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Psychiatrists, hospital upgrade among changes after PMA hazing death

CHANGES. Freshmen cadets have been made to room with the older cadets as part of reforms following the Sept. 18 hazing death of Cadet Fourth Class Darwin Dormitorio. INQUIRER PHOTO/ Vincent Cabreza

BAGUIO CITY –– Every freshmen cadet has been required to room with upperclassmen belonging to Philippine Military Academy Class of 2020, 2021 and 2022 to shield them from maltreatment, following the hazing and Sept. 18 death of Cadet Fourth Class Darwin Dormitorio, the academy’s new commandant of cadets said here on Friday.

The new room arrangements for plebes belonging to PMA Class of 2023 were implemented three weeks ago as a stop-gap measure, while the country’s premier military school hires psychiatrists, improves its hospital staff, and reviews the military “cadet culture” that considers hazing a traditional practice, said Brig. Gen. Romeo Brawner, who took over the post vacated by Brig. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro.

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Bacarro resigned along with previous PMA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Ronnie Evangelista after the school investigation confirmed that Dormitorio died from injuries he suffered in a series of beatings and harassment inflicted by seven older cadets.

7 cadets charged

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The Baguio police charged seven cadets for the murder, and the Dormitorio family filed charges for harming and mistreating the plebe since August, shortly after Class 2023 officially became part of the Corps of Cadets in July.

The new Superintendent, Rear Adm. Allan Cusi, wants a review of “cadet norms and weed out bad practices,” said Brawner, a member of PMA Makatao Class of 1989.

“To solve the problem (of hazing) we need to recognize there is a problem… There is a culture. What we will try to do now is look and eliminate bad practices and replace them with better (traditions),” he said.

Room changes

The room changes were the quickest solution available for the new PMA leadership, after realizing that 1,050 cadets under their custody require more than the 12 tactical officers on staff, Brawner said.

Tactical officers act as mentors for each company of cadets and are tasked to mete out punishment such as demerits for cadets who violate regulations.

Two tactical officers have been charged for “dereliction of duty,” because of Dormitorio’s death.

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Anger management

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has authorized a review of the school’s programs involving the cadets’ mental health, because of Dormitorio’s death.

Volunteers from Ateneo de Davao and other schools were dispatched recently to provide stress and trauma counseling to Class 2023 members, Brawner said.

Older cadets were given anger management counseling.

These volunteers counseled soldiers who may suffer PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) who fought to liberate Marawi City from Islamic State-influenced Maute terrorists in 2017, Brawner said.

Stricter psychological tests

On Tuesday, a neuropsychiatric team from the Army, Navy and the Air Force arrived here to review PMA mental health regulations and suggested stricter psychological tests before admitting new cadets, he said.

The team suggested incorporating mental health in the PMA curriculum, make mental health examinations a regular treatment for cadets, and increase the military school plantilla to include psychiatrists.

More security cameras will be installed inside the Academy except for areas that would violate the cadets’ privacy. Some would be put up along the ledges of the barracks.

Hospital upgrade

The Armed Forces of the Philippines would also upgrade the PMA Station Hospital, which serves only as an infirmary, as well as staff it with more specialists, said Maj. Reynan Afan, PMA Deputy Inspector General.

Two doctors who treated Dormitorio a Day before his death were also charged for failing to detect and treat his internal injuries.

Honor Code

Ultimately, the reforms involve interpreting the Honor Code, which guides the behavior of all cadets and PMA alumni, Brawner said.

The Code says cadets should not lie, cheat or steal, and must not tolerate anyone who does, he said, but every cadet must have a common way of enforcing this code.

Making all cadet classes share a room will not only protect the youngest cadets but act as their mentors.

Feedback

“So far the feedback from cadets has been generally positive. Fourth-year cadets (plebes) said they are forced to do things properly. All fourth class cadets now have three mentors inside their room, effectively shaping them to become more snappy — to be prim and proper. We noticed rooms are also cleaner compared to when the rooms were filled with classmates,” Brawner said.

Upperclassmen are also forced to be at their best behavior, Brawner said, adding “Nagbabantayan sila (They guard each other).”

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