What you need to know about the Anti-Hazing Law

MANILA, Philippines – The effectiveness of the Anti-Hazing Law is once again being questioned as violent initiation rites by a fraternity claimed another life of a young law student.

University of Santo Tomas student Horatio Castillo III died on September 17 due to traumatic injuries he sustained allegedly at the hands of members of the Aegis Juris fraternity. 

It is clear for the parents of the 22-year-old that their son “was killed by criminals” from the fraternity, expressing outrage that “barbaric and criminal acts continue to be performed in the false name of brotherhood.”  

These violent acts were supposed to be prevented by the Anti-Hazing Law. But many believe that the law lacks the needed teeth to actually end the long-standing “tradition” of violence present among organizations – particularly fraternities and sororities. (READ: Inside the brotherhood: Thoughts on fraternity violence)

What does the law say? 

In 1991, Ateneo law student Leonardo “Lenny” Villa died after suffering multiple injuries from hazing rites conducted by the Aquilia Legis fraternity. 

His death shed light on the practice and led to the enactment of the Anti-Hazing Law in 1995. But Republic Act No. 8049 still does not really prevent hazing from taking place.

The law defines hazing as “an initiation rite or practice as a prerequisite for admission into membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization by placing the recruit, neophyte or applicant in some embarrassing or humiliating situations such as forcing him to do menial, silly, foolish and other similar tasks or activities or otherwise subjecting him to physical or psychological suffering or injury.”

According to the law, these initiation rites can still push through if:

The written notice should include details about the activity, including how long it will last, the names of those who will undergo the initiation rites, and an "undertaking that no physical violence will be employed."

The representatives assigned by the school, meanwhile, have the duty to “see to it that no physical harm of any kind shall be inflicted upon a recruit, neophyte or applicant.”

Hazing automatically a criminal offense

Unfortunately, the rules set forth by the law are not always followed. Various organizations across the Philippines still employ the “age-old tradition” of using violence to “test” applicants and has become an open secret among students. 

Most often than not, this practice is only put in the spotlight when people are killed, as the law really only goes after those responsible if the hazing rites result in injuries or death. 

Members of organizations – regardless whether fraternity, sorority, or otherwise – directly involved in the infliction of harm will be liable if the person who went through the hazing or any form of initiation rites “suffers any physical injury or dies,” according to the law. The law does not penalize the actual act of initiation rites.

If a neophyte dies, has been raped, sodomized, or mutilated, those responsible can face life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, those who have actual knowledge of the hazing conducted but did not do anything about it – such as owners of the place where it was held, school authorities, and other members of the organization – can be considered as accomplices.  

In 2012, former law professor and now Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te wrote that “by not defining hazing as a criminal act per se, subject to specific very narrowly-drawn exceptions, the law itself guarantees that hazing will continue.” (READ: Death and brotherhood)

The law also does not entirely cover the effects on mental health of an applicant – only if he or she becomes "insane, imbecile." Imagine the number of now-members who were subjected to the paddle and fortunately left physically “unscathed” but left with psychological scars. 

No teeth

Since the law was passed in 1995, the deaths due to hazing did not really stop as there are at least 15 people who have died, while many have reported sustaining injuries from the rites. 

The numbers do not reflect those who may have suffered injuries but chose not to report to authorities. Meanwhile, in the 22 years of the law’s existence, there has been only one conviction. (READ: What's happening to hazing cases in the Philippines?) 

Because of this harsh reality, many have called for amendments to the Anti-Hazing Law or have called for passing entirely another bill has more teeth.

House Bill 4714 – called the “Servando Act” after college student Guillo Cesar Servando who died due to injuries from hazing – which seeks to totally ban any form of hazing on applicants of any organization was filed in 2014 by then Valenzuela Representative Sherwin Gatchalian.  

Compared to the existing law, Gatchalian’s bill will give power to schools to approve or deny applications by organizations to conduct initiation rites. It also increases the penalties imposed on those held liable.

Te, in his 2012 Rappler piece, also laid out what should be included in the Anti-Hazing Law for it to be effective. These include changing the word “regulation” in the title to “prohibited,” define hazing as unlawful as it is, and explicitly stress that consent from victims will not be a defense and waivers are voided, among others. 

Until the existing Anti-Hazing Law remains in effect, the practice of inflicting physical and mental harm during initiation rites is likely to continue. (READ: Stop the charade, ban hazing– Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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