Fraternities of impunity
The brutal death of another San Beda College of Law student from apparent fraternity hazing has triggered calls for a review of Republic Act 8049, the antihazing law, presumably to make the penalties more exacting. But under Philippine statutes, what penalty can be graver than life imprisonment? And, as always, the problem is not the law but the implementation. Are the authorities serious in implementing it? Or is it that because many of the victims are law students and the victimizers belong to Greek-letter law fraternities, the law establishment and the justice system themselves have been undermining RA 8049?
The death on July 28 of Mark Andrei Marcos, 21, in Dasmariñas City followed the death five months ago of Marvin Reglos, 25, in Antipolo City. Both were freshmen at San Beda College of Law and fraternity neophytes (the former of Lex Leonum Fraternitas, and the latter of Lambda Rho Beta). Both completed a prelaw course at the University of Santo Tomas. Both underwent initiation rites on a weekend. The circumstances surrounding their brutal extinction were the same. According to witnesses, they were taken to the local hospital (Unciano hospital in Antipolo, De la Salle University Hospital in Dasmariñas) beaten to a pulp and shortly pronounced dead by physicians.
In both instances, witnesses said hazing was conducted (in a resort in Reglos’ case, in a farm in Marcos’ case). But five months into Reglos’ case, no arrest has been made. In Marcos’ case, the cooks who told authorities that they had heard thumping and groaning in the farm that apparently indicated Lex Leonum Fraternitas was hazing neophytes have disappeared. Marcos’ case may yet go the way of Reglos’.
It is very apparent from a cursory view of the two incidents that law enforcers have not been doing their job. They have not properly taken depositions and testimonies, much less provided security for the witnesses, so that five months after the Antipolo incident, no information sheet has been filed with the prosecutor’s office, no preliminary investigation has been conducted, and not one person has been summoned by the local prosecutor or the Department of Justice to a hearing. In fact, the Antipolo police and the DOJ are at loggerheads on the investigation, with their findings differing widely. Given the Antipolo investigative mess, it was not shocking that a similar bloody incident would occur, like that one in Dasmariñas that left another law freshman’s dreams demolished. Both illustrate the culture of impunity that is being fostered by a justice system that cannot get its act together.
Both may illustrate, too, the worrisome student discipline at San Beda. We therefore join the call of Patricia Licuanan, chair of the Commission on Higher Education, on San Beda officials, especially its law dean and prefect of student discipline, to explain what sanctions had been imposed on students involved in Reglos’ case. “Such acts of violence and injury [as hazing] run counter to the basic values and fundamental principles for which HEIs (higher education institutions) are established,” she said.
But the wider justice system, flawed and inefficient, should own much of the blame on why RA 8049 continues to be violated. Seventeen years into the law and 21 years after the death of Lenny Villa in law fraternity initiation rites, hazing continues. While there may be reason to amend the law—the Supreme Court in a final ruling this year on Villa’s case recommended that Congress amend it “to include the fact of intoxication and the presence of nonresident or alumni fraternity members during hazing as aggravating circumstances that would increase the applicable penalties”—the fact is that RA 8049 continues to be honored more in the breach.
Moreover, there are indications that the law establishment itself may be abetting the assault against RA 8049. Law fraternities that conduct hazing are headed by elders who are members of the bar. It will not be surprising if the heads of the San Beda law fraternities are faculty and bar members themselves. It is the old-boy network, the elitism and culture of entitlement, that they foster that has provided a thriving ground for reckless violators of RA 8049. It’s as if legal 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. Law school fraternities may have provided the bloody foundation for the wider culture of impunity prevailing now.
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