Circumstantially guilty
Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - January 3, 2018 - 12:00am

In the past years, hazing or the shaming and humiliation of fraternity neophytes, has beleaguered the country’s educational institutions and communities. News of young men beaten to death as part of fraternities’ initiation rites supposedly to seal fraternal bond, have sent disturbing waves especially to lawmakers. Hence, R.A. 8049 was enacted on June 7, 1995 that criminalizes and penalizes hazing. Despite the rigid and clear provisions of the law, doubts are still raised on its effectiveness because lethal hazing still occurs as illustrated in this case.

The case stemmed from the initiation rites of a school fraternity in a Southern Luzon province. One of the neophytes desiring to join the fraternity was Alvin, a B.S. Agricultural Economics student. He was staying in a dormitory with his good friend Jomar until he died after the hazing.

Since fraternity brothers have a vow of secrecy, no direct evidence was available to prove how Alvin died and the persons responsible. But there were witnesses to some circumstances that pinpointed Titus and Ian who are frat members as liable for his death at a resort. These witnesses are: Jomar, Cherry, a food biology student in the same school; Senyang the owner of the sari-sari store in front of the resort; Dado, the tricycle driver plying the route at the resort; Lino, the security guard of the hospital; P02 Salvador ,the policeman who conducted the investigation; Dr. Santos who treated Alvin at the hospital and Dr. Reyes, the medico legal officer who autopsied Alvin’s corpse.

Jomar testified that Alvin would undergo initiation rites one evening when he saw him alive for the last time because he borrowed the shoes he wore at the initiation rites for the “finals” night at a resort.

In the afternoon of the same day, Cherry saw Titus and Ian together with another man wearing black shirts with the fraternity logo, seated two meters away from her at their society’s “tambayan” inside the school building. Then she noticed two more men approached the three with their heads bowed. One of them was Alvin who was carrying a five-gallon water container when he was punched by Titus twice because he did not report to him at the Tambayan. After 15 minutes, Cherry saw all of them leaving the place.

Then that same evening, at about 8:30 p.m., Senyang saw a jeepney with more than 20 men and women in civilian clothes arrived at the resort, shook hands and embraced each other before entering it. She identified Titus seated beside the driver. Then she also saw three other persons in a motorcycle arriving. Thereafter 15 persons gathered at the terrace and lights were turned off. Later, three of them including Ian went to her store to buy some items. She said that she only learned from the policemen that a person died that night and his name was Alvin.

Dado said that at about 3 a.m. while waiting for passengers, a man approached him and told him that someone inside the resort needed a ride. So he went to the resort and saw three men in their 20s carrying another man who looked very weak, like a vegetable, with a very cold body. They instructed him to go to the nearest hospital allegedly because the man had too much to drink. It was only several days later when he learned that said man had died.

Lino the security guard testified that early morning of the following day, two men brought the lifeless body of a person. He did not allow them to leave as he called the police station to conduct the investigation. Later PO2 Salvador arrived to investigate and found out that the two men who brought the lifeless body of Alvin were Titus and Ian.

Dr. Santos said that when Alvin arrived at the emergency room he was not breathing anymore with several injuries on the face, arms and legs which indicated that he was a victim of hazing. This was confirmed by Dr. Reyes who found 33 external injuries which were hazing-related.

So Titus and Ian were charged with violating Section 4 of the Anti-Hazing law before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for actually participating and conspiring in a planned initiation rite with more or less 20 other members, whose identity is not yet known, to have willfully, unlawfully and feloniously assaulted and used personal violence on Alvin.

They denied however that they participated in the hazing and were somewhere else. Titus presented his girlfriend who testified that Titus visited her at the boarding house and they had dinner at a restaurant. A co-frat brother also corroborated his defense. Ian on the other hand denied inflicting the hazing injuries and said that when he arrived at the resort, Alvin already had injuries and accompanied him upstairs to rest. Then he said he stayed outside the resort until he was informed that the final initiation rites were cancelled.

But the RTC still found them guilty as charged. The RTC said that despite the lack of evidence that they bodily assaulted and harmed Alvin, the chain of circumstances established by the prosecution pointed to them as the ones who induced and brought Alvin to the resort for the final initiation rites. The RTC also did not give credence to their defense of denial and alibi as they were self serving and coming from  partial and interested witnesses.

This ruling was sustained by the Court of Appeals which pointed out the chain of circumstances establishing their guilt. So Titus and Ian appealed to the Supreme Court claiming that their right to be informed of the nature and cause of accusation against them has been violated because the information avers a criminal charge of hazing by direct participation while the offense proven during the trial was hazing by inducement. Were they correct?

No said the Supreme Court. The information need not use the exact language of the statute in alleging the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense as long as it enables a person of common sense and understanding to know the charge against him, and the court to render judgment properly. The “planned initiation rite” stated in the information includes the act of inducing Alvin to attend it. Said plan have different stages and the perpetrators have different roles therein, not solely inflicting physical injury to the neophyte. One of the roles of Titus and Ian was to induce Alvin to be present. In this case Titus and Ian not only induce Alvin to go to the resort, but they actually brought him there. They fulfilled their roles in the planned hazing rite which eventually led to the death of Alvin.

Their guilt was proven beyond reasonable doubt by the sequence of circumstantial evidence testified to by several witnesses. With the fact of hazing, the identity of Titus and Ian and their participation therein duly proven, the moral certainty that produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind has been satisfied.

The secretive nature of hazing really makes it difficult to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. But it is not impossible to overcome the presumption of innocence by carefully weaving a chain of circumstances pointing to the guilt of the accused as shown in this case. So Titus and Ian are really guilty of violating Section 4 of the Anti-Hazing Law and should be sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay all the corresponding damages (Dungo and Sibal vs. People, G.R. 209464, July 1, 2015).

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