By Elka Krystle R. Requinta
IS JUSTICE finally served for Mark Chua?
Three years after the body of the Mechanical Engineering sophomore was fished out of the Pasig River, Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Romulo Lopez sentenced one of the accused, Arnulfo Aparri, Jr., to the maximum penalty of death.
Aparri was then a high-ranking Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) officer and an Architecture student at the time of Chua’s death.
Father Rector Tamerlane Lana, O.P. told the Varsitarian that he is happy that the case has been settled and that justice has been given to Mark Chua.
“It served as a lesson to the existing ROTC system and the people there to be conscientious of their duties and obligations to our students and form them in the true spirit of ROTC,” Fr. Lana said.
But Mark’s father, Welson Chua, thinks the sentence was “too harsh.”
“I rejoice that God’s justice prevailed, but not so much at the cost of another loss.” Welson said. “(Death penalty) is not how I would have wanted for justice to be done, because, firstly, killing (Aparri) won’t bring back my son.”
But, Welson said he is resigned to the verdict.
“I understand that the justice system is also one of God’s instruments, so if they think this way, so be it,” he said. “At least one person got convicted.”
Former ROTC officer Franco Suelto, one of the suspects-turned-witness, identified Aparri as one of the men who wrapped Mark’s body using an old carpet inside the UST Department of Military and Service Training (DMST) office on the night of his murder on March 15, 2001. Suelto was then a Psychology junior and a member of the UST Golden Corps like the other suspects.
Aparri surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation on Feb. 9, 2002.
Aparri was given the death sentence despite his surrender on grounds that it could not make up for the cruelty and nighttime circumstance in the crime. He was also ordered to pay Mark’s family P50,000 as indemnity.
“Aparri is the least guilty, but he is not from an (influential) family nor is he moneyed enough to have averred this,” Welson said.
Aparri’s co-accused suspects—Paul Joseph Tan, Eduardo Tabrilla, and Michael Von Rainard Manangbao—all of whom remain at large, were all issued alias warrants of arrest. The case has been be forwarded to the Supreme Court for automatic review.
Manangbao, whom Welson considers the mastermind, was believed to be abroad but was sighted in Cubao with a former Nueva Ecija congressman. Manangbao was then the UST-ROTC Corp Commander, whose father is a former Cabanatuan police chief.
Meanwhile, Tan, a nephew of a former vice mayor of Lamitan, Basilan, is believed to be in Mindanao, while Tabrilla is believed to hiding in Manila.
Welson said he will continue “pursuing justice like a father” until all of the suspects are put behind bars.
Mark and fellow Engineering student Romulo Yumol exposed the bribery and corruption activities of cadet officers in the UST-ROTC through an article published in the Varsitarian in January 2001. Two months later, Mark was found dead. His bloated corpse was found near the Jones Bridge, three days after he died of suffocation upon transport from the DMST office to Tan’s residence in Las Piñas.
Autopsy findings show that Mark also sustained body injuries apparently from hazing. His hands and feet were hogtied while his entire face was wrapped with silver packaging tape.
The court believed that the murder was a desperate act of vindictiveness and an effort to end more exposes that would implicate the officers.
Following Mark’s death, the government abolished the compulsory nature of the ROTC program by college students and made it an optional one-year course.
Welson said the recent development on his son’s case made a big implication on UST, particularly on its security.
“Having found Aparri—a student ofthe school—guilty of such a crime, UST should think about its campus security,” Welson said. “The guards should have been aware of somebody being murdered.”
“The crime was committed inside the UST campus and the University should be held responsible,” Welson added.
Welson said a possible lawsuit against the school would be “pointless.”
But Welson has another gripe against the UST administration.
According to Welson, Fr. Lana previously promised that aside from a statue of Mark Chua near the DMST office, the UST Grandstand will be named after his son, who “only” got a Lorenzo Ruiz award.
“There should be a reminder of a student that UST should be proud of because he risked his life (to uphold the school’s credibility),” Welson said. “But I think they might be afraid to do so because of the interest sparked by the incident which might have pulled down enrollment (rates).”
Fr. Lana clarified that the Council of Regents had yet to decide on the renaming of the Grandstand.
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