Andre Marcos could have been anyone’s brother, grandson, sibling or son. He could have been my son.
Perhaps this is why days after his death in the hands of other young men almost his age, I am appalled at the manner of his death. My heart breaks every time I read the news about his last hours, how he was left to die. It’s horrible.
Lawyer Theodore Te wrote in Rappler—“Death and Brotherhood”—that for most people, “…they are but names and numbers, not faces or lives; the grief, the anger, the rage, the recrimination are vicarious and, therefore, fleeting. They eventually fade and disappear, supplanted by the more pressing and real issues that confront us… And soon, our vicarious experience with hazing becomes defined by the collusion of our fleeting memory and our attempts at reason, logic and justification. It is a confluence that allows us to forget even the names and numbers of those killed—only to be resurrected when the cycle begins again, with each new death.”
However, for us who know exactly how it feels to lose a loved one, not necessarily through hazing or violent means, Te describes it so perfectly as an “absolute and irrevocable sense of loss,” where the grief, anger and rage do not disappear because “the loss is permanent, irretrievable, irremediable.”
He adds, “…those orphaned wage a daily battle with remembering and forgetting, grief and consolation only to have every unpleasant memory rush back in full fury with every subsequent death under similar circumstances.”
I was reminded of Alice Honasan, now 87, who lost her youngest, Mel, then 19, back in 1973, during hazing rites, while he was a college student at San Sebastian.
His oldest brother, Sen. Greg Honasan, was a recent graduate of PMA. It was a death that shattered the Honasan family, and although years later Alice would lose two other sons, it was young Mel’s death that left her devastated.
I interviewed her for my book “Between Loss and Forever: Filipino Mothers on the Grief Journey,” and I will never forget her reply when I asked her how she coped with the death of her other sons. She paused, shrugged and said, “Parang naubos na ako kay Mel.”
I’m sure it’s not that she loved the other sons less, but that death at a young age, so sudden and violent, and through senseless means, shatters the heart and spirit in ways no words can describe.
A prominent lawyer friend, who quit rigorous initiation rites when he was a neophyte at UP, said that when you join a fraternity, although you have an idea of the violence that takes place, it’s different when you are actually there.
As he described the lashings and beatings to me, I could not help but think of young Andre, and others before him who suffered needlessly and died.
My friend has permanent nerve damage in his thighs from the merciless beatings he was subjected to; a wood canoe paddle was used on him.
“The law is there but it needs to be amended and strengthened. Otherwise, the hazing will go on. In addition to this, a counterculture must be established, one where the spirit of brotherhood and belonging can be fostered minus the violence,” he said.
His thoughts were echoed by an up-and-coming lawyer friend from Ateneo who also opted at the last minute not to join a fraternity. He said that values education, not just in the culture of violence, but also a change in mind-set toward patronage and politics must be established if the system is to change.
“Penalties are good, but they are not a deterrent. Creating a counterculture that is intolerant of violence is more important.”
Te, in his article, describes a two-pronged approach to put an end to this madness. First, the law itself needs radical changes.
“That RA 8049 considers hazing a lawful act per se unfairly places the burden on the victims and not on the perpetrators. If Congress is truly serious about putting a stop to hazing, it should prohibit hazing, not simply regulate it. That change, by itself, will place the burden of persuasion squarely where it belongs—on the fraternity that conducts the ritual and not on the orphaned victims.”
He cites areas where the antihazing law can be strengthened.
It is great relief that legislators like Senator Honasan are stepping in to see that these changes are put in place.
Although Honasan has said that the issue at hand goes beyond his personal and family’s experience of loss, when I read that he is now pursuing changes in legislation, I was reminded of the passage from the book of Esther—“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esth 4:14, NIV)
Te’s second approach is the same echoed by both my lawyer friends—that of establishing a counterculture. Te stresses that “those who are part of this culture—those who belong to fraternities and have gone through hazing—and who now occupy positions of power, authority or influence, whether in or out of government, must live out that counterculture by showing that it is possible to inculcate the deepest sense of brotherhood, the most abiding sense of commitment, the greatest loyalty by means other than trial by ordeal.”
Culture, after all, cannot be legislated, it needs to be lived and passed on from one generation to another. Values begin at home and can be reinforced in school at the earliest age, then lived daily. Violence and patronage must no longer be tolerated.
It is only when these measures are in place that perhaps there will no longer be any Lenny Villas or Andre Marcoses to grieve for, and the world becomes a little safer and kinder for the children and grandchildren we leave behind.