Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Looking for someone to blame

This is my column today, July 8, 2014. 


My heart sank when broadcast journalist Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN’s late night newscast posed the first question to Aurelio Cesar Servando (father of Guillo Cesar Servando, latest victim of fraternity-related hazing violence) in his first live television interview last week.  Drilon’s first question was like an unexpected bullet that came from nowhere:  Will Servando make De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, accountable for the death of his son?
My heart sank because the question, and the very direct way in which it was coached, was characteristic of the default reaction of many in this country every time something alarming happens that involves a young person: Search for someone in a position of authority to be made accountable for the problem; in this particular case, the educational institution.  If Servando, himself, were not grieving, he probably would have been asked if he thought he was not remiss in performing his parental duties.  Come to think of it, I think he was asked a variation of the question by another journalist, although the question was thankfully coached in a more indirect way. 
I agree that parenting is something that is done by many people in positions of influence and authority, but I doubt if there is any way to delineate the various accountabilities assigned to the different forms and sources of parenting. 
Fortunately, Servando seemed more reasonable.  He said the incident happened outside of  school jurisdiction so there was no sense in making the school accountable.  In separate interviews, he revealed that the school has been fully cooperative in the investigation and even went out of its way to assist in tracing the whereabouts of the other suspects.  In the other fraternity-related hazing incident which was also discovered last week, the University of the Philippines was also noted to have been proactive and forthright in its various pronouncements— doing a careful balance between the victim’s right to privacy and the public demand for accountability.  In short, the educational institutions were doing the best they could despite the fact that it is a generally accepted fact that fraternities conduct their hazing activities under a shroud of mystery and secrecy, and largely beyond the reach of any educational institution’s reach. 
But apparently the quest for someone to blame blinds even people we expect to be more reasonable.  Persida Acosta, Head of the Public Attorney’s Office, went on a media blitz over the weekend essentially asking that “school officials be made more accountable for the death or injury of students who are subjected to violent fraternity initiation rites.”  In various media reports, Acosta ranted about the need for school officials to supervise initiation rites as provided for in the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995. 
I am sure Acosta is a very busy person, what with the number of legal cases referred to her office on top of her regular appearance in  television shows that feature live confrontations between feuding parties, but perhaps she should really try to understand the complexity of the problem.
First, not all schools recognize fraternities.  DLS-CSB bans fraternities and Greek-letter organizations so there was no way that it would have had any knowledge of the initiation that led to the murder of Guillo Cesar Servando.  How could they be present in initiation activities of organizations that they do not recognize?  
It can be argued that non-recognition of fraternities is precisely what drives them to do their activities underground, resulting in more danger to students.  But then again, hazing accidents do happen in universities where a more tolerant attitude towards fraternities exist. 
What is clear at this point is that there is indeed a compelling need to regulate initiation rites in schools where fraternities are recognized by the institution, but I doubt if there is any university in this country that would sanction initiation activities that involve violence.  In short, no fraternity would ever think of seeking approval from their school’s office of student affairs for their initiation rites, much less hazing activities, being fully aware that no self-respecting teacher would ever approve such activities.  The initiation rites of fraternities are always done in clandestine fashion—in fact, the elements of secrecy and danger are part of the whole psychological context that raises the affective pull of such activities. 
Blaming schools for not supervising initiation rites is a madcap idea.  However, schools must be made answerable in terms of the steps they take to discipline or make accountable individuals and fraternities that are involved in hazing activities.  Those are two different things.
Fraternities and hazing are complex social and psychological phenomena that we need to comprehend fully before we can make attempts to prescribe solutions.  Looking for someone to blame is not a step in the right direction.

No comments: