Mark of Cain
Aurelio Cesar Servando and his wife, Christine Uytiepo, want justice. They want justice for their son, Guillo Cesar, 18, the sophomore student of College of St. Benilde taking up hotel, restaurant and institution management, who was hazed to death last week by his prospective “brothers” in Tau Gamma Phi. His companions, two other 18-year-olds and one 17-year-old, managed to survive their torture—there is no other word for it—but ended up in hospital.
Guillo Cesar’s parents want justice, but that is probably just a polite or civilized way of putting to words the anguish and rage in their hearts at his murder. Yes, murder, however unintended. Certainly the punishment they inflicted on him made his death more than likely. You are the parents of that boy, justice, of the kind that lets the courts do their thing, is not the first thing that will come to your mind.
Every time something like this happens, that is the first thing that comes to my own mind. Imagination is as much a curse as a blessing, and I am unhinged by the thought of how it must be for the parents of the victims. Of course, however powerful is your capacity to put yourself in the shoes of others, you can never hope to grasp the agony and desolation a tragedy like this feels. But you can at least catch a shadow of it.
A thing like this happens and the world stops. The world ends. You are going about your daily life—Guillo Cesar’s parents live in Bacolod—comfortable in the thought that your son is in the bosom of a respectable school, learning the skills with which to build a future on, and suddenly you hear news like this. You can’t watch things like this in a movie, or read about it in a novel: Imagine how it is to see this in real life. Imagine how it is to live—or die—through this in real life.
The death of someone in the first flush of life is never acceptable, it is the most hurtful hurt there is. But the death of a young man from having fought for principle, such as the young men and women who took up arms against martial law during my time, at least offered balm and comfort. Parents could always remember their kids with pride along with grief, with some sense of meaning and not just of utter wastefulness. But a young man’s death in the hands of his would-be “brothers” is utter wastefulness. It offers no solace, no hope, no escape. It just fills your heart with rage and bitterness and pain.
The widespread reaction to this has been to call for the arrest of the culprits and send them to jail, if not indeed to give them to experience the torture they wrought on their victims. It has been to cite the Anti-Hazing Law and charge the culprits with criminally violating it. It has been to condemn the particular fraternities that have shown a propensity for violence, not just against rival fraternities but also against their own, as manifested by sadistic rituals that produce homicidal results.
It’s not a bad reaction, which the police and members of the three branches of government have expressed. True enough, there are fraternities aplenty in this country that have made frats almost synonymous with gangs and gangland violence from hazing and rumbles. The fact that hazing and rumbles continue to happen to this day, though not always with fatal results, demands serious and urgent examination. We owe it to the parents of the victims, quite apart from the victims themselves. You have to wonder if these frats have any legal right to exist.
But I myself would go beyond this and question the wisdom of frats in general, if not their legal right to exist. Of course the latter would be the hardest thing to question, this being a country of lawyers, and many, if not most, lawyers belong to fraternities. The first thing lawyers ask when they have to approach someone is: “What frat does he belong to?” It’s almost a given.
The need to inquire into the wisdom of frats comes from Aurelio Servando himself, the father of the victim. Completely dumbfounded when he learned that his son had tried to join Tau Gamma Phi, he asked: “Why did he need to join a frat?”
It’s a very good question, and one we need to ask ourselves. Each time I do so, and I’ve done so again and again in past columns, people would tell me that frats exist as well in places like America and has produced no deleterious, or murderous, results. Therefore the problem is not with frats but with the way frats conduct themselves.
That totally ignores or overlooks differences in culture. In America, belonging to the same fraternity does not materially affect the outcome of court decisions. Here it does, and often decisively so. The guiding spirit of frats in our culture is “walang iwanan,” not in the sense that Gawad Kalinga uses it, which is not to leave behind the biblical “least of our brethren,” but in the sense of not abandoning a ritual brother right of wrong, guilty or innocent, malevolent or decent.
That’s the point of hazing, or engaging in rumbles—to prove your undying loyalty to the collective, the “undying” not always proving to make sense. In America, frats do not define the culture. Here it does, or it defines it as much as being defined by it. It’s all of a piece with a way of life that emphasizes interpersonal relations, connections, pakikisama, kumparehan or ritual kinship, which are the worst features of our culture. It’s no surprise that the law bears the brunt of it, lawyers being the most to profit, or lose, from it. I don’t know that you can ban frats, but you can always ask, like Servando, “Why do you need to join a frat?” You can always discourage your children, the way you discourage them from taking drugs, from taking frats.
Fraternities are a brotherhood, but of the kind that bears the mark of Cain.
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