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Fratmen in Lenny Villa hazing get slap on wrist

MANILA, Philippines — The death of Ateneo law student Leonardo “Lenny” Villa during initiation rites of the Aquila Legis fraternity in 1991 marked a turning point as it led to the enactment of Republic Act 8049, the Anti-hazing law.

But the fraternity members convicted got a mere slap on the wrist. And the judge who convicted them found herself under fire until she left office.

In November 1993, Caloocan City regional trial court Judge Adoracion Angeles convicted 26 fraternity members of homicide. But the Court of Appeals (CA) later acquitted 19 suspects, a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court (SC).

The CA affirmed the convictions of Fidelito Dizon and Artemio Villareal for homicide. When the case was appealed to the SC, the high tribunal in 2012 set aside the findings of the CA.

The SC found Dizon and four other fraternity members guilty of the lesser offense of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. Villareal died in 2011. Others convicted by the lower court were freed.

Dizon and four others were sentenced to four months and one day as minimum and four years and two months as maximum. But in 2014, the SC issued a final decision that the five fraternity members convicted of reckless imprudence were “eligible for probation.”

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After 26 years, members of Aquila Legis tagged in the Villa case and were acquitted have since moved on, many of them occupying positions in government.

They were able to finish law school, became lawyers, and are now pursuing careers both in private practice and civil service. Most of them were accepted to the Bar after being cleared by the CA in 2002.

One of the 19 Aquila Legis members convicted by the Caloocan City regional trial court in 1993 but cleared by the CA and the SC in 2012 is now a magistrate in the Sandiganbayan: Associate Justice Michael Musngi.

Musngi is also a former undersecretary for special concerns at the Office of the President during the second Aquino administration.

Another acquitted frat member was Jaime Ma. Flores III, who was appointed chair of Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations under the Duterte administration. He resigned from his post in October 2016.

Flores brought with him another accused in the Villa case, Santiago Ranada III as his head executive assistant in the agency.

Another Aquila member in the Villa case, Adel Abas was also appointed in the Duterte administration as member of the ceasefire committee of the government’s peace panel for the peace talks with Moro rebels.

Another frat brother, Nelson Victorino served as assistant secretary of the Department of National Defense during the Arroyo administration and later became chief of staff of Sen. Grace Poe.

Eulogio Amado Sabban, on the other hand, now serves as director of Office of the President – Legislative Office.

Joseph Rhoderick Lledo is senior vice president of BDO Unibank Inc., while Zosimo Mendoza is director of Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative Inc.

Many of them also pursue private law practice: Vicente Verdadero, who served as lawyer for retired general and now MMDA chair Danilo Lim; Percival Brigola, lawyer for Philippine Olympic Committee and complainants in One Dream investment scam; Jonas-Karl Perez of the Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos law offices in Makati; Dalmacio Lim Jr., a contributor in senatorial campaign of former senator Ernesto Maceda in 2013 polls, and law professor Jude Fernandez.

Other acquitted Aquila Legis members are: Amante Purisima III, nephew of retired Supreme Court justice Fidel Purisima who remains active in the frat and served as speaker and facilitator in their international convention in Las Vegas in October 2016; Etienne Guerrero, son of former Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Jesus Guerrero; and Ronan de Guzman, Paul Angelo Santos, Antonio General and Ernesto Jose Montecillo.

Of the five convicted of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, two became chiefs-of-staff of prominent politicians—Renato Bantug Jr. to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Antonio Mariano Almeda to former presidential son Juan Miguel Arroyo, former representative of Ang Galing Pinoy party-list.

Junel Anthony Ama pursued a career in private law practice.

Judge Angeles: I have no regret

Angeles, on the other hand, underwent career ordeals that her supporters believe were linked to her decision to convict 26 members of the Aquila Legis fraternity.

Angeles faced administrative cases, charges of child abuse, and maltreatment of her ward and house help, which were all later dismissed by the higher courts. But her promotion was derailed.

Now 77 and retired, Angeles does accuse the fraternity of involvement in her woes, saying she has no regrets even after “facing charges left and right.”

“It all came after the Lenny Villa case. I am already retired and retiring peacefully but I have no regret if I did not get the promotional appointment. I did what I believe was right. I followed the dictates of my conscience and nothing else,” she said.

The retired judge also said it pains her that hazing persists, with Horacio Castillo III of the Aegis Juris fraternity at the University of Santo Tomas Faulty of Civil Law as the latest victim.

“It pains me so much to hear that people are dying from hazing when they are supposed to be future brothers and therefore should care for each other. It is so painful for the parents, even if I do not know them personally. Even Horacio,” Angeles told The STAR.

“They should pray that the case be assigned and handled by a judge who fears the Lord and will only speak to evidence on records,” she added.

Angeles stressed the mere presence of the anti-hazing law should help deter deaths from brutal initiation rites, but only conviction of the accused would put an end to the unfavorable results of hazing.

“If the penalty is very stiff and severe then these students would think 10 times before the hazing, like a warning to them if the law is really implemented,” she added.

Angeles said that while she respects the decision of the SC, she still stands firm on her decision that the crime was homicide, “plain and simple.”

With Romina Cabrera

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