THE death of Cdt. 4th Class Darwin Dormitorio has once again jarred our minds over the inhumanity of institutionalized violence. It is simply beyond the comprehension of many how an institution that is designed to train men and women who will protect us from harm was not able to protect this plebe from his tormentors and murderers. Physical, verbal and psychological violence inflicted on freshman cadets are not new in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). Dormitorio is certainly not the first. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa even takes pride in it, attributing to it a significant role in shaping what he has become — now a senator of the land. Even President Duterte has admitted that it is virtually impossible to totally abolish hazing despite the existence of an anti-hazing law.
And here, the President may be right. The practice is so pervasive that it is not limited to the military and police training schools. It exists in universities, colleges and even high schools, even as it is also a practice among street gangs. Hazing was experienced not only by senators, lawyers, professors, artists and professionals, even presidents, but also by drug criminals and juvenile delinquents. It is not only the poor that fall into it, but even the children of the elite. What we see prominently featured in the news, however, are cases like Dormitorio and that of University of Santo Tomas (UST) law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo 3rd, and those others who died ahead of them. The death of poor neophytes at the hands of street gangs is forever mislabeled simply as “death due to gang violence.” And here we may have to reflect on the fact that Dormitorio, Castillo and all the others like them technically also died from gang violence. We simply do not label it as such because we are uncomfortable accepting the fact that the PMA and top schools, like the UST and University of the Philippines (UP), have become breeding grounds for de facto gangs. After all, the word gang refers to a group of persons who commit a crime, and hazing is most definitely a crime under our laws.
A gang, however, can also be simply defined as a group of persons having informal and close social relations and not necessarily formed to achieve unlawful or anti-social ends. It is in this context that one needs to see why young men and women, despite the risk of harm from hazing, would still knowingly join fraternities, sororities and organizations that use physical, verbal and psychological violence as part of their initiation rites and often without the tacit knowledge of their parents or guardians. And here, one realizes that it is because of the promise of brotherhood and sisterhood, of a second family.
Joining fraternities, sororities and organizations offers the reward of another support group not only while in school, providing assistance when money runs out or when in need of tutorials and old exams. In life after graduation, it can mean heightened employability in law firms owned by fraternity brothers, or being enabled in careers with support from sorority sisters. It is not uncommon to find in universities alumni members who are now part of the faculty actively recruiting potential members. Fraternities, sororities and organizations are on a feeding frenzy of show and tell, bannering their groups’ accomplishments and of noted alumni in their fields, as a way to entice recruits.
The justification given by groups that employ physical, verbal and psychological violence vary from the usual line of testing the determination of their recruits, to making the process of joining harder, to ensure that loyalty, once admitted into the organization, would be stronger, following the adage that one would definitely treasure more things that are earned through hardship than those easily received. I even know of college cheering squads requiring their recruits to undergo embarrassing acts that can be construed as public humiliation, but justify these as a practical test for the ability of potential cheerers to perform in the face of a hostile crowd in a losing game.
It is important to point out that initiation rites are not confined to the juvenile, and doesn’t just entail physical, verbal and psychological violence. For one, the rites of passage that a part-time faculty goes through before being awarded a full-time position, or of one on probation in order to gain tenure, would be akin to an initiation. Being assigned early morning and late afternoon classes and nothing in between, unable to refuse additional committee work beyond what is required, and trying not to displease the tenured full-time faculty, are technically embodiments of what can approximate some kind of initiation rite.
But all these are not to be taken to mean that initiation rites amounting to hazing are acceptable. This is simply because people die from hazing.
One major difference, if there is any, between hazing done by university-based groups, or even by street gangs, and the kind that killed Dormitorio is that these are usually shorter in duration, or even just one-time affairs, as in the case with some gangs. The hazing that occurs in the halls of the PMA is a year-long suffering, where cadets are constantly at risk of being manhandled, verbally attacked and psychologically abused. It appears that Dormitorio had already been taken to hospital for injuries from prior attacks. This did not stop the de-facto criminal gang within the walls of the military academy from hurting him more.
It is easy to condemn hazing — and hazers. A UP student, whose participation in hazing was publicly revealed in social media, took his own life after being bashed and trolled online. In a way, each one of us has our own depravities and inner rage that are just waiting to be expressed. Some express it in physical violence during initiation rites, while others use the keyboard to join an online lynch mob. And both can end up killing someone.