July 9, 2021 (5:32 PM)

4 min read

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Something is not right with what we are being led to believe about the death of Jonash Bondoc.

Bondoc, a kabayan from Butuan who was a 4th Class Cadet of the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA) in Zambales, was found unconscious in a comfort room in the PMMA barracks Tuesday morning, news articles say. He was then rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. Autopsy reports later said he died from “blunt traumatic head injury.”

Other than this, details about the person or persons responsible and the motivations behind the possible killing of the 20-year old PMMA neophyte remain blurry at best and inconsistent at worst. In its official statement, PMMA condemned hazing, insinuating that it was somehow connected to Jonash’s death. But in an interview with GMA News, they denied that hazing had anything to do with it and instead said that the crime committed by the main suspect, Jomel Gloria, was homicide.

Meanwhile, Zambales Police, who was tasked with the initial investigation, told GMA News that Gloria punched Bondoc twice on the chest as a “farewell gesture” to the latter who was bound to go home to Butuan. They also claimed Bondoc collapsed after the second blow and in the same interview, said they considered the case closed because PMMA “came out clean.”

The gaps here are glaring: How is it possible for a playful blow in the chest to cause death due to head injury? And if Bondoc immediately collapsed after he was hit the second time, then how was he suddenly found unconscious in a comfort room? Why was the police in such a rush to close the case when evidently, there are still missing pieces of information?

By conveniently ruling out the lapses of the PMMA, the Zambales police investigation raises questions on impartiality and credibility. 

In any case, Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Law Fortun pointed out correctly that an independent probe by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is necessary to deliver justice and ensure that other cadets will not suffer the same fate. 

There may be no certainty from evidence yet that Jonash died from hazing, and this is even more difficult to prove now that his body has been cremated. But if speculations are true and he was a victim of the Academy’s machismo culture, this is yet another wake-up call that impunity cannot be allowed to reign free in institutions such as the PMMA. 

A simple Google search would show that Jonash would not have been the first to die of hazing in the PMMA. In 2005, midshipman Fernando Balidoy died from multiple physical injuries leading to a case filed against the PMMA administration for violating the Anti-Hazing Law.

Six years later, Erik Apura succumbed to kidney trauma after NBI investigations showed he and another cadet were beaten up, but the Academy denied this allegation. 

The same scenario has been reported in several academies and universities, with only 9 out of 105 cases resolved in the last 15 years. Despite the existence of legislation banning this practice, hazing still persists and continues to jeopardize the lives of young people across the country. Worse, only a number of those responsible for this atrocity have been convicted. 

And what does hazing achieve, really, except to ingrain in the minds of young people that violence is an honorable rite of passage, that senseless machismo has a place in our society even in this day and age?

It is imperative that an impartial and independent investigation be launched for Jonash, not some botched police probe that conspicuously protects the good name of the PMMA. And while the details are still hazy, let this be an opportunity for us to continue to be vigilant and seek out the truth instead of jumping to conclusions that might be barking at the wrong tree.

Those directly responsible for Jonash’s death, as well as those who have been deliberately tolerating violent practices inside the Academy, must be held liable. Finally, it is high time to rethink and reform institutional “traditions” that only serve to perpetuate the culture of violence and impunity.

Growing up in Butuan myself, I did not personally know Jonash, but he was close friends with a cousin and also the son of our high school’s basketball coach. In hindsight, I must have crossed paths with him in one way or another. But for some reason, I don’t remember his face, and nor does his name–Jonash–ring a bell. 

May the opposite be true for all of us after this injustice and may he be remembered always as more than just a mere statistic.


About Gwyneth Marie Vasquez - Masawa

Gwyneth has a restless mind that never settles for what is given. This serves her well as an Anthropology student, although it sometimes gets her into trouble outside her academic life. She was Atenews's Editor-in-Chief in AY 2020-2021 and her column name, "Masawa" means 'bright and clear' in Binutuanon.




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