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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Brutal hazing rears its ugly head again at PMA with death of Cadet Dormitorio. Remembering Atio Castillo's second death anniversary. A stiffer law needed to abolish physical brutalization that actually kill at frat initiation rites. Stiffer penalties should be leveled at frat leaders.


The issue currently rocking our country is the death through brutal hazing of PMA Cadet Darwin Dormitorio in the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio. As a result of the death of Cadet Dormitorio, all the top officials of the elite Philippine Military Academy were made to resign, subject to investigation and possible punishment.
A recent article by Romeo V. Poquiz that appeared in Facebook explains pretty much what happened and the rationale for this brutalization of initiation activities in a given organization.
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 I recall a short story we took up in our Humanities class at the UP decades ago about the use of force. In fact, its title is "The Use of Force" written by American author William Carlos Williams, which could illustrate what happens to normally good people who at some point begin to act with sadism, much like beasts. 

The story is about a doctor treating a young girl during a diphtheria outbreak, wherein he and he had to get a sample of her sputum. The girl was most rebellious and refused to cooperate, until finally the doctor had to force her mouth open with a spoon, to hold down her tongue, so he would be able to check her throat. It came to a point when in his subconscious, the doctor was already being most angry and brutal with his young patient---forgetting his primary aim, which was to diagnose the child's illness. 

The point of this short story is that brutality is in the innermost depths of the human being, which is why it has always to be checked and controlled. 
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This was probably what happened in the PMA grounds, during the initiation of cadet Dormitorio. The upper-class cadets, normally sober and sane people, lost control of themselves and the brutes in them surfaced and continued the brutality until---without their realizing it---they were already dealing cadet Dormitorio body blows that were to prove most deadly to his internal organs. 

This should be a case study for psychologists, as well as for  officials of the PMA, and for that matter, for all schools that undertake such hazing rites. Vigilance is a must in regulating initiation rituals and superiors must be present at all times. Above all, physical violence should be totally outlawed.  What an irony it would be if such brutal violence becomes the badge of acceptance, the honor code, of what's supposed to be the camaraderie of a lifetime---which is what a fraternity is meant to be!  
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Two years ago, another fine young man with a bright future, Horatio "Atio" Castillo , a student of the UST College of Law, also succumbed to initiation rituals in a secluded beach near Manila. He was mercilessly beaten with paddles by fellow frat men definitely under the influence of liquor--- until Atio's internal organs gave way, like those of Cadet Dormitorio of PMA. Atio was rushed to the hospital but it was too late. His parents, Toti and Minnie Castillo, are good friends of mine---very fine people---and they have not recovered from the pain of their loss. Who would, really?

I would think that the young men who conducted the initiation rituals on Atio were normally good and upright young men---but there is that sadistic tendency to use brutal force that seems to be perpetually lurking in the human psyche, that surfaces without warning, as the short story I mentioned above indicates.

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This is why supervision of all fraternity rituals is badly needed, and absence of such supervision should automatically call for the abolition of the fraternity and prosecution of its leaders and elders. All too often, because  there is not enough supervision from frat elders, most, if not all, the frat members conducting initiation rituals are under the influence of liquor and thus are no longer in command of their faculties and reason. 

I do not know why physical brutality---such as hitting Atio Castillo with paddles in his body and Darwin Dormitorio with brutal blows on his vital organs---is necessary as a badge of acceptance, when there are ways of initiation that are just as difficult, but not harmful physically. For instance, soon after Atio's passing, I wrote here about initiation rites that could be just as tough---and embarrassing---without harming the body, such as orating in Plaza Miranda on the ills of the country, in various states of deshabille, looking absolutely ridiculous. Or kneeling and proclaiming public adoration of a girl in the middle of the lobby at the Liberal Arts Bldg. in the UP at rush hour. 
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Several decades back, as I was entering the UP, it was rocked by the death of the scion of the prominent Albert family, also at the hands of upper-class fratmen. The fiery Rev. Fr. John P. Delaney, S.J., then chaplain of the UP Catholic community, led the fight against the abolition of brutal fraternity initiations and it became a national issue. 
But as evident in the Castillo and Dormitorio episodes, brutalization refuses to die. It surfaces again and again, and oftentimes these criminal episodes happen under the influence of drugs and alcohol---in some secluded place, without proper supervision from the elders of the fraternity.

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This is why physical hazing has to be abolished by law. Moreover,  under no circumstances must hazing of any kind be conducted without adequate supervision from the elders of the fraternity involved, or the consequence would be imprisonment not only of those who actually indulged in the violence, but of the fraternity leaders as well. 
Too many lives are being lost to this brutalization of the so-called "fraternities" that are the farthest from being fraternal, and that has no place in civilized society, such as ours pretends to be.