LAWMAKERS on Wednesday vowed to ban hazing rites in fraternities, sororities and other organizations, calling for the repeal of the Anti-Hazing Law or Republic Act (RA) 8049 following the death of law freshman Horacio Castillo III.

Critics point out that RA 8049 does not prohibit hazing, but only regulate it.

Hazing and initiation rites may be conducted as long as the permission of school authorities is sought, and there are at least two school representatives.

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.”

Penalties range from four years in prison to a life term, depending on how severe the injuries were because of hazing.

Since RA 8049 was passed in 1995, there has only been one conviction – the 2006 hazing case where a student of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños died – upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015.

“Since [the Anti-Hazing Law’s enactment] in 1995, with dozens of reported deaths due to hazing, only one conviction has been decided by our courts. Only one. So much senseless death, so much wasted youth. And the bright future of these students is suddenly gone as was the case of [Horacio] Castillo,” Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said in a privilege speech last Sept. 20.

Zubiri is a grade school classmate of Castillo’s father, Horacio Jr. The hazing victim’s sister is an intern in Zubiri’s office.

“Clearly, regulating hazing, as specified in the current law, is a failure. What could be the reasons? One, the title; it regulates it, it doesn’t prohibit it,” he said.

Only written notice required

Section 2 of RA 8049 or “An Act Regulating Hazing and Other Forms of Initiation Rites in Fraternities, Sororities, and Other Organizations and Providing Penalties Therefor,” states that hazing rites may be performed if there is a notice given to “proper authorities” seven days before the initiation is conducted.

“The written notice shall indicate the period of the initiation activities which shall not exceed three days, shall include the names of those to be subjected to such activities, and shall further contain an undertaking that no physical violence be employed by anybody during such initiation rites,” it says.

Sen. Joel Villanueva, a UST alumnus, said hazing should be treated clearly as a crime.

“[There is] definitely a crystal-clear initiative right now to amend this, and perhaps if you go further, [repeal] the law and come up with a law that is clear about criminalizing these kinds of hazing,” Villanueva told the Varsitarian.

The House of Representatives passed a bill replacing the Anti-Hazing Law in 2015 with a new one criminalizing hazing. But it was all for naught as the counterpart bill in the Senate did not pass the committee level.

The author of the 2015 House bill, Sherwin Gatchalian, is now in the Senate and his Senate Bill 199 is among five bills seeking to replace RA 8049. The bills are pending in the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs led by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

In the House, there are four pending bills, filed by Representatives Wes Gatchalian of Valenzuela, Bernadette Herrera-Dy of Bagong Henerasyon party-list, Winston Castelo of Quezon City, and Rodel Batocabe, Alfredo Garbin Jr. and Christopher Co of Ako Bicol party-list.

Senator Gatchalian’s bill bans hazing and imposes stiffer penalties on violators – a maximum of life imprisonment and a fine of P3 million.

In a statement, Gatchalian said his bill seeks to repeal RA 8049 “to institute a more comprehensive anti-hazing regime by providing a more prohibitive definition of hazing, expanding the scope of liabilities and increasing the penalties for hazing offenders, and mandating educational institutions to play a central role in hazing prevention and awareness.”

“The Anti-Hazing Law must be overhauled to eliminate loop holes and ensure that all persons responsible for these cruel and senseless hazing deaths will be held accountable to the full extent of the law. It’s time for the Senate to take up this proposed legislation,” Gatchalian said.

‘Presence in hazing enough evidence of guilt’

The author of the Anti-Hazing Law, former senator Joey Lina, however argues that RA 8049 “has very sharp teeth if strictly enforced since punishment is tough.”

“My view is supported by the Supreme Court when it said that ‘it is convinced that the law is rigorous in penalizing the crime of hazing,’” said Lina, a UST alumnus, in a statement.

Lina pointed out that the mere presence in a hazing incident is enough evidence to prove guilt.

Moreover, circumstantial evidence can be used to prove guilt, he said, citing the Supreme Court.

“[I]f direct evidence is insisted on under all circumstances, the prosecution of vicious felons who commit heinous crimes in secret or secluded places will be hard, if not impossible to prove,” he said.

Before the Anti-Hazing law was implemented, investigators were faced with the difficulty of dealing with the “innate conspiracy of silence” between the perpetrators, the former lawmaker said.

“With the Anti-Hazing Law now in place, it is easier for police investigators and prosecutors to prove their case in court. 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,” he added.

“Even if hazing causes no injury or injuries are so minor that no medical attention is needed, the punishment is a minimum of prison correccional (imprisonment of 4 years, 2 months, and one day to 6 years).”

Lina blamed the confusion over RA 8049, and whether or not hazing is a crime, on the law’s title, which he said was adopted by a congressional bicameral conference committee when he was no longer part of the Senate.

“Be that as it may, legal minds agree that the title of a law is not the law itself. As pronounced in Supreme Court rulings, what is controlling in interpreting a law are the provisions themselves, or the body of the law itself, and not the title,” he said.

“With this clarification, it is my fervent hope that the bereaved family of the latest hazing victim, Horacio Castillo III, would eventually find justice under the current Anti-Hazing Law.”

Senate sets probe

Lacson’s Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs will conduct a probe into Castillo’s death on Monday, Sept. 25.

Zubiri said: “I challenge [Faculty of Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina] and members of the faculty who are also members of the Aegis Juris, to tell all that they know.”

Villanueva called on Divina, a former member of the Aegis Juris fraternity, to lead the investigation on the case.

“The least he could do is lead the investigation and panagutin niya itong mga taong nasa likod ng krimen na ‘to,” he said.

Rita Castillo, the 22-year-old Castillo’s aunt, called for the immediate passage of a law banning hazing.

“It’s about time [for] the passing of a law that underscores the initiative to stop this evil action para wala nang ibang pamilyang mag-suffer in the future,” she said in a chance interview.

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