By Wilnard Bacelonia

SEEKING JUSTICE. Hazing victim John Matthew Salilig is put in a body bag upon the discovery of his remains on a vacant lot in Imus town, Cavite province on Feb. 28, 2023. He was allegedly hit 70 times and died of severe blunt trauma during a welcome rite by the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity held in Biñan City, Laguna province on Feb. 18. (Courtesy of Cavite-PPO)

MANILA – Senators are looking to amend Republic Act 11053 or the Anti-Hazing Act to prevent further loss of lives following the death of John Matthew Salilig, the 24-year-old Adamson University junior chemical engineering student who succumbed to blunt force trauma to the lower extremities after a “welcome rite” by the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity.

During a committee hearing Tuesday, the senators said the school administration and the owner of the hazing venue should be held liable, especially if with actual knowledge of the activity but failed to take action.

“No ifs and buts. Lahat ng mga owner ng venue dapat makasuhan at maging ng mga nag-facilitate, at lahat ng mga opisyal ng fraternity chapter ng school na ‘yan kung saan naganap ang hazing, kakasuhan din ng (All owners of the venue should be charged, and even those who facilitated, and all the fraternity chapter officials of the school where it happened should also be charged with) reclusion perpetua,” said Senator Raffy Tulfo during the Committee on Justice and Human Rights hearing.

However, Tulfo knows fraternities and other similar organizations are shrouded in secrecy.

“A bond that dictates outright blind obedience to the seniors and masters,” Tulfo said.

Senator Ronald Dela Rosa questioned if schools are aware of the provisions of the law.

Bibigyan na natin ng diin ‘yung mabigat na parusa sa school administration na hindi ino-observe itong provisions ng batas na ito (We should emphasize severe penalties for the school administration which do not observe the provisions of this law),” he said.

’Yung amendment na gagawin mas mabigat na penalty dapat ipapataw sa eskwelahan dahil hindi nila ginagawa ‘yung kanilang loco parentis doon sa estudyante (The amendment should include heavier penalties for the schools because they don’t perform their obligations as substitute parents to the students).”

Daniel Perry, the master initiator, told senators that they did not undergo an orientation about the anti-hazing law when they enrolled at Adamson.

Jan Nelin Navallasca, director of the Adamson Office for Student Affairs, denied Perry’s statement.

He said they regularly conduct orientations about different laws including on anti-hazing and clarified that Adamson does not recognize Tau Gamma Phi as a student organization.

“It is our policy that we don’t recognize sororities and fraternities in the university,” he told the committee.

Still, Dela Rosa and Tulfo emphasized the need for the schools to regulate existing groups that their students organize or participate in.

Committee chair Senator Francis Tolentino suggested the finetuning of the Anti-Hazing Law, like involving local government units and determining the responsibility of the school under the loco parentis (in place of parents) doctrine.

Brig. Gen. Jose Melencio Nartatez, Police Regional Office-Calabarzon director, reported to the committee that they identified 18 of the 22 individuals involved in the death of Salilig,

Of the 18, seven have undergone inquest proceedings, including Perry who surrendered over the weekend.

“As soon as the forensic evidence will be ready, we will be filing the same case of the violation of anti-hazing law,” Nartatez said.

John Michael, Salilig’s elder brother, said the victim informed him on Feb. 17 that he would attend the welcome rites of the Tau Gamma fraternity for neophyte members in Biñan City, Laguna province the following day.

That was the last the family heard from him.

On Feb. 28, his naked body was found in a vacant lot in Imus town, Cavite province, based on a text message to the brother from an anonymous sender.

Roi dela Cruz, a fellow neophyte who  testified at the Senate hearing, said he asked their “masters” to take Salilig to the hospital when he started having seizures.

The request was declined because it was allegedly against the fraternity’s rules.

Salilig was buried in his native Zamboanga City on March 4, along with his grandfather who died six days before his body was discovered. (PNA)