February 25, 2018, 1:51 pm
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‘Lawyers led cover-up in Castillo death’

THERE was a clear attempt to cover up the death of hazing victim Horacio Tomas Castillo III, a University of Sto. Tomas law student, according to Manila Police District (MPD) director Chief Supt. Joel Coronel.

Worse, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said, was that it involved lawyers who had taken the oath to “do no falsehood.”

Aegis Juris Fraternity president Arvin Balag  refused to even confirm that he’s a member of the fraternity, got cited in contempt and ordered detained at the Senate.

At the continuation of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs hearing yesterday, Coronel presented a Power Point presentation of the chat group created by Aegis Juris Fraternity to address the September 17 “crisis” the fraternity faced over the death of Castillo.

“In light of the discovery of the chat (group) that was formed on Sunday, September 17, the objective of the Aegis Juris fraternity is to cover up, conceal, to avoid and evade investigation and prosecution of this case,” Coronel said.

Lacson agreed with Coronel, saying: “Obviously, and it’s unbecoming of lawyers because they led the cover-up.” 

At least 19 members of the fraternity, including lawyers, decided to meet at the Novotel Hotel in Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City to come out with a unified decision on the next steps to be undertaken following the death of Castillo.

“It seems that the tendency of the fraternity is to conceal and obstruct justice,” Coronel said. “Nowhere in this thread shows that they were willing to subject themselves to this investigation.”

While the group plotted to deny everything, the AJF came out with a statement on September 18 that the fraternity “will extend its utmost cooperation in the investigation of this unfortunate event.”

Coronel said members of the fraternity participated in the chat room, mostly concerned about the “catastrophe” that will happen to the AJF once the death of Castillo was “sensationalized in the media.” The most senior lawyers in the group also expressed concerns over their student brothers and their future.

Those who participated in the chat room were lawyers Marvi Abo, Cesar Ocampo Ona, Cecilio Jimeno, Alston Kevin Anarna, Ferdinand Rogelio, Edzel Canlas, Gaile Dante Acusar Caraan, Henry Pablo and Michael Vito.

Also in the group were students Brian Bangui, Arvin Balag and Jose Miguel Salamat. Balag and Salamat were also identified as part of the group that “welcomed” Castillo.

At the start of the hearing, the committee presented the transcript of John Paul Solano’s testimony during an executive session last September 25 after he again invoked his right against self-incrimination.

Solano brought Castillo to the Chinese General Hospital on Sept. 17. He initially claimed he saw Castillo in Balut, Tondo wrapped with a blanket. He later admitted that fraternity brothers told him to make up the story.

During the executive session, Solano said he saw Axel Hipe, Arvin Balag, Mark Ventura, and Oliver John Onofre at the fraternity library located along Laong-Laan St., in Sampaloc, Manila for the “welcoming rites” of Castillo from the night of September 16 to early morning of the next day.

According to the transcript, Solano also said two other fraternity brothers were called up, but he claimed to know them only by their first names as “Zack” and “Dan.” Lacson supplied the details and identified Zack and Dan as Zach Abulencia and Daniel Ragos.

Solano also said it was Balag who ordered that Castillo be brought to the Chinese General Hospital. Balag also ordered him to accompany Castillo to the hospital’s emergency room and he was left behind by his fraternity brothers until police investigators arrived at the hospital.

“I said some obscene words pero hindi ko na sasabihin kasi minura ko talaga sila,” Solano said.

After giving his statement to the police, Solano said he went to Tarlac and then to Pangasinan. For the past three days, he claimed he slept at waiting sheds, outside the schools and anywhere, until he decided to call his father and return home. On September 22, Solano surrendered to Lacson, who later turned him over to the MPD.

Upon the motion of Sen. Grace Poe, the committee cited Balag in contempt for his refusal to confirm whether or not he was a member of the fraternity.

“I’m not asking if you performed hazing. Ikaw ay miyembro ng Aegis Juris, hindi ba? Siguro naman malinaw ‘yan dahil nandito ka ngayon o nagmamatigas ka na ngayon sa sinabi mong ‘code of silence’ dun sa iyong messages?” Poe told Balag, referring to the Facebook chat in which Balag told members to deactivate their social media accounts and reminded them of the “code of silence.”

Balag, on advice of his lawyer, refused to answer, saying his testimony may further incriminate him in cases against him.

In recognizing Balag as the Grand Praefectus of Aegis Juris, Poe, committee vice-chair, cited the fraternity’s membership application bearing his signature, organization sheet showing that he was president, and UST’s Office for Student Affairs’ recognition of the fraternity.

“Nakakaawa rin, mga bata pa ito. Pero bata pa lang, ganyan na mag-isip. Kung hindi natin ‘yan ilalagay sa tama ngayon pa lang, lalo na siguro ‘pag tumanda na ‘yan,” said Poe.

Poe also asked UST law dean Nilo Divina to take a leave pending the investigation, citing “conflict of interest” in his capacity as head of the Faculty of Civil Law, counsel for UST, and being a subject in the ongoing probe. Poe said UST engaged the services of Divina’s law firm, the DivinaLaw.

But Divina refused, saying the case “has no bearing on my competence as dean” and that he maintained “neutrality” and “kept distance” from Aegis Juris since accepting his job as dean.

He said it has been his call to all those who participated in the hazing “to show up, surrender yourself, explain yourself and then face the consequences of your actions.”

Solano and 14 others – Ralph Trangia, Arvin Balag, Aeron Salientes, Mhin Wei Chan, Mark Anthony Ventura, Oliver John Audrey, Ranie Rafael Santiago, Zimon Padro, Joshua Joriel Macabali, Karl Matthew Villanueva, Jose Miguel Salamat, Danielle Hans Matthew Rodrigo, Axel Munro Hipe and Marcelino Bagtang – have been charged with murder, robbery and violation of the anti-hazing law.

Trangia’s mother, Rosamarie, has also been charged for obstruction of justice.

The Castillo family has also filed a supplemental complaint naming UST Civil   Divina, UST law professor and Aegis Juris members Arthur Capili, Nathan Anarna, Lennert Bryan Galicia and Chuck Siazar as well as Vicente Garcia, owner of the building where the alleged hazing took place, among the respondents.
 
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