Vantage Point

Last year he did sign into law Republic Act 11053, which criminalizes all forms of hazing. But when asked to comment on the death of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadet Darwin Dormitorio, President Rodrigo Duterte nevertheless said that hazing is impossible to stop.

Hazing is the practice of imposing humiliating and even dangerous tasks on an individual as part of his or her initiation into an organization. Being verbally abused, forced to dress in outlandish clothes, or to do something embarrassing in public, eating foul substances and imbibing huge amounts of alcoholic drinks are among the more common types of hazing. But it can also include beatings and other forms of physical violence that cause temporary or permanent injury and even death, as in the Dormitorio case.

Most Filipinos have come to associate hazing with Greek-letter societies because of past hazing incidents involving those groups. But not only college fraternities and sororities use it as part of their initiation rites. Other student organizations, even honor societies, criminal gangs, the military — and, as the entire country learned, or was reminded some two weeks ago, institutions such as the PMA, where the future members of the officer corps are trained, practice it as well. The police also haze new members of the force. So does the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) haze those who’re in training to be policemen.

Hazing is a practice that goes back thousands of years and has been observed as occurring in some form or the other in many cultures. It was apparently practiced in ancient Greece (Plato condemned it), and in the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. Studies by social psychologists say hazing was introduced into the New World from Europe. Hazing deaths have also occurred in American college campuses as well as in the branches of the United States armed services. The practice was arguably introduced into the Philippines when the country was a US colony from 1900 to 1946.

Despite a hazing death in the University of the Philippines (UP) in the 1950s, the practice has continued in some student organizations in that institution, among them sororities and fraternities. It has even spread to other schools. Neither the 1995 Anti-Hazing Law (RA 8049) nor last year’s expanded version of it has prevented its use in various forms, the most common being the infliction of pain through paddles, clubs, fists, kicks, and other means. Baseball bats, even shovels have also been used in hazing, the only limit to the kind of implements used being the imagination of those doing it.

One key reason why its practice persists is its own victims’ conviction that hazing is a necessary step in assuring the loyalty and fidelity to the group of its incoming members. Despite the prospect of being hurt or even killed during the hazing process, some students also join fraternities for prestige and bragging rights — and for access to the doors of opportunity their influential alumni can open for them after graduation. In the police and military, going through it is supposed to be incontrovertible proof of manliness. As former Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General, now Senator Ronald “Bato” De la Rosa said in defense of the practice, he became the man he is today — a “warrior” — because of hazing.

Mr. Duterte may in fact be right. Hazing may indeed be impossible to stop altogether. But it can and should at least be discouraged. University presidents can warn fraternities and other student organizations of the dire consequences of hazing their fellow students. Laws that can more effectively penalize hazing can be passed and rigorously implemented. And the President of the Republic can stop saying that it’s an unavoidable hazard when joining a fraternity.

Hazing should be discouraged not just because it has cost the lives of a number of young men (including Dormitorio, at least 44 since the 1950s) who could have contributed something of value to the making of a better country had they lived. It is also because it contributes to and helps preserve the culture of violence and impunity metastasizing in much of Philippine society.

This is specially evident in its impact on the values of the police and military as coercive instruments of government. The hazing death of PMA cadet Darwin Dormitorio is specially instructive. What he experienced suggests that the use of arbitrary power against the powerless is unchecked and even tolerated in that institution — and that, therefore, its disciples are likely to use that same power against others once they’ve graduated and assumed command of the country’s soldiery.

Hazing in the country’s colleges and universities is condemnable. But the practice is even more appalling in the police and military, institutions whose core function is the use of violence for social control. Just like the police, the military is also an internal pacification force whose legal monopoly over the use of violence is easily abused.

Some individuals have tried to downplay the PMA incident by arguing that hazing happens as well in the country’s colleges and universities. But a fraternity man who has been both hazed and hazer, who graduates with a degree in, say, economics, law or engineering, is unlikely to have the occasion or opportunity to torture anyone into confessing to a crime, or to shoot an unarmed farmer to death on the suspicion that he’s a member of a rebel group. It’s quite simply because his discipline has little to do with the use of force.

There have been deaths in fraternity hazing as in the PMA. But what makes the most recent hazing death in the latter specially disturbing is Dormitorio’s having been targeted for long-term abuse.

Fraternity hazing is usually limited to a particular “season” — at the beginning of the school year when those of its members who have graduated need to be replaced with new recruits to keep the organization alive. There is also a space as well as a time limit to it. But this was not true of the torture to which Dormitorio was subjected at nearly every turn. Fraternity tormentors don’t live with their victims, but Dormitorio’s did, and were inflicting harm on him at every excuse and opportunity.

Equally troubling though unremarked was one of his alleged tormentor’s describing his victims as “crying like girls” from the pain he was inflicting on them and as “faggots.” Because used to justify the use of violence that led to the death of one victim, these expletives qualify as hate speech. It suggests that Dormitorio and others were singled out because they were perceived as somehow different, and that, therefore, the hazing they underwent which led to Dormitorio’s death was also a hate crime.

What should concern everyone is how the PMA brand of hazing has encouraged the kind of military mind-set that regards as legitimate the use of violence against the powerless and the “different” — in appearance, sexual orientation, politics, religion, social status, or ethnic origin. Together with that mistaken assumption is the consequent conviction among some in the officer corps that because they got away with it during their cadet days, they can do anything with impunity once they’re out there making the Philippines safe for the dynasties and the oligarchy by protecting them from farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, political and social activists, and others who think the government should serve them too rather than just those who control it.


Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).