Seares: Acts against PMA cadet not hazing? Amended law plugged loopholes

LAWYER Vincent Isles, who defended the teenage boy who was initially accused of the murder of 16-year-old Christine Silawan in Lapu-Lapu City last March 10, thinks the charges against suspects in the Sept. 18 death by hazing of 20-year-old cadet Darwin Dormitorio at the Philippine Military Academy shouldn’t be filed under the anti-hazing law.

Isles got his 17-year-old client off, thanks to his lawyering skill (aided by contradictory findings of separate autopsies that police and public attorney’s office conducted and by the self-confessed killer’s arrest). His opinion on the Baguio City incident deserves attention.

The lawyer’s Sept. 29 post on Facebook said the charges against the hazing suspects (seven as of the weekend) should be filed under the Revised Penal Code, not under Republic Act 11053 or Anti-Hazing Act of 2018. Penalty will be 12 years and one day to 20 years instead of reclusion perpetua or “life imprisonment” plus P3 million fine. That’s a defense lawyer’s mind at work there.

What’s not ‘hazing’

Isles cited Section 3 (“Prohibition on hazing”) where the relevant part reads: “... Provided, that the physical, mental, (sic) and practices to determine and enhance the physical, mental and psychological fitness of prospective regular members of the AFP and the PNP (approved by DND secretary and Napolcom, as recommended by AFP chief of staff and PNP director general) shall not be considered as hazing...”

Does the said provision take the incidents, which led to cadet Dormitorio’s death, out of the Anti-Hazing Act and the crime committed was only murder or homicide? Maybe not.

Neophyte and member

The definition of “hazing” in Section 2 of the law tends to include the recent PMA incident:

* “any act that results in physical or psychological suffering, harm or injury” (check);

* “inflicted on a recruit, neophyte, applicant or member” (check on “neophyte” and “member”);

* “as part of an initiation rite or practice... as prerequisite for admission or requirement for continuing membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization...” (check on “requirement for continuing membership in the organization”).

RA 8049, the original law called Anti-Hazing Act of 1955, was amended for the purpose of, among others, expanding the meaning of “hazing” to include acts done after the victim is already admitted as member. The old law covered only incidents during initiation.

Intentional or not

Another part of the new definition, which tightens the screw further, is this: “(Hazing) shall also include any activity, intentionally made or otherwise, by one person alone or acting with others, that tends to humiliate or embarrass, degrade, abuse, or endanger, by requiring (the victim) to do menial, silly or foolish tasks.” And this: “It includes ceremonies, practices, rituals, and other acts in all stages of membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization.”

The amendatory RA 11053 seems to have plugged the loopholes in the original RA 8049. Lawmakers learned the lessons from hazing deaths during the 23-year span between the two laws. They included the death of Marlon Villanueva, a UP Los Baños student, in 2006, and UST law student Tomas Castillo, in 2017.

One other thing: the new law seems to make intent to kill irrelevant (“intentionally or otherwise,” the law says), easing what used to be the tough part of proving homicidal purpose in the hazing.

Electrocuting genitals

Still, prosecutors will find useful the results of police investigation on Dormitorio’s death, whether under the hazing law or the good old penal code.

Such police findings as: A senior cadet punching Dormitorio several times in the stomach after he lost the boots entrusted to him; three cadets trying to suffocate the neophyte with a plastic bag; and an upperclassman electrocuting the victim’s genitals.

Tests to ‘determine, enhance’ Those, surely, were not part of the tests to “determine and enhance” the physical and psychological fitness of the cadet. If they were, were they approved by the DND secretary and Napolcom on recommendation of the defense

chief of staff and the PNP director? Defense lawyers of the seven respondents may try to move the case from the Anti-Hazing Act of 2018 to the ambit of the Revised Penal Code. That’s their job.

Prosecutors though can block it by citing the language and spirit of the law, thanks to the amendments the President signed last year.


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