Brotherhood of blood
The death of Marvin Reglos, the law freshman from San Beda College who died of injuries apparently inflicted during initiation rites of the Lambda Rho Beta fraternity last weekend in Antipolo City, is a shocking reminder that more than 15 years since the Anti-Hazing Law (Republic Act 8049) was enacted, hazing remains a resilient practice among Greek-letter fraternities in the country.
Reglos, 25, died wearing a shirt bearing the name of the fraternity, apparently an inter-law school group. Since arrested for his death were Eric Castillo, 28, and Bodjie Yap, 24, both fourth-year law students from San Sebastian College on Recto Avenue, just a stone’s throw away from San Beda on Mendiola Street. The two had gone to the Unciano Medical Center to inquire about Reglos, who was brought in earlier by an unidentified group, and were immediately seized by police. Reglos bore bruises all over his body but doctors said an injury on his nape appeared to be the cause of his death. Relatives who identified his body were shocked at the sight of him lifeless and beaten to a pulp.
Ironically, the incident came on the heels of the Supreme Court writing finis to the Lenny Villa case of 21 summers ago. The tribunal overruled the Court of Appeals, which in 2002 found only two accused—Aquila Legis fraternity members Fidelito Dizon and Artemio Villareal—guilty of homicide and the rest merely liable of slight physical injuries for Villa’s death in 1991. But the high court also set aside the homicide conviction of Dizon and instead found him guilty of the lesser offense of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. The rest of Dizon’s cohorts were found guilty of the same offense and sentenced to imprisonment of up to four years and two months. If the Anti-Hazing Law had been in effect in 1991 (it was enacted only in 1995), Dizon et al. would have been convicted of hazing and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Although hazing is by no means confined to law-school fraternities, it is significant that both the Aquila Legis and Lambda Rho Beta incidents involved law students. In the Lenny Villa case, the high court cited the testimony before the lower court of an Aquila Legis neophyte that he had joined the fraternity to have more friends and to avail himself of the benefits it offered, such as tips useful for the bar exam. Membership in a fraternity provides the aspiring lawyer a ticket to success in the law profession. The exclusivity of the profession thereby becomes a goad for young people to join fraternities and undergo the rigors of initiation, including violence. Having passed the initiation, the neophyte becomes a full-fledged member of the fraternity, part of the old boys’ network.
It is this elitism and culture of entitlement that may explain the resilience of hazing as a law-fraternity practice despite RA 8049. Indeed, in the Antipolo incident, those arrested knew they had violated the law. When Reglos was brought to the hospital and pronounced dead on arrival, they prepared to bury the evidence. Police seized the cell phones of Castillo and Yap and found there text messages sent by one RJ Gregna: “News blackout, don’t forget. Erase all messages on your phone regarding the initiation. Don’t answer if asked to name your officers.” Another message read: “Nobody talks. That’s the order. Erase all messages ASAP. Even this one. You must all obey.”
It’s quite appalling that law aspirants—and members of the bar who are, after all, the alumni officers of fraternities—are training their knowledge of the law on undermining the law and getting around it. But as the text messages show, fraternities cultivate what appear to be values at first blush, but which upon a closer look turn out to be ways of behavior that foster flagrant lawlessness and impunity, such as blind loyalty (“Don’t answer if asked to name your officers”), conspiracy of silence (“Nobody talks”), and blind obedience (“You must all obey”).
In its decision on the Lenny Villa case, the Supreme court expressed astonishment “how men wittingly—or unwittingly—impose the misery of hazing and employ appalling rituals in the name of brotherhood.” It added: “There must be a better way to establish ‘kinship.’” But “the misery of hazing,” its inherent violence, is what exactly drives the brotherhood. The tribunal itself agreed with the lower court ruling that there was no criminal intent in the Aquila Legis hazing and that the violent acts “were done pursuant to tradition.” Violence has become a tradition in the Greek-letter fraternity, a twisted brotherhood bathed in blood.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.