Hazing, a tradition that will continue
This week we mark All Saints Day. For several years now, I have pushed for a change in some of our practices in observance of All Saints Day. I have advocated that we save a trip to the cemetery for another day, a day that means something special for the family of the departed. It could be a birth or death anniversary or perhaps, a wedding date, a day of particular importance. Most likely there will be very few people in the cemetery, and you can honor the dead in an atmosphere of quiet dignity and attention.
Some customs are worth keeping; there are others that should be discarded because of developments in our society that make their continued practice impractical. Last year, I suggested why not head for the beaches instead of the cemetery?
We must recognize that there are two forms of hazing. One consists of ridiculing, humiliating, and even harassing candidates for membership in some organization, usually a fraternity or sorority. The other involves physical abuse and violence that may, at times, take a dangerous turn leading to the death of an individual.
When I was a plebe (first year cadet) at the Philippine Military Academy, I and all my classmates, were subjected to both forms.
Each day that I reported to one of my upperclassmen, my first action upon entering his room was to bow down at the picture of his latest girlfriend that was displayed in his wall locker. This was accompanied by loudly proclaiming her as the most beautiful woman in the universe. Then only could I address the upperclass cadet.
Now if you happen to be the son of a general, you would most likely receive some form of special treatment. When Gen. Fortunato Abat, Class 1951, was commanding general of the Philippine Army, his two sons, Victor and Tito, both entered the PMA one after another. An “Abat menu” was concocted by their upperclassmen. It was a special “treat” just for the two Abat boys. As an appetizer just before the regular breakfast meal, a cup of coffee was provided to help push the news clippings about General Abat through the digestive tract of the human body. According to the general, there was not much he could do but to “minimize newsmaking” in any form, fearing the consequences for his sons.
The other form was also part of the rituals, particularly when a plebe was unable to carry out certain orders that were given him. The rationale behind this action was to provide punishment for failure to comply with instructions.
In March 2001, fourth class cadet Edward Domingo collapsed unconscious and was pronounced dead on arrival at the PMA hospital. Two upperclassmen were charged with homicide for his death and were sentenced by the Baguio Regional Trial Court to 12 years imprisonment. It was the first time cadets involved in hazing were dealt with by a civilian court.
In the case of the PMA, a number of initiation rituals were adopted from West Point practices at the turn of the 20th century.
In his book “American Caesar,” William Manchester narrates some of the abusive treatment that were carried out at the US Military Academy. Plebes were subjected to “merciless hazing… any newcomer who refused to cooperate was subjected to a bare-knuckle beating by the huskiest prizefighter among the upperclassmen. Over a hundred methods of harassment were employed. Among the most popular were scalding steambaths, ‘crawling’ (being insulted by an upperclassman whose jaw was one inch from the plebe’s nose), ‘bracing’ (standing at rigid attention for long periods of time), ‘eagling’ (deep knee bends over broken glass), paddling, sliding naked on a splintered board, and running a gauntlet of upperclassmen tossing buckets of cold water on the plebe.”
Cadet Douglas MacArthur, Class 1903, was forced to recite his father’s Civil War record again and again. He was required to stand immobile for an hour. Then, the physical brutality began. “He took it with fortitude and dignity but if his spirit was willing, his flesh was not; forced to eagle by three separate groups of upperclassmen, he fainted and suffered convulsions. When another plebe died, West Point hazing became a national scandal.” MacArthur made his first appearance before a congressional committee investigating the scandal. In the end, he named names but all those he identified had either confessed or resigned.
The first recorded hazing death in the Philippines was in July 1954 when UP student Gonzalo Mariano Albert died during initiation rites conducted by the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity. In February 1991, Leonardo Villa, son of former BIR deputy commissioner Romulo Villa, died at the hands of Aquila Legis fraternity members of Ateneo de Manila Law School. His death led to the passage of the Anti-Hazing Act of 1995.
Today we have the case of Horacio Castillo III, whose death at the hands of Aegis Juris fraternity members of the University of Santo Tomas, has once again focused the spotlight on the problem of hazing. The Senate is investigating this case and is expected to come up with a new anti-hazing law that is aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future. My instincts tell me that we shall continue to have this problem even with new laws being crafted. We have short memories and when outrage dies down, complacency sets in until the next initiation rites claim another victim.
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