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Mystery shrouds death of PMA cadet in Cavite

- by Paolo Romero And Aurora Alambra -

Did Philippine Military Academy (PMA) freshman Ace Bernabe Ekid really die of a stroke during a rigorous training exercise or was he a victim of brutal initiation rites by upperclassmen?

Ekid's family and friends are insisting that his death was no accident, and that foul play was definitely involved.

The PMA, however, which has started investigating the death of the fourth-class cadet, has ruled out hazing as a probable cause.

At a news conference, PMA Superintendent Maj. Gen. Melchor Rosales said Ekid died of heat stroke while participating in a five-day field training exercise at the Philippine Navy's Marine Base in Ternate, Cavite last Tuesday.

Rosales denied allegations by Ekid's family that the plebe died due to injuries inflicted by upperclassmen.

"It is unfortunate that allegations of hazing were made. But we fully understand the reaction of Cadet Ekid's parents... they have just lost a son," Rosales said. "We assure the family that there was no maltreatment whatsoever."

The family and friends of the victim, however, claimed that all incoming cadets who happen to be good looking and rich or those who are children of military officers, particularly of non-PMA graduates, are sometimes "endorsed" and singled out for hazing.

Even if they have already been "incorporated" into the PMA corps, first-year cadets are reportedly still initiated by upperclassmen until the "declaration of ease" one year after.

The 21-year-old Ekid, who was into his second year at the De La Salle University before entering the PMA, was described as "very good looking."

Despite the allegations, Rosales said the PMA would not be deterred from helping his family, which will be entitled to various benefits to be given by the government.

Ekid will also be given full military honors and may be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani at Fort Bonifacio in Makati City if the family so desires, Rosales said.

Authorities have already conducted an autopsy to ascertain the true cause of death.

Rosales said the academy has nothing to hide and is cooperating fully with police authorities.

Ekid, a rifleman for the 1st Company of the "Red" Battalion during the war games, collapsed at around 5:30 p.m. while his group was climbing Bayabay Ridge last Tuesday.

Prompt attention by a medic revived the victim but the latter showed signs of being incoherent and delirious. Ekid later lapsed into convulsions and was rushed to the nearest hospital. He died at 6:50 p.m.

Citing the findings of the doctors who attended to the victim, Rosales said the death was caused by heat stroke. Ekid was attended to by Capt. Carlos Dato of the PMA and medical officers from the Cavite Naval Station Hospital and the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center.

The body was later brought to the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory for autopsy.

Rosales admitted the maneuvers during the exercise, dubbed "Beast Barracks," were "rigorous" but said medical teams were always present as a standard operating procedure.

"Everybody went through that exercise. I myself took part in it when I was a cadet," he said. "It's not all walking and climbing... there were sufficient periods of rest."

Rosales said all 796 cadets who entered the PMA two months ago had to go undergo 60 days of summer training to strengthen the body for rigorous activities.

Ekid, who was part of that batch, was actually a "turnback," or a cadet who left the PMA and entered again. He had already undergone the Beast Barracks before going on a year-long sick leave and reporting back.

ACE BERNABE EKID ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES MEDICAL CENTER BAYABAY RIDGE BEAST BARRACKS CADET EKID CARLOS DATO CAVITE NAVAL STATION HOSPITAL EKID PMA ROSALES
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