What is hazing? Why is there hazing? Why do people participate in it? What is its purpose? What is the relationship of hazing to fraternities? Is hazing really necessary? These are just some of the questions I will try to answer during this brief sharing.

I experienced physical hazing from age 15 to 17 as part of my military training and initiation to become a cadet/ cadet officer in the Citizens Army Training, Reserve Officers Training Corps, and the Philippine Military Academy. Hazing is the endurance of physical, psychological, and emotional punishment inflicted on one’s body and psyche by other individual/s. A person opens up himself to the possibility of being subjected to hazing when he joins a fraternity or an above-board organization but with a hidden personality as that of a fraternity. Hazing is generally outlawed but many fraternities do it anyway away from public view. Once a member, one generally gets hazed as punishment for failing to deliver on some instruction given by a superior.

Many civilian fraternities also use hazing as a one-time initiation rite to make a recruit ‘deserving’ of being a fresh member and also to ‘intimidate’ him towards becoming a loyal, committed, long-term frat member. The problem with this set-up is that it is prone to abuse. Hazing victims can be inflicted with the harshest of punishments for the flimsiest infractions. Among the most common hazing punishments I had to endure was being punched regularly in the stomach, kicked, struck with some item, performing push-ups, squat thrusts, or running for endless hours; being deprived of food, and sleep deprivation. There are other forms of hazing as well which can get as ingenuous as the person/s perpetrating them. Some shabby upperclassmen may even ask a ‘plebe’ or ‘dumb-guard’ to ‘produce’ material items which must be generated by the poor junior out of his own financial pocket or those of his relatives. Etc.

You, the youth, or some of you anyway, become vulnerable to the allure of hazing without even realizing it. What with those raging hormones and excess energies! I, too, had been such. In fact, although I was aware that hazing was part of the program I was embarking on, I still joined anyway. Naively, I took it as just one of those challenges I had to hurdle and prove to all that I too could handle somehow. I took it as just the price I had to pay in order to be counted among the members of the cadet / officer corps and eventually earn my slot into a career in the armed forces. My classmates, at least among those who did not quit, felt the same way.

The circumstances may be slightly different for those who did not want to join fraternities, much more hazing, but were bullied into joining and therefore endured the suffering even against their will. The story has become quite common. Cases such as we have just seen of promising lives snuffed out by the crime and evil that is hazing. Other cases, disturbingly more numerous than we would really like to know, involve students who have had to drop out from their courses in Metro Manila just to escape the controlling grip and tentacles of mafia-like fraternities which threatened their lives. It is good that some of these documented victims were still able to finish their courses in other schools far away from the deadly grip of the fraternities that almost ruined their lives.

Of course, we in the military have even more tragic stories to narrate when it comes to the human tragedy that is hazing. Over the years, we would hear of hazing casualties at the PMA, ROTC, or in other units of the armed forces involving trainees undergoing basic training. The ROTC program was deactivated due to complications involving hazing. Just a few years following its return, the ROTC program again has come under the glare of a hazing investigation. Just recently you probably read about the hazing case at DLSU’s ROTC program. When PNP chief Alan Purisima was a cadet at the PMA in 1977, he landed in the hospital and almost died after being hazed by upperclassmen who repeatedly dropped shot-put balls on his stomach. His classmate, Cadet Salas, was not as lucky.

In hindsight, I will say hazing is totally unnecessary. It is the twisted / illegal / immoral aspect of just punishment or ‘brotherhood’. It is unjust. It is deceptive. It feeds on fear. It is unnecessary violence heaped upon the helpless. It does not foster brotherly love, but hate and vengeance. The experience leads to a spiraling web of vengeful violence and its never-ending cycle.

The purposes of associations’ avowed aims of engendering discipline and commitment from their members through hazing can also be gained by employing the exact opposite of hazing. And if such associations are true to their ideals, then there should be no room for such an abomination as hazing. Simple organizational rules principled on the basic concepts of just reward and punishment generally suffice for the orderly conduct of organizational affairs without resorting to clandestinely twisted justifications for diabolical sadism. As I’ve said before, I cannot associate the hazing I’ve experienced in my life to any leadership/ management principle or lesson learned that has helped me along the way of my development as a person. I cannot even credit the experience for its crisis management value because such can also be achieved through proven methods other than sadistic hazing. Again, the simple application of just reward and punishment would suffice. The only thing I can recall from all my hazing experiences is how shabby those who hazed me were! The experience only manages to create lasting animosity between the hazing victims and their abusers which carry on until the abused and abuser become mature adults. This situation is quite common and has helped, for instance, to crystallize deep-seated disunity between the abused and abuser in later life. The divisions in the officer corps of the AFP and PNP, among others, are classic examples.

What is a fraternity or a sorority anyhow? Do you need to join one? Are they worth joining? Well, my short answer to the question is that it depends. My long one would be to qualify that there are good and bad fraternities. A fraternity is generally defined as ‘a body of people associated for a common purpose or interest’. It generally refers to an association of men while a sorority would be its female counterpart. Because of the recurring problem of fatalities associated with the ‘negative’ side of fraternities, much of what is discussed here have to do with fraternities ‘of male students usually with secret initiation rites and names composed of Greek letters’. But there are also good fraternities. For instance, there are the ‘chiefly social organizations of men students at a college or university, usually designated by Greek letters’. Fraternities are not limited to student associations. There are also such associations among professionals, businessmen, religious, and even criminals, among others. Abuse and purpose ultimately sealed the difference between good and bad fraternities. What started out as a mere light slap across the face ‘so the inductee would recall the event’ gradually evolved into sadistic barbarism by wayward frat-men and associations with sinister plots and self-serving motives.

People join fraternities for varying reasons. Some unquestioningly walk into them because they were simply invited. Others join because they agree with the purpose agenda which may have something to do with assisting with their careers or businesses. Still others join because they are intrigued by the mysterious character of their new-found association. And yet others join because they can no longer leave out of fear or some potentially dire consequences that could befall them if they did. Whatever their decisions and motivations may be, frat-men or women ultimately bear the consequences of those crucial decisions.

My advice to the young and those enticed to join fraternities and sororities or to people who think hazing is alright? First, know the new organization that you are invited to join. First find out about it. Do not just jump into the water without knowing how deep or shallow it is! Why? Because it may run counter to your deep-seated values or beliefs! Ask those who are knowledgeable. Second, whatever you do, never ever join any of the negative types of fraternities especially at the honeymoon (recruitment) stage when they appear so nice. The niceties are merely a deception. Frat members know that they are not attractive as really they are not, so they will deceive you by gradually doing you favors like giving you class notes, previous exams, assisting you against staged bullies, facilitating this or that for you making your life easy, etc. They will do so many favors for you to make you feel indebted to them. They will ride on the Filipino values of ‘utang na loob’ (indebtedness) and ‘pakikisama’ (going with the flow). When these things happen to you, especially when you are new to the school, be wary. Such niceties do not ordinarily occur. Do not be fooled. Do not be too naïve. Trust your instincts which tell you that these disguised frat-men are on to something: you.

Third, never ever join such negative fraternities especially when they begin to show their true colors. At some point which could be days or months, the honeymoon stage will end and you will begin to see and feel who the frat-men really are. If you do not give in and join them as a result of their niceties, then they will begin to intimidate you. They will try to make your life as miserable as they could until you finally relent. If anyone tries to get you to do something against your character and values, then you should recognize this as an alarm bell and you should wake up from your momentary stupor. Some fearful victims who cannot take the intimidation any longer will decide to flee and many have done exactly that. But, in such cases the frat-men win and since nothing stands in their way they simply move on to target other ‘soft’ victims.

Or fourth, you can fight back. Many past victims should have fought back but they were too fearful and intimidated that they chose to flee than to fight. Actually, hazing victims can fight back. But, the timing is important. Of course, it is near impossible to fight back if one is already outnumbered and put in a helpless position to be able to resist. So, the key is to do something before one gets initiated as one’s survival rate diminishes after that timeline. Even if the frat-men intimidate you not to tell anyone about them, then that is the time to tell everyone about them. Tell your family. Report them to school officials. Reveal their identities and activities to barangay officials and the police. The effective strategy is to fight them not as an army of one but an army of many, in fact and if possible, too many that the frat-men themselves are the ones who are outnumbered. There is strength in numbers. There is only weakness in being an island or going it alone against these organized and sinister frat-men. There is only weakness in believing the frat-men’s lies. But there is strength in revealing the truth. Hazing is war, a war between good and evil. It is a struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed. Win this war.

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Speech delivered before the Youth Ministry of Cubao Diocese, July 12, 2014.