THE recent death due to hazing and maltreatment of twenty-year-old Darwin Dormitorio, a cadet of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) reminded me again of an experience in college where I was this close to joining a fraternity initiation rite. That became one of my “what if” moments because in those days I was much too eager to join a fraternity. What if I did join the initiation rites? Would I have survived?
The hazing ritual and maltreatment Dormitorio, a plebe, went through in the PMA follow the same philosophy that fraternities embrace in recruiting new members. The newbies place themselves at the mercy of old members even to the point of willingly going through a period of enslavement and acceptance of physical abuse. The old members strut around as superiors, some even calling themselves “master” and acting like lord of the manor to the newbie’s serf.
I opened myself up to recruitment by a fraternity in college because I got interested in the member of the frat’s sorority who was one of the darlings in the engineering department where I belonged. But I was already opposed then to feudal setups, whether these exist in the farms or in college organizations.
I was with a friend during the orientation phase held at the campus grounds. I threw probing questions that apparently irritated some of the frat’s old members. I ended up not joining the next day’s initiation rites, an instinctive act. Which was good because I would have been subjected to physical harm if I did. That was that the frat members told my friend, who joined anyway and was asked for my whereabouts. “Daghan kaayo tog pangutana da,” one of them supposedly said.
Obviously, not all those who went through hazing and maltreatment at the PMA died. Some PMA graduates even proudly wear the abuse they went through as a badge. Other PMA graduates, though, rightly understood why Congress had to pass the anti-hazing law. But one view I would have liked to hear is from Darwin’s father, who is a PMA graduate himself.
The cadets who subjected Dormitorio to physical abuse have already been identified and are awaiting disciplinary action from the PMA as well as the charges that will be filed against them. Lt. Gen. Ronnie
Evangelista, the PMA superintendent and Brig. Gen. Bartolome Baccaro, the PMA commandant of cadets, quit their posts. Baccaro talked about failed efforts to reform the institution.
But reforms in the PMA can only succeed if the officers themselves are of one mind. When there are still those who find virtue in upperclassmen subjecting plebes to physical and mental abuse to supposedly transform them into hardened steel, then nothing much will change in the institution.
Such a mindset, though, is but a reflection of our feudal setup. I still have to hear of cadets in Westpoint in the United States dying because of hazing and maltreatment. The US is obviously an advanced country while we are still backward economically. The mindset of many of us is thus still a laggard, too.