neophytes are often cited as the means to break whatever egos they had before applying for membership and to give them a common experience that would bind them forever.

Contrary to popular belief, physical initiation is not an ingrained or inherent aspect of the fraternity system in the Philippines. The practice started after the war or in the late 1940s, picked up steam, and worsened through the years. The wartime culture of violence may have contributed to the change in the mode of initiation in the fraternities, and the effects are still being felt.

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Before then, initiations consisted of acts of “public humiliation”—e.g., neophytes being ordered to wear girl’s clothes in public or kiss a horse’s behind, or bring flowers to or serenade the members’ girlfriends.

In other words, the applicants’ interest to join the fraternity was measured through clean fun and hardly was anything done to cause injury, much less death, to them. Despite the absence of physical initiation, the fraternity ties remained strong.

With the right approach, reengineering the present mindset on the criterion for membership in fraternities can be done without impairing the purposes for which they are organized.

Raul J. Palabrica (rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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