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 Hazing cases test our criminal justice system 




Atty. Joey D. Lina

Atty. Joey D. Lina

Hazing has become a hot issue again with the needless death of Philippine Military Academy cadet Darwin Dormitorio, the hospitalization of Laguna State Polytechnic University student Jonathan Concordia, and the reported suicide of a University of the Philippines student after the illegal activity allegedly committed by his fraternity was exposed.

And every time hazing tragedies grab news headlines, the knee-jerk reaction of some is to find fault in the law banning the illegal practice. Others whose expectations were raised by a tougher anti-hazing law find they may “have relied too much on legislation to automatically do the job.”

But asking for tougher legislation while blaming existing laws for failing to prevent crimes is like going up Mt. Sinai to ask God to amend the Ten Commandments for its perceived ineffectiveness in stopping people from committing sin.

It would be naive for one to expect that a law can stop or substantially reduce criminal acts if the law is not being strictly enforced and if all other factors that give rise to criminality are not diminished. Despite laws against murder, rape, and other heinous crimes, and with other offenses penalized by the Revised Penal Code, criminality proliferates. Does this mean that laws are weak? Or, should blame be on lack of strict enforcement or system flaws? Is the culprit in the judicial system?

One reason savagery of hazing in fraternity initiation rites has not stopped can be glimpsed from what one heartbroken father poignantly told another grief-stricken dad: “Sorry po at ganito ang justice system natin (I’m sorry this is our justice system).”

Those words were uttered by Mac Ferdie Marcos – father of Marc Andrei, the San Beda law student who succumbed to hazing violence in 2012 – as he sent his sympathies to Aurelio Servando whose son, Guillo Cesar, a sophomore of De la Salle-College of St. Benilde, became a hazing fatality.

Marcos was expressing dismay over a September, 2013, ruling by Cavite RTC Judge Perla Cabrera Faller who had a chance to make history had she upheld the spirit and intent of the anti-hazing law then (RA 8049) in convicting those charged. Instead, many saw how she opted to dismiss the case, saying, “No one is to be blamed for the death of Andrei Marcos.” A firestorm of protests erupted online as irate netizens described the ruling as the “most stupid decision ever.”

But there are court decisions that made good use of the original Anti-Hazing Law (RA 8049) I principally authored in 1995 during my second term in the Senate. “The law is rigorous in penalizing the crime of hazing,” the SC declared in its 2015 landmark decision affirming the conviction of two frat men for the fatal hazing of a UP Los Baños student in 2006.

In its July 1, 2015, decision (GR No. 209464) upholding the rulings of Calamba, Laguna, Regional Trial Court Branch 36 and the Court of Appeals on the conviction and reclusion perpetua penalty imposed on Alpha Phi Omega fraternity members Dandy Dungo and Gregorio Sibal Jr. for the fatal hazing of UP Los Baños student Marlon Vilanueva in 2006, the SC said the following:

“Hazing has been a phenomenon that has beleaguered the country’s educational institutions and communities. News of young men beaten to death as part of fraternities’ violent initiation rites supposedly to seal fraternal bond has sent disturbing waves to lawmakers. Hence, RA No. 8049 was signed into law on June 7, 1995. Doubts on the effectiveness of the law were raised. The court, however, scrutinized its provisions and it is convinced that the law is rigorous in penalizing the crime of hazing.

“Hopefully, the present case will serve as a guide to the bench and the bar on the application of RA No. 8049. Through careful case-build up and proper presentation of evidence before the court, it is not impossible for the exalted constitutional presumption of innocence of the accused to be overcome and his guilt for the crime of hazing be proven beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution must bear in mind the secretive nature of hazing, and carefully weave its chain of circumstantial evidence,” the SC said.

Indeed, the innate conspiracy of silence among perpetrators of the crime of hazing can make it extremely difficult for investigators and prosecutors to dig up direct evidence for a successful case buildup. Thus, circumstantial evidence can be relied upon heavily to prove guilt of the accused.

“Bearing in mind the concealment of hazing, it is only logical and proper for the prosecution to resort to the presentation of circumstantial evidence to prove it,” the SC said.

It is easier for investigators and prosecutors to prove their case in court under RA 8049 and RA 11053, the amended Hazing Act of 2018 which imposes tougher penalties. Quantum of evidence does not have to be proof beyond reasonable doubt to show intent to commit a wrong, because such is presumed to be part and parcel of the act of hazing.

But would tougher laws really make people desist from committing crimes? Some are of the notion that the more severe the penalty is, the better. But here’s the truth: Certainty of arrest and conviction or a swift and impartial justice system is the best deterrent to crimes.

Police, prosecutors, judges, jails, and the community, the so-called five pillars of the justice system must work efficiently to identify, apprehend, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate offenders. An efficient criminal justice system guarantees that criminality will be deterred effectively.

Also, and most importantly, strengthening of values ought to be prioritized. Values such as respect for others, their physical well-being included, which are nurtured in the homes, school, and media, and developed as part of culture, are an indispensable pre-condition for well-ordered, peaceful, and secured societies.

Email: finding.lina@yahoo.com



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