19 frat men accused of cover-up
SOME 19 members of the Aegis Juris fraternity met on the same day that freshman law student Horacio Castillo III was brought to the hospital and proclaimed dead from hazing, the Manila Police District chief said on Wednesday.
At a hearing of the Senate public order committee, Chief Supt. Joel coronel said they discovered an online chat group with 30 Aegis Juris members.
Coronel said the group discussed their next steps after Castillo’s death.
“In light of the discovery of the chat thread that [began] on Sunday, Sept. 17, the objective of the Aegis Juris fraternity was to cover up, conceal, to avoid, and evade investigation and prosecution of this case,” Coronel said.
Coronel said 19 of the 30 members met at Novotel Manila Araneta Center hotel in Quezon City.
Coronel presented CCTV footage showing the members arriving at the hotel and said they were able to identify 12, based on information on their social media pages.
“It seems that the tendency of the fraternity is to conceal and obstruct justice,” Coronel said.
“Nowhere in this thread showed that they were willing to subject themselves to this investigation,” he added.
In a statement last month, the Aegis Juris fraternity said it also wants to “see that justice is served for the death of Brod Atio,” referring to Castillo by his nickname.
Coronel said the message thread was posted on the morning of Sept. 17 when Castillo was confirmed dead.
“If you’re going to review each individual exchanges of communication among these Aegis Juris fraternity members, it would appear that they intend to cover up the incident, contrary to their announcement made on Sept. 19, that they are willing to face the investigation and support authorities in the conduct of the investigation,” Coronel said.
“Majority of them said they will find ways and means to see that the evidence that will be gathered or recovered by the investigating authorities will no longer be available,” Coronel also said.
Coronel said they received information about the chat messages in October, days after the fraternity said it would cooperate with the authorities.
The police said the group chat was initiated by a certain Marvi Rosero Abo, a lawyer.
Participants were Bongget Rogelio, Mong dela Fuente, Edzel Bert Canlas, Jose Miguel Salamat, Cecilio Jimeno, Car Mhel (Brian Mhel Bangui), Gaile Dante Caraan, Miguel Ventura III, Milfen Alvarado, Jet Dela Peña Villaroman, and Henry Pablo Jr.
Castillo, 22, was supposed to join the Aegis Juris fraternity.
However, he died due to massive injuries consistent with hazing, his autopsy report showed.
Castillo was taken to the Chinese General Hospital early morning of Sept. 17, but was declared dead upon arrival.
The Senate is investigating the incident as Castillo’s death revived calls for stronger legislation against violent initiation rites.
On the other hand, UST Civil Law dean Nilo Divina said he will not step down from his post despite an ongoing investigation into the death of Castillo.
Senator Grace Poe urged Divina, who is also part of the Aegis Juris fraternity, to seek at least a temporary leave after he confirmed that his law firm will represent the school if it is faced with a lawsuit.
“I thought about that very seriously and after deliberation and bringing it to my own prayers, I came to the conclusion that I cannot abandon my students, especially the barristers preparing for the examination, my 40 students and the rest of the studentry,” Divina told lawmakers.
Divina said he has not given any special preference or treatment to the Aegis Juris fraternity, adding that he was not part of the commission instituted by the university rector to investigate the supposed fatal hazing.
“I have been a dean to all students regardless of affiliation. I did not play favorites. I have maintained my neutrality,” he said.
He also said he has the support of the students, the alumni association and faculty. He added he has not missed a single lecture since the investigation began.
“I don’t think my dedication, my commitment to teaching and as an academician has been changed because of this. This is one incident that we are trying to resolve. I don’t think it has a bearing on my competence or dedication as a dean, a professor and academician,” he said.
However, Poe said while the death of 22-year-old Castillo has no bearing on Divina’s competence and was but one aspect of his job, “it weighs in heavily on the impression that you give being still the dean of UST.”
“You are the dean, but we have a very important criminal investigation that’s ongoing. I wouldn’t say you’re front and center of it, but definitely a figure that is looming large. Nobody is indispensable and I think that giving a few months is a sacrifice on your part as well, not just teaching,” she said.
“You can still continue lecturing, but holding a position of power as dean, I believe can compromise and even scare away certain members,” she added.
Poe said there is a conflict of interest in Divina “as dean, as counsel of UST, as being subject of the investigation,” and she urged the UST board to compel him to go on leave.
The parents of Castillo have sued Divina for murder and violation of Republic Act No. 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law. He was also charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.
Poe moved to cite Arvin Balag in contempt after he refused to confirm if he is the president of Aegis Juris.
“With all due respect, I invoke my right [against] self-incrimination,” he said, adding that there is already a pending case against him.
“You won’t even admit you are a member?” Poe said to Balag in Filipino. “What kind of fraternity leader are you? Members of the fraternity, this is your leader.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson warned Balag that he can be detained if he refuses to answer a simple question and even gave the frat man a few more chances to answer. Balag refused to budge.
The move to cite Balag in contempt was quickly seconded by the other senators. “Sergeant-at-arms, after this hearing, you place him under detention,” Lacson ordered.
Based on suspect John Paul Solano’s testimony, it was Balag who ordered him to bring Castillo to the Chinese General Hospital instead of the nearer University of Santo Tomas hospital.
Solano also said Balag told him to lie to hospital staff and say he found Castillo’s body in Tondo. The suspect added that Balag told frat members to deactivate their Facebook accounts.
Lacson, Poe and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri slammed the fraternity members for repeatedly invoking their right aganst self-incrimination.
Lacson hit the attempts to cover up the hazing, which he said was also being led by the lawyers of the fraternity members.
He said it was unbecoming of the lawyers to help cover up the crime and it was disgusting for the members to leave their fraternity brother Castillo in that condition.
Although the fraternity members have clammed up, Lacson siad it was possible that one or two of them would see the light and testify about what really happened on Sept. 17, given the Justice department’s offer to accept state witnesses.
Another frat member Ralph Trangia, who returned on Oct. 10 after fleeing the country hours after Castillo’s death also invoked his right against self-incrimination when asked by Poe whether he or his father owned a red pickup truck that took Castillo to the hospital.
Trangia’s driver Romeo Laboga drove the vehicle bearing another frat member, Solano, a registered medical technologist, and Castillo’s body to the Chinese General Hospital.
Poe moved to summon Trangia’s driver after his father Antonio contradicted John Paul Solano’s earlier statement. Trangia and Solano are primary suspects in the killing of Castillo.
Solano earlier claimed he was with driver Romeo Laboga and Balag when they brought Castillo to the Chinese General Hospital. But this was contradicted by Antonio, saying he was with his driver that time.
Both Ralph and Antonio refused to confirm that they own the red Mitsubishi Strada used to bring Castillo to the hospital. This was discovered through the CGH’s closed-circuit television camera footage obtained by the Manila Police District, Coronel said.
Zubiri told the Senate hearing that he received information that some fraternity members proposed to bribe barangay officials to erase the CCTV footage near the Aegis Juris library where Castillo died.
“I believe most of them are lawyers. These future lawyers actively covering up for crime, I feel sorry for them,” Zubiri said.
At the start of the hearing, Zubiri berated Solano and accused him of trying to make fools of the committee members.
“Do you want to disrespect our committee?” he said, noting that he has not released a statement on what happened that morning when Castillo died.
Solano said he was ready to present hi counter-affidavit on Oct. 4, but the complainants requested that the hearing be moved. He said this was beyond his control.
“I am bound due to the cases that have been filed against me, and there is an ongoing preliminary investigation. So I will invoke my right against self-incrimination,” he said.
Zubiri, a friend of Castillo’s father, believes Solano has not submitted an affidavit because his Aegis Juris fraternity brothers prevailed upon him to do so.
Solano had earlier testified before an executive session of the Senate and on Tuesday appealed the the committee to reconsider its resolution to allow the release of the transcript of the exectuve session.
During the said closed-door session, Solano supposedly bared the names of those involved in Castillo’s death.
“Please rest assured that the material point that I have disclosed during the executive session will be in my sworn statement to be submitted to the Hon. Panel of Prosecutors,” Solano said.
Zubiri, however, moved to make public the testimony of Solano during executive session. The motion was approved by the Senate committee.