SENATE PROBE: Poe urges Divina to step down; Aegis Juris cover-up attempt bared

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Photo by Joelle Alison Mae P. Eusebio

CIVIL Law Dean Nilo Divina refused to step down from office amid criticisms he could have done more to help the parents of hazing victim Horacio “Atio” Castillo III or to prevent the tragedy.

During the Senate probe into Atio’s fatal hazing last Oct. 18, Divina stood firm as Sen. Grace Poe pointed out that his law firm, DivinaLaw, was retained by UST and would have to defend both himself and the University.

“Hindi ba sumagi sa iyong isipan na umalis ka muna as dean ng Civil Law ng UST,” Poe asked. “It’s a conflict of interest being a dean and a subject for investigation.”

“I have maintained my neutrality and I have maintained my distance from the fraternity,” Divina, who assumed deanship in 2009, responded.

Poe noted that Divina was not “pro-active” in ensuring that fraternities in UST were not holding hazing rites for new recruits.

“Letting them sign a piece of paper that they will not do hazing is not necessarily a pro-active approach. Have you done anything beyond having a signed covenant with these different fraternities that they should not conduct hazing,” Poe asked.

“This alone shows you’re presuming, you’re assuming, but you’re not exactly pro-actively investigating. Having been part of that particular group and system, you should be one step ahead of them. And as dean, if you’re serious about this, you should have asked, you should have investigated,” she added.

Divina answered that there were no grounds for investigation, but Poe replied that “there is always ground to investigate.”

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri also slammed Divina for not informing Atio’s parents of his death immediately. Zubiri said he did not believe Divina was powerless to inform the parents, simply because the University was closed during Sundays and that the law dean did not know who the victim was.

“I find your story hard to believe. It’s your responsibility as the dean of the Civil Law. It is impossible for a dean to not know their students. Put yourself in their shoes. Kung anak mo ‘yan, dean,” Zubiri said.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri. Photo by Joelle Alison Mae P. Eusebio
Sen. Grace Poe. Photo by Joelle Alison Mae P. Eusebio

Rector speaks up

UST Rector Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, O.P, who attended the probe, vowed to improve the rules of the University on fraternities and sororities.

“Our first concern is actually to complete the investigation so we would be able to impose the just and reasonable penalties according to our student handbook. And after that, we would actually…look into the improvement of the policies and procedures of the University regarding these fraternities and sororities. I think it is high time for us to look into the rules [of the University],” Dagohoy told the Varsitarian.

In the UST Student Handbook, hazing is mentioned under the Maintenance of Peace and Order section. Republic Act (RA) 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law is attached to the handbook as an appendix.

Last Feb. 24, the Civil Law Student Welfare and Development Board released a memo ordering all fraternities and sororities in the Faculty not to recruit freshmen, and to “strictly follow the Anti-Hazing Law.”

“Freshmen students must be given the opportunity to reasonably and intelligently determine the status of the organizations they would like to become members of,” the document read.

‘Code of silence’

Senators also lambasted the Aegis Juris members for repeatedly invoking their right against self-incrimination on simple questions thrown by the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs.

Poe at first only threatened to cite in contempt Aegis Juris Grand Praefectus Arvin Balag after he invoked his right against self-incrimination when asked if he was the leader of the fraternity.

“For the position you’re holding in the frat, you’re invoking your right?” Poe asked.
“Your honor, being charged with the violation of the Anti-hazing law, it’s one of the elements,” Balag said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Panfilo Lacson then warned Balag that he would be cited in contempt and detained in the Pasay City Jail.

“Ni pagiging meyembro hindi mo aaminin? Anong klaseng leader ka ng iyong fraternity,” Poe asked.

But Balag insisted and invoked his right against self-incrimination anew.

Poe then motioned for Balag to be cited in contempt. The motion was seconded by Zubiri, and was approved by Lacson.

It was the same case with lead suspect Ralph Trangia and his parents when Poe asked what the plate number of their car was.

“May tendency po ‘yung tanong niyo na mag lead sa allegation ng involvement ng pamilya ko,” Trangia said.

“Kung hindi niya aaminin ang plate number ng sasakyan niya, halata naman na na may tinatago dito,” Poe said.

Lacson told reporters that Balag’s detention should serve as a reminder that resource persons should stop evading proper questions.

“We cite resource persons in contempt very sparingly. Pero kung ganoon naman na harap-harapan na parang niloloko na ‘yung committee, hindi na rin kami papayag,” Lacson said.

Aegis Juris members also refused to confirm parts of John Paul Solano’s testimony where they were mentioned.

“Sobrang abused [‘yung right against self-incrimination]. They’re protecting each other to the point na maski mai-incriminate ang iba, ini-invoke pa rin nila ‘yung right against self-incrimination. If they stay that way, lahat sila mapapahamak,” Lacson said.

Horacio Jr., Atio’s father, argued that Aegis Juris members were “just buying time” with their invocation of their right against self-incrimination.

Aegis Juris members. Photo by Joelle Alison Mae P. Eusebio

Attempt to cover-up hazing

A thread of Facebook messages among Aegis Juris members in the morning of Sept. 17 and Sept. 18 was revealed during the Senate probe, which strengthened the claim of Manila Police District Director Joel Coronel that the fratmen were engaged in a cover-up.

The Philippine National Police presented screenshots of a Facebook conversation between active Aegis Juris alumni and members discussing their next moves after the hazing incident.

According to police accounts, the group chat was created by lawyer Marvi Rosero Abo, an Aegis Juris alumnus.

An elevator CCTV footage was also played, showing the fratmen and elders headed to the function room on the third floor of Novotel in Cubao a day after Castillo was declared dead at Chinese General Hospital.

“It appears that [in these messages], the objective of the Aegis Juris Fraternity is to cover up, conceal, avoid and to evade prosecution. That is the context of these messages,” Coronel said.

Coronel said the two Facebook threads that made up a 38-page report of screenshots were submitted to PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Unit for verification.

In one of the messages shown, lawyer Alston Kevin Anarna said Castillo’s family was well off and could get a search warrant on the fraternity library on Laon Laan Street, the crime scene, immediately.

Lawyer Gaile Dante Acuzar Caraan, also an Aegis Juris alumnus, said they had been advised to form a “crisis committee” with the primary purpose of reaching out to the Castillo family and preventing them from speaking out.

“Brod, may kaya ‘yang family n’yan. Bukas makakakuha na sila search warrant sa [fraternity library]. Sana malinis na. Matangga[l] na ang paddle doon,” the message read.

Photo of Facebook group chat of Aegis Juris members and alumni. Source: https://www.facebook.com/hustisyaparakayhoracio/posts/491201307929656

DNA matches

Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Joel Villanueva then asked Aegis Juris members to submit their DNA samples to be compared with the DNA found at the fraternity library.

Aegis Juris fratmen Mark Ventura, Trangia, Joshua Macabili and Balag refused to give samples. Jason Robiños, Jose Miguel Salamat, Zimoun Padro and Aeron Salientes agreed to give their DNA, while Oliver Onofre and Mhin Wei Chan agreed provided there was a court order.

Solano said the the test would be positive should his specimen be examined because he performed CPR on Atio.

Last Oct. 13, PNP laboratory found a match between the DNA of Atio’s parents and the blood stains from a paddle and white shirt retrieved from the library.

Read: DNA found on Aegis Juris paddle matches those of Atio’s parents – police

Solano’s testimony

The testimony of John Paul Solano on an executive session last Sept. 25 was disclosed at the hearing. It stated that Onofre called him to go to the fraternity library to revive a fratman who had “collapsed.”

When asked why he didn’t bring Horacio to the UST Hospital, he said it was upon the order of Balag. Solano argued that UST Hospital was just 10 to 15 minutes away from the scene, while Chinese General Hospital was 20 to 30 minutes away.

When he asked Balag what to say to the authorities in the hospital, the frat leader ordered him to explain that he saw the body of Atio in Balut, Tondo.

Solano surrendered to Lacson last Sept. 21 and was released last Sept. 27 by the Department of Justice, the day of Atio’s burial. I.G.S. Agus and D.Y.P. Galvez

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