Monday, September 03, 2007

Senseless, brutal, barbaric

This is my column today at the op-ed pages of the Manila Standard Today.

Last week, Cris Anthony Mendez or CA to friends, a graduating student of the College of Public Administration and Governance of the University of the Philippines Diliman paid the highest price possible for the privilege of being called a “brod:” his life.

The circumstances around his death remain sketchy, as those who are in a position to shed light on the tragedy are still not talking. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he died from one of the most barbaric displays of power. He was hazed while trying to gain admission into a fraternity.

CA’s body bore the telltale signs of hazing. A doctor friend (who, incidentally is a fratman himself who has been a victim of hazing) told me that it is quite easy to spot bruises that come from being assaulted repeatedly by a paddle. The pattern of events also closely mirrored previous similar incidents. The victim was surreptitiously brought to a hospital by people who subsequently refused to talk and quickly fled the scene.

Personal accounts in many blogs, particularly those of UP students, converge on the same conclusion. CA was a trophy candidate for fraternities who prey on the young and the promising to add to their roster of would-be illustrious brethren. He was a student leader. He told his friends that he was being aggressively recruited to join Sigma Rho, one of the dominant fraternities in UP. He was last seen talking to the president of his college’s student council, a member of the Sigma Rho fraternity, presumably the person who recruited CA to join the fraternity.

As can be expected, Sigma Rho vehemently denied involvement and even went as far as to brazenly declare it does not conduct hazing on their neophytes. But many UP students, specially the friends of Mendez, tell a different story. They are understandably indignant and the blogosphere is ablaze with fiery denunciations directed at Sigma Rho.

One doesn’t have to know CA personally to grieve and be outraged that something so senseless, so brutal, and so barbaric could befall someone who represented hope, both for his family and this country.

But the loss of the life of a promising young man at the very hands of people who offered enticements of lifelong brotherhood and affinity is not something new. The long list includes people like Lenny Villa and Alex Icasiano. And I am afraid that until more concrete actions are taken, CA won’t be the last.

CA died a senseless death because of the culture of violence that is deeply imbedded in fraternities and in other organizations that continue to blindly adhere to a barbaric tradition—one that has been scientifically debunked many times over by behavior experts—of inflicting physical pain to strengthen loyalty, commitment and fraternal bonds.

This culture of violence has to be stopped and now is a good time for everyone to come together to admit that we have a serious problem in our hands and that the solution will require multiple responses from everyone. Hazing is a social problem.

Hazing is not a phenomenon that is limited to the enclaves of academe. Hazing incidents have been frequently reported in the police and military, in athletic teams, religious cults, and other types of clubs and organizations that aspire for social status by making admission to the group difficult.

I have not been a victim of hazing because I had the good sense to quit an initiation rite when I was in college, when the fraternity masters became abusive. To this day, I still could not reconcile two facts: The fraternity aggressively recruited and in fact practically begged me to join and yet were poised to humiliate, abuse, and physically hurt me at the same time. It just didn’t add up because any relationship, much less a brotherhood, is a sham if it is founded on violence and humiliation.

But I admit culpability on one other occasion. I had a cousin who joined Tau Gamma and two years ago, he sought my help to get medical attention for the bruises and welts he got from initiation rites. The bruises were truly horrifying, the kind that become permanent marks on one’s body. But my cousin begged me to keep the matter from his parents, and I acceded to the request out of a mistaken sense of relief that at least he survived the incident. On hindsight, I could have spoken out about the barbarity. But I chose to be silent then and I admit my mistake.

Hazing and the culture of violence that fuels it continue to happen because of many factors. But the code of silence is an integral factor in the whole scheme of things. As what is happening now in CA’s case, very few are coming forward to shed light on what really happened and who were responsible. No one is admitting responsibility.

The officers of the fraternity and the initiation-mates of Mendez are not talking. Reports say that the fraternity has alumni in high places and are presumably not beyond using their connections to buy silence. And this is another problem. As has been shown in previous cases, the illustrious and often fiercely loyal alumni of a fraternity always choose to condone murder and participate in covering up the grievous mistakes of their fratmates instead of making a principled stand.

And then, there is the other aspect of the culture of silence—denial. Many among us continue to believe in the myth that hazing strengthens bonds and that it is essentially harmless; that death, such as in the case of CA, is an exception. Many try to justify the act by asserting that no malicious intent is present.

Well, it is time to call a spade a dirty shovel. Hazing is really nothing more but a savage display of power and control.

No amount of persuasive gobbledygook can dispel the fact that forcing a person to perform an embarrassing or humiliating act or submit himself to torture can strengthen bonds. Psychological literature says that hazing only results in a deep sense of violation that leads into feelings of resentment that fester inside a person and which eventually surface later on in uglier forms such as retribution. There is no psychological literature that classifies hazing as a valid form of team building. There are many positive alternatives to foster bonds and unity.

Fraternities should come to grips with this inescapable fact: Death by hazing is never accidental. It is premeditated. It is intentional. It is one of the highest forms of victimization.

And so what if the victim agrees to participate in the activity? In many cases, waiver forms are signed freeing perpetrators from supposed legal responsibilities. I doubt very much if anyone grants permission to be mauled and killed.

My heart bleeds for CA’s parents and those of the other kids involved in the tragedy. I can only imagine the emotional turmoil they are currently going through. I am sure that covering up their children’s grievous mistakes was not among the responsibilities they aspired for when they sent their children to college.

This is a cliché, but really, the senseless death of Cris Anthony Mendez should serve as a wake up call. It is time to review the Anti-hazing Law. It is time for university administrators and academic communities to join forces to finally end the culture of violence. It is time for alumni of fraternities and parents of fratmen to provide a stronger moral compass to their younger brods and children.

Hazing is senseless, brutal and barbaric. There is no place for it in our society.


2 comments:

vic said...

Bong,
Even spanking a child, which is an accepted form of discipline for centuries are now even consider an assault that even kids today know their rights. Of course we have all kinds of fraternities here, from within the Military and brotherhood in gangs, but if physical injury get to the point where it reaches the knowledge of Medical Authorities, the Police would immediately lunch an investigation, usually a criminal investigation. In case like that of Cris Mendez, I am pretty sure a Coroner’s Inquest will be called after the Police Investigation for Criminal liabilities, to sort out EVERYTHING....and followed by one Massive Lawsuit..I think this is where the country’s Justice System still have to take another hard look at itself...

Regards from Placido G., the former Human Resource Manager of Boysen and Dutch Boy who told me undertook some seminars under you..He is now one of us...

Bong C. Austero said...

vic,
so great to hear from you again. you are right, our justice system stinks!

hi to pluck. didnt know he moved already.

bong