To a society now inured to daily street killings and other violent crimes, news of the death of University of Santo Tomas (UST) law freshman Horacio Tomas Castillo 3rd still came as a shock. This is because of the senselessness of his death arising from a rite of initiation into a fraternity that is supposed to be founded on brotherhood, support for justice and the law.
Sadly, Greek-letter fraternities in the country have gained notoriety for their violent hazing rites, through which young men gain approval from their more senior brethren and full membership to an exclusive circle.
These elitist organizations deride those who refuse to join them as “barbarians,” which in reality is a supreme irony. Barbarian is the most appropriate word to describe what happens during a fraternity’s hazing rites.
The bloated body of Castillo, 22, bore hematomas on both arms, and had bruises and burns from candle wax and cigarettes all over. So serious was the bodily trauma that Horacio, or “Acio” to his parents and friends, had a massive heart attack.
“They are animals,” said Horacio Castillo Jr., Acio’s father, of those behind his son’s death.
Indeed, no parent should have to bury their children.
Another supreme irony is Republic Act (RA) 8049, or the Anti-Hazing Law, which is inappropriately named because it does not really ban hazing, but only regulates it.
In the law, hazing is defined as “an initiation rite or practice as a prerequisite for admission into membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization by placing the recruit, neophyte or applicant in some embarrassing or humiliating situations, such as forcing him to do menial, silly, foolish and other similar tasks or activities or otherwise subjecting him to physical or psychological suffering or injury.”
Hazing, “physical or psychological suffering or injury” included, is allowed, provided school authorities or heads of organizations are informed seven days before initiation rites are held.
Section 4, pertaining to penalties, is ridiculous; the severity of sanctions depend on the degree of physical harm, when there should be zero injury to any neophyte undergoing any form of initiation.
The law is so weak fraternities and other student organizations continue to hold hazing rites, sometimes kept under wraps from school administrators. This was likely what happened in Aegis Juris, the UST law fraternity that recruited Acio.
No wonder there has only been one conviction, out of dozens of cases, since RA 8049 was passed by Congress in 1995 – life sentences meted on two fratmen in connection with the death of a UP Los Baños student in 2006.
In the 1991 Lenny Villa case, charges against three suspects in the death of the Ateneo de Manila student were even dismissed.
The lack of justice in nearly all hazing cases necessitates a complete overhaul of RA 8049.
If they cannot be restricted to academic and philanthropic pursuits, fraternities and similar organizations should be banned from all campuses. Any form of hazing should likewise be banned, not merely regulated by school authorities.
In fact, the whole concept of initiation rites, especially in the school setting, should be re-examined, with activities that do not promote character-building and civic-mindedness, such as humiliating tasks and psychological torture, prohibited.
Fraternities, hazing and initiation – especially those that lead to senseless deaths such as Acio’s – are things we can all do without.