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'Code of silence,' refusal to cooperate an injustice to Atio's family, says Poe

Senator Panfilo Lacson (3rd from right), chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, along with (from right to left) Senators Grace Poe, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Sherwin Gatchalian, listens to a presentation made during the Senate inquiry Wednesday, October 18, 2017, on the death of University of Santo Tomas law student Horacio Castillo III. Castillo died last September 17, 2017 from injuries allegedly sustained during a hazing rite by members of the Aegis Juris fraternity. Senate PRIB/Cesar Tomambo

MANILA, Philippines — The prevailing "code of silence" among members of a fraternity suspected of involvement in the killing of a University of Santo Tomas freshman law student and their refusal to cooperate with the Senate are an injustice to the family of the 22-year-old victim, Sen. Grace Poe said on Wednesday.

Poe slammed the refusal of Arvin Balag to confirm if he was a member of the Aegis Juris fraternity which conducted the deadly initiation rites that led to the death of Horacio "Atio" Castillo III.

Poe, the vice chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, cited the fraternity's membership application bearing his signature, organization sheet showing that he was the head and the recognition of the UST Office for Student Affairs in saying that Balag was the grand praefectus of Aegis Juris.

"I'm not asking if you performed hazing... Ikaw ay miyembro ng Aegis Juris, hindi ba (You are a member of Aegis Juris, aren't you)? Siguro naman malinaw 'yan dahil nandito ka ngayon o nagmamatigas ka na ngayon sa sinabi mong 'code of silence' dun sa iyong messages (I think that is clear because you are here, or are you know adamant on insisting the so-called 'code of silence' you mentioned in your messages)," Poe asked Balag.

READ:  Aegis Juris members intended to evade probe, says MPD chief

However, Balag refused to answer the question as this could further incriminate him in the investigation into the Castillo's death.

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Poe also referred to the supposed Facebook conversation among members of the fraternity in which Balag told members to deactivate their social media accounts and reminded them of the group's "code of silence."

"Nakakaawa rin, mga bata pa ito, eh. Pero bata pa lang ganyan na mag-isip. Kung hindi natin yan ilalagay sa tama ngayon pa lang, lalo na siguro 'pag tumanda na 'yan (I pity you because you are still young yet you think that way. If we will not correct you, I can just imagine what you can do when you're already old)," Poe said.

READ: Atio's parents to fratmen: Return our son's belongings

The senator moved to cite Balag in contempt, but members of the committee led by Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson gave the supposed Aegis Juris president time to change his mind considering that he might be detained in a Pasay City jail and not in the Senate as Congress is on a break.

"Ang fraternity ninyo may motto pa na 'do no injustice, suffer no injustice' (Your fraternity's motto is 'Do no injustice, suffer no injustice'). You're doing an injustice to your fellow schoolmate, fratmate, brother by not answering these questions," Poe said, advising the law student to consider his decision as the panel would not want to detain him over his refusal to answer a simple question.

He was later cited in contempt by the Senate panel.

Ralph Trangia, also a member of the fraternity, invoked his right against self-incrimination and refused to answer if his father owned the red Mitsubishi pickup that was allegedly used to bring the beaten body of Castillo to the Chinese General Hospital.

Trangia was the suspect who scurried to the United States with his mother just days after the incident happened.

Trangia's father, Antonio, also claimed that he was with their driver when the incident happened. This contradicted the testimony of John Paul Solano, another suspect in the deadly welcome rites, who said that it was the Trangias' driver who brought them to the hospital.

The Manila Police District later confirmed during the hearing that the red Mitsubishi Strada with plate number ZLU 539 was owned by Antonio Trangia in Meycauayan, Bulacan, Antonio and his son, however, refused to admit or deny that they were the owner of the pickup.

During the same hearing, Poe also called on UST Faculty of Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina, also a member of Aegis Juris, to take a leave of absence from being the head of the law school pending the investigation.

She cited a possible "conflict of interest" arising from his position as dean, counsel for UST and the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Poe said that UST was also engaging the services of Divina's law firm.

"This is one aspect of your job but it weighs in heavily on the impression that you give, being still the dean of UST Law. We have a very important criminal investigation that's ongoing but you are definitely a figure that's looming large," Poe said.

Divina, however, refused and said that the case had no bearing on his "competence as dean." The UST law dean also maintained that he had been "neutral" and had "kept distance" from Aegis Juris since he accepted the job.

Poe countered that nobody was indispensable and he could still continue teaching while the investigation was taking its course.

She said that because of his position certain members might be compromised and some witnesses might be spooked to testify.

"It's a conflict of interest as dean, as counsel of UST, as subject to the investigation. Itong mga estudyante na may nakabinbin pang grades, baka matakot sila na pag nagsalita sila na baka bumagsak sila (Some students have not yet received their grades. They might be intimidated because they will fail if they speak)," the senator said.

"Kung patuloy niyong pagtatakpan ay hindi na kayo matutulungan," the senator said.

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