DOJ: 2 Aquilans can now serve sentence

- Delon Porcalla -
Two members of the Aquila Legis fraternity whose jail terms were upheld by the Court of Appeals last week can now start serving their sentences for the killing of Ateneo law student Lenny Villa in February 1991, the Department of Justice said.

Justice Undersecretary Manuel Teehankee told reporters yesterday that Fidelito Dizon and Artemio Villareal can presently be sent to the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City following the CA ruling last Friday and that prosecutors can seek the cancellation of their bail.

"They (Dizon and Villareal) are no longer entitled to bail. That (detention while appeal is pending) has been done with many cases. Rep. (Romeo) Jalosjos was serving time (at NBP) pending appeal even before his case became final," he said.

Teehankee, an Atenean but not an Aquilan, said private and government prosecutors can now move for the "cancellation of bail" granted by Caloocan Judge Adoracion Angeles "for purposes of serving their (Dizon’s and Villareal’s) sentence."

"It’s the role of the prosecutors now to seek cancellation of the bail for immediate service of sentence even though the motion for reconsideration is pending. It is up to the lower court and the CA to decide that application," he added.

Nineteen of Dizon’s and Villareal’s co-accused were acquitted by the CA, while four others were held criminally liable only for slight physical injuries. The CA set aside Angeles’ decision in November 1994 establishing conspiracy in the killing of the 21-year-old neophyte.

"How then could there be a conspiracy to commit a crime when the supposed victims were privy to what was to take place? Indeed, there can be no fraternity initiation without consenting neophytes," Justice Eubolo Verzola wrote.

"Responsibility is separate and individual; each one being liable only for the consequence of his own acts. In the absence of a finding of conspiracy, it becomes clear that they cannot be collectively held liable for the death of Villa," he added.

The ruling was concurred in by Justices Rodrigo Cosico and Eliezer delos Santos.

But the acquittal of 19 fraternity members who were at the fateful hazing rites was blasted yesterday by the Crusade Against Violence, an anti-crime group.

CAV president Carina Agarao said the CA ruling has demoralized the families of other hazing victims.

"Lenny’s case started it all. Now the families of other hazing victims are afraid that nothing will also happen to their cases. The CA is setting a very dangerous precedent," she said.

Gerarda Villa, the dead fratman’s mother, also criticized the decision.

"Nothing can be more painful for a mother like me to lose her only son. The hurt is beyond what each of you can only imagine. After 11 years of fighting for justice, I was gifted with an acquittal. I am devastated, very devastated," she said at a press conference yesterday.

According to 56-year-old Corazon Mercado, whose only son Felix died in initiation rites in 1995, the CA decision came as a shock to her.

"It gives me a feeling that we would also not get justice for my son’s death. Lenny’s case was a test case for us. We are very disappointed and, at the same time, worried how our case will end up," she said.

Felix Mercado’s case remains pending in a lower court in Tanauan, Batangas. Mercado, who died after undergoing initiation rites of the Scout Ranger Brotherhood in Sto. Tomas, Batangas on Oct. 1, 1995, was then a student of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Batangas.

Villa said that while her son’s case was still pending with the lower court, the CA had ruled twice on the issue of conspiracy when two of the accused brought this up.

She alleged that her son’s case has been influenced by the relatives of the Aquilans in the judiciary and other Aquila members now in government.

"The CA ruled that conspiracy exists. Then CA Justice, now Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno penned the decision. In other words, the conspiracy issue is a long settled (one)," Villa added. –With Sheila Crisostomo











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