Armed Forces of the Philippines

Deputy speaker protests Bacarro appointment over PMA cadet hazing death

Herbie Gomez
(2nd UPDATE) In response to the protest, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stresses that Major General Bartolome Baccaro had been cleared earlier of responsibility for cadet Darwin Dormitorio's death

Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez on Thursday, July 1, protested the appointment of Major General Bartolome “Bob” Bacarro as commander of the military’s Southern Luzon Command (Solcom), pointing out that the general has yet to answer for the 2019 hazing death of Darwin Dormitorio, a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadet from Cagayan de Oro.

Rodriguez, representative of Cagayan de Oro’s 2nd District, also called on President Rodrigo Duterte to recall Bacarro’s appointment.

Bacarro, a recipient of the Medal of Valor, has been named as the replacement of retiring Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade as Solcom chief when he steps down on July 26. Incidentally, Parlade has also resigned as a spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

In a statement, Rodriguez alleged that “Mr. Bacarro is one of those responsible for the death by hazing” of Dormitorio in Baguio City on September 18, 2019. The 20-year-old Dormitorio was the first known hazing fatality in the country since Duterte signed RA 11053, otherwise known as the Anti-Hazing Act, in 2018.

“Darwin was a constituent of mine in Cagayan de Oro,” Rodriguez added.

Enforcing the anti-hazing law

Rodriguez appealed to Duterte to send a strong message against hazing by reviewing and reconsidering Bacarro’s appointment.

“I am appealing to the President to strongly uphold the anti-hazing law to stop, once and for all, hazing…by not rewarding those who criminally and deliberately allowed hazing in their institutions like the PMA,” he said.

Rodriguez said he was in touch with Dormitorio’s brother Dexter who said his family was upset because Bacarro was promoted and appointed to a key military position while they were “still waiting for justice to be served.”

He said the Dormitorio family took that as an “utter disregard of his (Bacarro’s) serious responsibility, accountability, and failure” as an officer who exercised control and supervision of PMA cadets in 2019.

The Baguio prosecutor’s office dismissed charges against Bacarro, the cadets’ commandant in 2019, and then-PMA superintendent Lieutenant General Ronnie Evangelista. Prosecutors did press charges, however, against several of the PMA cadets involved.

Rodriguez told Rappler that the Dormitorio family had appealed the Baguio prosecutor’s decision before the Department of Justice (DOJ) because they were convinced of the PMA officials’ participation in the fatal hazing.

Rodriguez said he and the Dormitorio family “could not even understand why Bacarro was promoted from one-star general as PMA commandant of cadets to two-star, and now, three-star officer.”

A former dean of the San Sebastian College of Law, Rodriguez also pointed out: “The anti-hazing law places great responsibility for hazing incidents and irregularities on those who have supervision over such activities. These developments are a grave injustice to my late constituent, his family, and the people of Cagayan de Oro City.”

Dormitorio, a high school graduate from Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, had suffered from blunt force trauma, and his death exposed the painful rituals plebes in the PMA have gone through.

Cagayan de Oro councilors weigh in

The city’s councilors weighed in on Bacarro’s promotion.

“Bacarro’s appointment should be put on hold. Although his appointment was the discretion of the President, I think the move was ill-advised,” said Councilor Roger Abaday.

Councilor Enrico Salcedo said Bacarro’s promotion and appointment as Solcom commander runs against the government’s anti-hazing campaign.

Salcedo noted that it was Duterte who signed into law the Anti-Hazing Act in 2018, a year before Dormitorio’s death in the hands of his PMA upperclassmen.

“It was Bacarro’s command responsibility to begin with. His appointment is a mockery of the anti-hazing law. I am one with those asking the President to recall his appointment,” Salcedo told Rappler.

Another Cagayan de Oro councilor, George Goking, said he respects Duterte’s discretion and decision, and the findings of the Baguio prosecutor that cleared Bacarro.

“I believe that an investigation was made, and the innocence of Bacarro was established. I have no objections to his promotion, and respect the decision (to appoint him as Solcom commander),” Goking said

Defense secretary responds

In response to Rodriguez’s protest, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reiterated that Baccaro had been cleared earlier of responsibility, and that those responsible for Dormitorio’s death were already facing criminal charges.

“MGEN Bartolome Vicente Bacarro went through a rigorous selection process by the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] Board of Generals and found fit to assume a higher position in the AFP,” Lorenzana said. “It would be an injustice to MGEN Bacarro if he is prevented from moving up in the ladder of command for something that he did not commit.”

But Rodriguez said on Friday, July 2, that the matter has been raised before the DOJ for review, so “the appeal is still pending resolution up to now.”

“In view of this pendency, General Bacarro should not be promoted nor appointed as commander of the military’s Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) yet pending resolution of his cases by the DOJ secretary…. Until it is resolved with finality, his rise in the ranks should be put on hold,” he said. – with reports from Jairo Bolledo/Rappler.com