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EDITORIAL - Useless law

The Anti-Hazing Law or Republic Act 8049 imposes stiff penalties for violent initiation rites of fraternities and sororities. Penalties ranging from four years to life in prison are imposed not only on direct participants but also on accomplices such as school authorities and faculty members who have knowledge of the hazing but did nothing to stop it.

Even parents who allow hazing at their home and failed to stop the violence can be indicted as principals. Officers, former officers or alumni of the fraternity, sorority or organization who planned the hazing or knew about it but failed to stop the violence are also liable as principals under RA 8049.

Yet how many such accomplices and principals have been convicted or even indicted since the Anti-Hazing Law was passed in 1995? Fraternity and sorority alumni throughout the prosecution service and judiciary in fact are believed to be responsible for the appalling failure to give justice to the scores of students who have died or suffered severe beating and humiliation at the hands of those who profess to be their “brothers” and “sisters.”

As in other crimes, this failure has guaranteed impunity – and more hazing deaths.

This coming week Congress is set to start conducting hearings on the death of Horacio Tomas Castillo III, the University of Santo Tomas law freshman who died last Sunday at the hands of Aegis Juris fraternity members. Castillo’s death should test whether the Anti-Hazing Law is an effective deterrent against violent initiation rites.

In the upcoming inquiry, lawmakers can start with the fact that RA 8049 merely regulates rather than prohibits hazing. While the law prohibits acts that inflict physical harm and cause temporary or permanent impairment, the wording of the provisions can be interpreted to mean that hazing can be allowed under a regulated environment. The law defines “hazing” as “an initiation rite or practice as a prerequisite for admission into membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization by placing the recruit, neophyte or applicant in some embarrassing or humiliating situations such as forcing him to do menial, silly, foolish and other similar tasks or activities or otherwise subjecting him to physical or psychological suffering or injury.”

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As the provisions are clarified, lawmakers should also find out why the conviction rate for violators is dismal. The congressional inquiry is supposed to be in aid of legislation, to amend RA 8049. All the effort, sound and fury will be useless if the amendments, like the original version of the Anti-Hazing Law, cannot be enforced.

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