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Rites of passage

President Duterte and several senators have admitted that they also underwent fraternity hazing in their college days. Duterte, a member of San Beda law school’s Lex Talionis, did not name the fraternity, but he said the beating landed him in the hospital for three days.

Now we have an inkling of where all that violence comes from, and why Du30 believes in an eye for an eye (the law of talion or retaliation) or retribution in fighting criminality.

Surely being beaten black and blue till you’re close to death by beasts masquerading as your brothers can make the victim believe that humans are intrinsically evil.

The senators who have confessed to being subjected to hazing belong to top fraternities. This raises the question: since they know how cruel and dangerous it can be, why wasn’t hazing banned a long time ago?

My guess is like the Cosa Nostra and other organized crime rings, fraternity members are bound by omerta, the code of silence. Even if lawmakers worry that their children and grandchildren might one day be maimed or even killed in a fraternity or sorority hazing, everyone fears censure by their “brothers” and “sisters” if they denounce the violent initiation and propose a ban.

Now they have been handed an opportunity to stop this insanity, following the murder of University of Sto. Tomas law freshman Horacio “Atio” Castillo III, a neophyte of the UST Faculty of Law’s Aegis Juris fraternity. Since no senator seems to belong to the fraternity, it should be easier for the chamber to probe the case and craft the necessary legislation to prevent more hazing deaths.

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We don’t know if any congressman is a member of Aegis Juris; the fraternity deactivated its website earlier this week.

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Fraternity antics have always baffled me. As a student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, our classes at the College of Arts and Sciences were regularly disrupted by members of a fraternity that congregated at the ground floor canteen and screamed profanities, loud enough to be heard all the way to the top floor.

Once, during one of my Spanish classes, two or three students sauntered in and smashed a bottle of beer on the head of one of my classmates, a frat member and folk singer, seated in the back row. Blood spurted from his head, mingling with the beer that trickled down his face. The culprits fled; my classmate didn’t try to chase them. Some students helped him make his way to the nearest clinic.

Around that time, the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity began its annual “Oblation Run,” with members running around UP campuses buck-naked but with masks on. The runners are supposed to symbolize the naked hero. The ritual gave kids lessons on the male anatomy in the pre-internet age, but otherwise we weren’t really sure how running around naked with your identity concealed could be heroic and contribute to character building.

The ritual did celebrate freedom of expression – precious during the martial law years. UP administrators obviously did not think it was a good idea to stop students from parading around campus looking like the Oblation.

Beyond the silliness, APO – and practically all major fraternities in UP Diliman – have figured in rumbles and hazing controversies. It must be teen testosterone running amuck, a sort of phase two in the traditional Pinoy rite of passage to manhood, phase one being pre-adolescent circumcision.

In the case of tuli, however, the operation serves a useful purpose, for health and hygiene.

What useful purpose might be served in hitting a “brother” with a paddle until he’s battered and approaching death? The only lesson that can be derived from such madness is cruelty.

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Maybe testosterone awakens a primeval instinct to subject oneself to a physical, violence-prone rite of passage to manhood. During the age of the hunter-gatherers, however, such rituals were meant for something undeniably useful especially for the tribe: young men were tested for their capability to fight enemies, hunt for food and protect the community.

In our age, what is being tested? For the ability to provide food, a neophyte can order pizza for the entire fraternity using his cell phone. Fraternities can engage in rumbles, but over what? Rival frats are not seizing territory or snatching and raping women or stealing livestock and crops.

If fraternity members want to unleash violence, they should go where real courage is tested, by fighting alongside the military against Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Mindanao.

Those soldiers go into battle fully aware of the threat of being fatally shot, maimed or killed in a bomb blast or, worse, dying a horrible death if they are snatched by the terrorists. The soldiers have likely seen video footage of the terrorists decapitating their captives, slowly across the neck using a blunt knife while the poor victim squeals like a pig.

Despite such horrific images, those soldiers go into battle, ready for the worst, to keep the nation safe. Now that’s real courage. Those are genuinely tough cojones, bro.

Not like boys behaving badly and then turning tail and running to momma (and frat brothers in government) when the manure hits the fan. It’s the depth of cowardice to inflict harm on a helpless person, especially in the name of a twisted brotherhood.

While moving to ban hazing altogether, lawmakers may also discuss ways by which youths can channel their violent tendencies to positive uses, perhaps through contact sports competitions. President Duterte should go ahead and revive the ROTC and, for the girls, the Citizen Army Training or CAT. Or how about summer placement programs with the military, such as keeping our soldiers company on that rickety ship sitting on Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea? It could teach young men something about nationalism.

Lawmakers should not want their own loved ones to suffer the fate of Atio Castillo. Youths want a sense of belonging and fraternities and sororities meet that need, so these organizations cannot be banned. But rites of acceptance must be reasonable and civilized. Humiliation and any form of physical harm must be strictly prohibited.

Legislators should bear in mind that the lives they will save if they ban hazing could be their own grandchildren’s.

Something good might yet come out of Atio Castillo’s death.

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