Monday, February 27, 2012

Death in the name of brotherhood

This is my column today.

Marvin Reglos, freshman law student at the San Beda Law School, died last week in the hands of people he aspired to call brothers. He wasn’t the first to offer his life in the name of brotherhood. He wouldn’t be the last.

In the same week that Reglos was murdered, hazing was very much in the news as the Supreme Court handed down the final decision on the death of Lenny Villa, victim of the same circumstances that killed Reglos. It took 21 years before the Villas got justice — and it wasn’t even the kind that solved more than two decades of pain and longing.

In the same period, key personalities in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona openly acknowledged each other in the middle of the proceedings as “brods.” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile recognized the following as his fraternity brothers: Corona’s chief defense counsel former justice Serafin Cuevas, members of the prosecution team Raul Daza and Arthur Lim, and Senator Judges Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon. Sigma Rho is indeed an influential fraternity and the open recognition and public recognition of affiliation must have sent many members of the fraternity giddy with pride. Thereupon, pundits also pointed out the other configurations present in the trial — most members of the prosecution, defense, and senator-judges inevitably got classified into Aquilans, Utopians, Alpha Sigmans, Upsilonians, Alpha Phi Betans, Delta Lambdha Sigmans, etc.

The power structures in this country are deeply intertwined with the fraternity system. Right now, it is bad; very bad news.

Any doubts about just how prevalent and deeply ingrained Greek-letter organizations are in Philippine politics and society should have been obliterated with the admission of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that she was co-founder of Lambda Rho, the sister organization of Lambda Rho Sigma — the very same fraternity whose name was embossed on the shirt that Reglos was wearing on the day his body was badly mutilated and reduced to pulp.

De lima has vowed an “honest-to-goodness” investigation into the death of Reglos. There’s a part of me that desperately wants to believe that she can do it. After all, this was the same woman who openly defied the Supreme Court last year. But in the same week that she mouthed those assurances, the leader of the fraternity was able to appear at a press conference as a non-suspect despite the fact that a car present during the hazing rites was already traced to a relative of his. I am not saying that the Justice Secretary is incapable of going against his “brods” but we can’t help noting how she said she would “appeal” to them to cooperate; a complete departure from the fighting stance that she uses to treat everyone else.

It will take more than fighting words to eradicate a system that is considered hallowed and sacred. Being part of a fraternity is considered a badge of honor, particularly if the fraternity is a major force in this country. These fraternities deliberately make admission to their ranks difficult, thus the continued proliferation of hazing despite a law (Republic Act 8049) that specifically renders it illegal.

The death of a young and promising man is tragic and I am sure many among our leaders will huff and puff in public. But we all know how all these will end. The death of Reglos will be another sad footnote to a system that considers such tragedies as unfortunate aberrations and exceptions to the illustrious history of the system. Oh sure, two or three people will probably fester in jail. But those who prop up the system, those who lend their names and provide all kinds of support and resources to glorify the system — they will continue to be worshipped and exalted.

This is the way we do things in this country. We make some token sacrifices, make a few fighting speeches, demonize certain people because these represent the easy way to gain popularity and project the impression that we are doing something. We all know, however, that the bigger problem continues to fester under the fluff and is threatening to surface later in far more ugly ways and forms. But who cares, right? That’s for another leader to take care of. And we wonder why things don’t really get fixed in this country.

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