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Amid criticisms of failing to protect victims, CHR to probe death of UST law student

Carmina and Horacio Tomas Castillo Jr. weep at a funeral parlor where the body of their son, Horacio Tomas III, was taken yesterday. EDD GUMBAN

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday announced that it was probing the death of a freshman law school student of the University of Santo Tomas allegedly because of injuries he sustained in the "welcome rites" of a fraternity.

Horacio Tomas Castillo III, 22, was found unconscious on a sidewalk in Balut, Tondo on Sunday. He was later declared dead on arrival at the Chinese General Hospital.

UST, a Catholic university, has already condemned the death and vowed that the perpetrators would be held accountable.

The CHR said it was probing Castillo's death because he belonged to a vulnerable sector.

"Yes, the Commission has already commenced an investigation into the hazing of the UST student especially considering that he belongs to the youth sector, a vulnerable group we should protect," Jacqueline De Guia, spokesperson of the CHR, told Philstar.

According to Castillo's parents, their son told them that he would attend the welcome ceremony of the Aegis Juris, a fraternity based in the UST Faculty of Civil Law.

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However, a lifeless Castillo was the one who returned to his family.

The victim's father and namesake said it was painful for him to imagine the final moments of his son in the hands of his so-called "brothers" in the fraternity.

"My God! They killed my son!" Horacio cried out.

Carmina, the mother of the victim, was equally inconsolable and asked the perpetrators to face her and tell her how her son died.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the hazing-related killing.

Aguirre, a member of the San Beda-based Lex Talionis Fraternitas, said that those responsible for this "senseless death" should be brought to justice.

The Central Student Council of UST also slammed the death of the freshman law student who aspired to become a senator and chief justice.

“We call on the university administration and the students to condemn this violent act against a fellow Thomasian,” UST CSC said in a statement.

“The UST CSC demand for a rigorous investigation on the people and the fraternity involved in the death of Horacio Tomas Castillo III. May he get the justice he deserves.”

According to Nilo Divina, the dean of the university's law school, the welcome ceremony of Aegis Juris was not coordinated with the school, in direct contravention of the country's Anti-Hazing Law.

School authorities must be informed in writing of any hazing or initiation rites at least seven days before the activity, according to this statute.

Divina is an alumnus of Aegis Juris which is not recognized by the UST Office of Student Affairs, according to an officer of the university's student council.

"All we can say for now is that the fraternities and sororities are strictly prohibited by our [Student Welfare and Development Board] in recruiting UST Law freshmen unless recognized by the OSA," Jonathan Santos, president of the UST Civil Law Student Council, said.

Members of this fraternity, founded in 1979, were involved in a melee with those from Gamma Delta Epsilon Fraternity at the campus of UST last year.

De Guia said that their investigation is still in its initial stages, adding that they are still waiting for reports from probers.

The CHR, which was recently given a budget of P1,000 by the House of Representatives, has been criticized for allegedly failing to protect the rights of victims of crimes, a charge that it denies, saying that its main mandate is to monitor abuses by the state and its agents.

De Guia said in the past that the CHR could step in if members of minority groups such as women and the youth were victimized.

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