A brotherhood of paddles

Every year, it happens. A young boy, still brimming with dreams, falls prey to the innards of fraternity violence. All in the name of brotherhood.

And every year, this shocks our sensibilities. These supposedly civilized men, who carry themselves as brothers, subject their neophytes to unconscionable suffering. As if there is no ounce of humanity left in them.

But every year, it seems like nothing happens. Investigations commence and media attention abounds; yet the victims of these senseless hostilities are still far from the grasp of achieving justice. Hence, the cycle goes on and on.

No amount of pragmatism can justify all these ruthlessness. Even the Supreme Court, whose bench includes several affiliated magistrates, did not mince words in condemning fraternity violence. In People v. Feliciano, promulgated last May 2014, it held that “[t]his culture of impunity must stop. There is no space in this society for hooliganism disguised as fraternity rumbles.” The Court considered these barbaric actions as “an anathema, an immature and useless expenditure of testosterone. It fosters a culture that retards manhood.”

Although arguable, it is apparent that the current legal regime turns a blind eye on this reality. True enough, hazing and other forms of initiation rites in these usually clandestine organizations are already being regulated by Republic Act No. 8049. The law, which has been in place since 1995, was enacted in response to the Lenny Villa tragedy—the infamous fraternity casualty involving an Ateneo Law freshman. But as currently worded, RA No. 8049 is toothless. The law only regulates hazing; it does not prohibit it. Even the acts penalized by the law could be considered as mere rehashes of existing provisions under the Revised Penal Code.

As explained by Supreme Court Spokesperson Theodore Te in an online column, “hazing is a criminal act only when [death, mutilation, injuries] result and without proof beyond reasonable doubt of these consequences, no serious prosecution, let alone conviction, for hazing may be had.” At best, the loosely worded and poorly crafted legislation seems to be an empty rhetoric then.

Granted that the law is amended in the future, doubt still lingers as to whether it can effect the intended changes. Concededly, laws can only do so much. The problem lies in the fact that the culture of fraternities has become deeply ingrained in Philippine society—such that for some people who become part of these organizations, they have been left with no recourse but to join. But who is to blame?

Blame the system. After all, fraternities may have been a subset of the patronage system prevalent in our society. In law school, for instance, invitations to join fraternities and sororities are extended the moment the admissions results are released. Perks and privileges are dangled to entice the naïve rookies—reviewers, an instant support group, specialized Bar operations, and of course, powerful connections. In the Machiavellian profession of law, who would not want any of those.

In exchange for these benefits, two things are typically demanded from the members: their unwavering loyalty to the organization, and deference to its time-honored traditions. A “we did it, so should you” type of reasoning prevails. And it is exactly because of these reasons why this culture has perpetuated, and has even permeated notwithstanding a law being implemented or despite any indignation hurled against them.

Hence, the best way to change this vicious culture is from within. Not through any legislation or public perception—but through a shift in the values and norms espoused by these organizations. Breaking tradition may not seem to be palatable to the tastes of fraternity elders, but it is clearly the logical step in ensuring the demise of a violent culture that haunts the exuberance of our youth.

Because in the end, brotherhood is more than the sum of the punches received or paddles endured. Manhood transcends physicality. It is only when these affiliations take a courageous stand to change the flaws inherent in their system that we can consider them man enough to face the real world—not the make-believe reality that they are in. P


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