When a brotherhood harms and kills

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

MUCH has already been said about the death of Atio Castillo at the hands of members of the Aegis Juris fraternity.

People wonder at the insanity of it all. How can reasonable beings voluntarily submit themselves to a process where they are physically assaulted? And how can rational people even inflict on their future brothers, and sisters, such pain?

In the case of Atio Castillo, it was a brutal process that led to his death, and transformed a ritual where someone is being initiated into a brotherhood, a family, into an avenue for committing murder.

Atio wanted to join a family of brothers. But this so-called family ended up taking him away from his parents, forever.

But as someone who underwent the same process, both as the taker and giver of physical pain, I can offer a first-person view of the experience, and why what some could label as sheer madness and patently criminal, is in fact considered as a necessary process of seeking meaning in life.

At the outset, this is not to justify what happened to Atio. My only purpose is to provide some reason to this insanity, not to exonerate those who killed Atio, but to address the deeper issues of why young men join fraternities, and young women join their counterpart sororities.

The group I joined during my college days was not even a fraternity. It was a co-ed socio-civic organization that even had the reputation of being progressively left-of-center. This is to belie the point that only fraternities and sororities are engaged in what can be construed as hazing. The initiation process I experienced was not sex-desegregated, which somewhat toned down the physical violence considering that the giver and the taker of such were of mixed genders.

When I joined, I knew fully well of the physical nature of the final initiation rites, as I also fully knew that I would be undergoing a rigorous process of reporting to all members of the organization, where I would be humiliated, and asked to perform menial jobs. I knew all of these were simply to test my determination to join the group.

So, why would a “promdi” from Buhi, Camarines Sur join an organization where I would be humiliated and hurt just to test my determination?

This is the same question that is being asked of all people who join fraternities, sororities, organizations and clubs that practice hazing.

And the answer simply strikes deep at the heart of the nature of Pinoys to seek a family, a home, a shelter, a community. It was a need driven by the fact the campus where I was at was a lonely, academic landscape. Like other promdi away from our families, I wanted to have someone to take care of me when I got sick, lend me money when my allowance was late, provide me old exams, give me tutorials in difficult subjects. There was also the promise of having alumni brothers and sisters who are now members of the faculty giving me some considerations in their classes when the “going gets rough,” or the opportunity of working in companies or in the bureaucracy where alumni members are well-placed. It also went with the honor of being a part of a group that prides itself on having the most number of honor graduates, to just even having the most number of championship titles in campus sports competition, or to the claim of having the most good-looking and most popular figures on campus.

Everything boils down to the natural sense of belonging, to finding a place that comforts, takes care and embraces in an alien place.

Some would ask how this can apply to people like Atio whose family was not in a distant place, who regularly went home to his parents.

But people should understand, and I say this as a parent, that much as we shower our children with love and care, there is something that they seek which we cannot provide, which they can only find in a campus-based entity. We are not there with them when they do battle with professors, review for exams, and hunt for jobs after they graduate. There is a point when we as parents would distance ourselves from them, as they gain autonomy from us.

The horror of death seemed to be a distant consideration when I joined my organization in 1978. I would assume that such would be the same for every young student who decides to enlist and join a group and be subjected to hazing.

When I was receiving the paddles, and being slapped and physically assaulted, all I was thinking was that at the end of the night, I would be blindfolded holding a lit candle in my hand, as the final rituals were done, and I would open my eyes to a new family, one that would shelter me in that unfamiliar land and make it my familiar second home, my alma mater.

But there is another facet to this otherwise promising imagery of family.

When I was already the giver of the pain, as a full member now initiating applicant neophytes after me, it was easy to descend into the abyss of inhumanity, and allow the demons that I did not know existed to take hold of me. Holding the paddle was like holding a gun. The rush of being in control, the high of being in command, one that I am sure every master would experience, are living testaments that even as we are humans, we are still technically from the animal species.

This is what has to be considered as we mull over how the search for an alternative family could lead us to dark nights where young people like Atio Castillo die.

It is because we are human beings looking for spaces to belong to, and we forgot that we have inner demons.

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