Last June 6, the Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction of five members of the Scintilla Juris fraternity in connection with the killing in 1994 of Dennis Venturina, then a law student and a member of rival fraternity Sigma Rho. While at lunch at a canteen, Venturina and his fraternity mates were attacked by other men wearing masks and wielding baseball bats and lead pipes. Twelve members of Scintilla Juris were eventually identified as the attackers. Venturina died of head injuries two days later.
Strictly speaking, Venturina died in a frat rumble and not in an initiation rite, which would claim many more victims over the years, including, most recently, 18-year-old College of St. Benilde student Guillo Cesar Servando. But whether done in the open, as in the Scintilla Juris-Sigma Rho rumble, or in secret, as in most initiation rites where young recruits are blindfolded, brought to an undisclosed location and held incommunicado for the duration of the activity, the culture that undergirds frat behavior springs from one reprehensible impulse: violence.
The initiation rite involves subjecting the recruits to various forms of abuse and a brutal beating that includes “paddling,” in which their buttocks and legs turn horrendously black and blue. This is conducted by their prospective “brothers”—all in the name of proving that the recruits have what it takes to be committed to the fraternity. That savage beginning is supposed to forge a special bond between the tyros and the veterans, one that would carry them through thick and thin, right or wrong—through social and political networks that would help fellow brothers in their professional careers, for one, but also through the territorial brawls and spasms of aggression they inevitably end up having with rival fraternities that ooze the same belligerent, violent mindset.
The Supreme Court, in its decision affirming the sentences of reclusion perpetua of five of Venturina’s attackers, said: “There is no place in this society for hooliganism disguised as fraternity rumbles. The perpetrators must stand and suffer the legal consequences of their actions. They must do so, for there is an individual who now lies dead, robbed of his dreams and the dreams of his family. Excruciating grief will never be enough.”
Twenty years ago it was Venturina, all of 22 and studying to become a lawyer in one of the country’s best schools. Now it’s Servando lying dead, much younger at 18 and, if reports are to be believed, reluctant to undergo initiation but threatened with harm if he didn’t go along. He and three others underwent the initiation rite in an undisclosed place in the afternoon of June 29, and were brought back to their condominium unit at around 9:30 p.m. Startling CCTV footage showed three men believed to be members of Tau Gamma Phi fraternity—not Alpha Kappa Rho, as was first reported—dragging Servando out of the elevator and into the condo hallway. The hotel, restaurant and institution management student was barely responsive at that time. His three companions, also with severe bruises, called for emergency help when he apparently expired minutes later. By then their fraternity elders were nowhere to be found.
It was the same pattern—young recruits enticed with promises of eternal brotherhood, savagely beaten ostensibly for them to prove their fitness to join the exclusive association, and when one of them crumbles, unable to withstand the abuse, their so-called brothers vanish, no longer the testosterone-fueled alpha males of their own fantasies but cowardly men terrified of the consequences of their actions. The fraternity’s legal hotshots then take over, to spin the crime and shield the organization and its members from the fallout.
There is actually a law that bans all these—the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995 which prohibits physical violence and activities that result in “death, rape, sodomy and mutilation” during the initiation rites of fraternities and similar organizations. Despite this law, neophytes continue to die: among them Cris Anthony Mendez, 20, in 1997; Chester Paul Abracias, 18, in 2008; Menardo Clamucha Jr., 18, EJ Karl Intia, 19, and Noel Borja, 17—all in 2010; Nor Silongan, 16, in 2011; Marc Andrei Marcos, 21, and Marvin Reglos, 25, both in 2012.
To this list will now be added, to the excruciating grief of his family, Guillo Cesar Servando, 18.
When will this savagery stop? Why in heaven’s name has it not been stopped?
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