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Atio’s parents confront suspects at Senate today

Hazing victim Horacio Castillo III’s parents arrive at the Manila Police District headquarters yesterday. EDD GUMBAN

MANILA, Philippines — The parents of 22-year-old law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III and two suspects in his hazing death are expected to face each other for the first time today at the Senate inquiry into the incident, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday.

Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs that will conduct the inquiry, said aside from Castillo’s parents – Horacio Jr. and Carmina – also invited to the probe are suspects John Paul Solano and Aeron Salientes, who separately surrendered to the Manila Police District (MPD) last Friday.

Castillo’s parents went to the MPD yesterday and sought to speak with Solano in a closed door meeting.

“They wanted to speak with John Paul Solano but unfortunately his lawyers were not present so he requested to wait but the Castillos have other matters to do. But they will definitely meet at the Senate hearing (today),” MPD director Senior Supt. Napoleon Joel Coronel said.

He said the Castillos have submitted their judicial affidavit and are assisting the police in the preparation and filing of criminal charges. 

The MPD is also set to file before the Department of Justice charges of violation of Republic Act 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law and perjury against Solano.

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Lacson said Solano and the other suspects in the hazing may invoke their right against self-incrimination at the Senate hearing.
“He (Solano) can do that (invoke his right against self-incrimination) but the impression that the people might have is that he is hiding a lot of things,” Lacson told dzBB.

He said the suspects, however,  may refer to their sworn statements they have already provided the MPD and the DOJ.

Lacson said the panel has also invited Coronel, University of Santo Tomas law dean and Aegis Juris founder Nilo Divina, as well as officers of other fraternities as the committee will also be tackling bills seeking to repeal the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995, which was seen by some senators as ineffective.

Lacson said the committee has invited other resource persons to shed light on the incident but he declined to give details.

Not that easy

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said solving the case of Castillo might not be easy as it faces stumbling blocks early on.

Aguirre yesterday called on more witnesses to come up and the Aegis Juris fraternity to cooperate with the investigation.

Aguirre cited two specific challenges in the early stage of the investigation that he attributed to the fraternity – threats against possible witnesses and the vow of secrecy among members.

Aguirre, who visited the wake of Castillo last week, revealed the two witnesses who reached out to his office – a member and a neophyte of the fraternity – have received threats.

“They are afraid because they already received threats. They haven’t submitted affidavits yet despite our assurance to cover them under WPP (witness protection program),” Aguirre lamented.

“So that’s a problem. We don’t know if they’ll cooperate.”

Aguirre further bared he has received information that officers and members of Aegis Juris have been preventing eight neophytes from cooperating with the investigation.

“There are eight neophytes in the latest batch who underwent initiation rites, and they are being prevented by the senior members from speaking up. Just like in any other fraternity, they have a Code of Silence,” he said.

Aguirre said the neophytes are “being kept against their will so that they won’t reveal what they know of the incident.”

He further revealed Castillo was actually not part of the batch that underwent hazing rites and that members of the fraternity had only “picked on him.”

Aguirre himself is a member of another fraternity, the Lex Talionis from San Beda College law school.

With these challenges, Aguirre reiterated his call to witnesses to cooperate with the investigation either by the Manila Police District or the National Bureau of Investigation and help bring justice to the death of Castillo.

“I ask them to come out and tell the truth and we will protect them under the WPP. They should trust us instead of those people hiding them or advising them not to come out. Those people can be dangerous because of their agenda,” he appealed.

Aguirre said anyone wishing to volunteer information or stand as witness may call 0995-4429241, the hotline set by DOJ for Castillo’s case.

The Samaritan

Solano, a member of Aegis Juris who brought Castillo to a hospital last Sept. 17, earlier surrendered to the police after being tagged as primary suspect in the hazing.

He will be brought to the DOJ for inquest proceedings on the complaint to be filed by MPD’s Homicide Division.

Solano, a certified medical technologist, has denied taking part in the hazing last Sept. 16 and claimed he was only called by frat brothers to revive the already “half dead” Castillo at their fraternity library on Laong Laan street in Sampaloc near UST campus.

Police investigators did not buy his story, assailing his credibility after he gave a completely different account earlier.

Coronel said the possibility of Solano being a state witness remains solely on him.

“During our discussion last Friday, I told the lawyers of Solano that if he would be cooperating in the investigation of the case then there is a possibility that he can be recommended as state witness,” he said.

Solano told The STAR that he is willing to shed light on whatever he knows, although Coronel said he was still the principal suspect “considering that he was the last person who had control and custody of the remains of Castillo when he was brought to the hospital.”

Solano said he was not the “Good Samaritan” he earlier wanted to portray but only an “inactive” fraternity member who was compelled to bring the victim to the hospital.

Solano earlier told investigators that he took Castillo to Chinese General Hospital after seeing him sprawled on a sidewalk in Tondo.

Frat member Aeron Salientes also surfaced at the MPD to deny his involvement in the fatal hazing of Castillo.

He claimed he was in Pampanga at the time the hazing occurred.

Another primary suspect, Ralph Trangia has reportedly fled to Chicago a couple of days after the incident and before the DOJ issued a lookout bulletin order against 20 members of the fraternity initially tagged in the hazing incident.

Aguirre has ordered the NBI to coordinate with Interpol to hunt down Trangia and said the DOJ will also ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to cancel the passport of the suspect.    

The 17 other frat members included in the bulletin are Arvin Balag, Marcelino Bagtang, Zimon Padro, Jose Miguel Salamat, Carl Matthew Villanueva, Mhin Wei Chan, Marc Anthony Ventura, Axxel Munro Hipe, Oliver John Audrey Onofre, Joshua Macabali, Jason Adolfo Robinos, Ranie Rafael Santiago, Danielle Hans Matthew Rodrigo, Ged Villanueva, Milfren Alvarado, Daniel Ragos and Dave Felix.

Coronel said Trangia, the owner of the vehicle used to bring the victim to the hospital, has sent feelers to facilitate his surrender together with the vehicle.

“Hopefully, within today or until tomorrow before the Senate hearing, he will appear here to clarify his participation or involvement.  

Otherwise he would still be considered a principal suspect,” Coronel said.

He said based on the report of the Bureau of Immigration, Trangia is now in the US. – With Edu Punay, Rey Galupo 

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