The Cadet Officer Candidate Course (COCC) program of the University’s Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) unit has been temporarily suspended for the rest of the term while the Student Discipline Formation Office (SDFO) investigates accounts of hazing within the unit. This move is in reply to the COCC hazing-related complaints received by the SDFO, including one filed by parents of a former cadet.
Hazing is defined by the student handbook and the Anti-Hazing Law (Republic Act No. 8049) as not only physical abuse, but all “embarrassing or humiliating situations, such as forcing him to do menial, silly, foolish, and similar tasks or activities or otherwise subjecting him to physical or psychological suffering or injury”.
Student Discipline Formation Office Director Christy Santiago tells that her office began its formal investigation of activities in the unit last June, after receiving an endorsement letter from the Dean of Student Affairs (DSA) Fritzie de Vera. Until June, members of the COCC or advanced ROTC program continued to train during Saturdays and other selected training days. However, while the investigation is ongoing, the program has been temporarily suspended to prevent interactions between cadets that could lead to possible interference with the outcome of the investigation.
Security has also been stationed at the ROTC office area to monitor the organization’s everyday activities while the University is still in the process of assigning a new ROTC coordinator, following the retirement of the previous coordinator. The suspension of the program will not affect ROTC’s other socio-civic activities, such as the blood drive, as well as its color services.
The investigation is being fast-tracked and all paperwork and evidence material to the case have already been forwarded to the University Legal Counsel. The SDFO has also obtained statements from all the students and former students involved, as well as the parents who sent the letter of complaint and the parents of the cadet who was the subject of the complaint. As of press time, the University Legal Counsel has yet to make a decision on the case.
The Philippine Navy’s Naval Reserve Command (NAVRESCOM), the overseeing body of the University’s ROTC program, also conducted an external investigation about abuses within the COCC program. The results of the investigation and NAVRESCOM’s recommendations have been forwarded to the University, but Santiago clears that the SDFO will not rely solely on the Naval Reserve Command’s external investigation and will proceed with obtaining information on their own.
Not welcome at DLSU
If it will be proven that activities related to hazing occurred in the unit, the students involved will be subject to disciplinary proceedings for violation of the University’s student handbook and non-fraternity contract. According to Santiago, the sanction will depend on the gravity of the case and the participation of the students in question.
University President and Chancellor Br. Ricky Laguda FSC admits that he is aware of the occurrence of violence, including hazing, within and around the University not only in the ROTC but also in other organizations. He believes that such things are difficult to handle despite the safety nets put up by the University because many victims are scared to come out and tell their stories.
Laguda is firm in his stand against any form of bullying, hazing, and mental or physical abuse. “Whether true or not, hazing has no place in the University or society in general…Hazing is intrinsically evil. People who do hazing have no conscience. Period,” he insists.
The DSA voices out similar sentiments, as de Vera shares, “Such acts of violence and any form of intimidation or abuse are not welcome here in our University. We make sure that our students are penalized if proven that they did such acts. Such acts deserve grave penalties—they may be dismissed or even expelled from the University.”
The University hopes to settle the case within the first two terms of this academic year. The COCC program, meanwhile, is eyed to be reinstated during the second term, the same time that the regular National Training and Service Program (NSTP) will begin. Nevertheless, it will be subject to review based on the merits of the pending case.
Compliant and law-abiding Lasallians?
However, this is not the first time that the University’s ROTC program has experienced violence-related trouble.
In 1995, mechanical engineering student and ROTC cadet Seth Lopez succumbed to injuries following purported hazing activities of ROTC cadet officers in a farm in Tanay, Rizal. Lopez was brought to the Morong General Hospital but was declared dead on arrival. The parents of Lopez eventually decided to drop all murder charges, but the University still proceeded with its investigations and students who were proven to have been involved in the death of Lopez were expelled.
The fatality came shortly after the Senate passed the Anti-Hazing Law due to the rise in the number of ROTC and fraternity-related injuries and fatalities in those years. Lopez’s death was one of the events that prompted the University to intensify its measures against hazing through the instigation of the Non-Fraternity Contract in 1995.
All Lasallian freshmen are required to submit their contracts to the DSA before the start of their first academic year. The contract will signify that the student is not a part of and will not join any fraternity or any similar type of organization during his or her stay at DLSU. The DSA, with the help of SDFO, also conducts follow-up interviews with students from high schools with fraternity affiliation track records.
Anti-ROTC movements outside DLSU
In February 2014, two students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines were dismissed after being found guilty of allegations of beating a freshman student, one of the ROTC program’s female COCCs. The beating resulted in heavy bruising of the cadet’s legs and back.
The incident revived calls for the abolition of the ROTC program in universities, with protesters citing the proliferation of violent cultures in ROTC units. They claim that hazing and violence within ROTC units remain largely unreported due to both the victims’ fear of further punishment and the mentality that such behavior is normal in military training. Meanwhile, other groups call not for the abolition of the program but for reform instead, given that ROTC engages not only in military training, but also in other developmental programs.
Aside from the PUP case, only few others have surfaced to garner media attention. The heavier cases are concentrated in the 1990s until the early 2000s. The most well known among all these is the case of University of Santo Tomas (UST) ROTC cadet Mark Chua in 2001, whose death is linked to his exposure of corruption within the unit. Chua’s beaten and decomposing body was found floating in the Pasig River three days after his disappearance. Two suspects have been detained since then, while two others remain at large. Other incidents linked to the ROTC program in that decade are the death of Arthur Salero of Saint Louis University (SLU) in 1999, and the physical abuse of eight COCCs from the Baguio Colleges Foundation (BCF).
For the sake of unbiased and fair reporting, The LaSallian has attempted to reach out to the COCCs and ROTC officers involved in the complaint, but the publication has not received any word on when they will be willing to give statements to clarify the events described in the complaint filed. As the investigation of the SDFO continues, The LaSallian will also continue to reach out to the concerned students and former students to verify the accuracy of the complaint and the gravity of the situation.
The LaSallian has been pursuing this story over the past few weeks. The incident mentioned above has no relation to fraternities or the unfortunate passing of Guillo Cesar Servando, a DLSU-College of Saint Benilde student.