This time, justice?

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2019 - 12:00am

Since the new anti-hazing law or Republic Act 11053 was signed in mid-2018, there hasn’t been a single death due to fraternity hazing recorded in the country.

I’m not keeping track myself; the Castillos are. Horacio Castillo Jr. and his wife Carmina lost their only son Horacio “Atio” III to sadists of Aegis Juris, the fraternity in the University of Santo Tomas law school, during initiation rites on Sept. 17, 2017.

The Castillo couple faced us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last Monday, unloading a bit of their grief over their eldest child. Simply attending a wedding or baptism, Mrs. Castillo said, could be wrenching as they realize that they will never cradle a grandchild fathered by their son.

Other parents in the past decades have suffered the same unbearable sorrow after losing their sons to a twisted concept of brotherhood.

Some folks consider it the work of the devil – this compulsion to indulge one’s inner beast in fraternity or sorority initiation rites. I personally know individuals who suffered violent and degrading initiation rites, and I can understand if they never believe that human beings are inherently good.

Because the sadism usually bubbles up during the college years, it might be connected to raging teenage hormones. A pathological problem is easier to explain than demonic possession.

And a hormonal imbalance can be affected by fear – the fear of being caught and, most important of all, of being punished.

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The certainty of seeing laws applied, of lawbreakers being punished without selectiveness, is the best deterrent against criminality. 

This is the case in countries where the rule of law prevails, such as Singapore. Occasionally, there are individuals who – either willfully or just to test the system – chew gum in public, write graffiti on exterior walls or don’t flush public toilets in the city-state. Some get away with it. But for those who don’t – especially those who are punished with caning – it’s an experience they would likely never forget. And neither will the public.

The Castillos are hoping that the conviction last Monday of John Paul Solano for obstruction of justice would lead to more convictions, not just for the same offense but also for the main charges of hazing and homicide.

After several hours of being beaten at the Aegis Juris fraternity house near UST, Atio was rushed by the frat members to the Chinese General Hospital, where he died while undergoing treatment. Solano, the fraternity’s designated liar, told the hospital he had found Atio unconscious on a sidewalk in Tondo, Manila. Solano gave the same initial statement to investigators.

Judge Carolina Esguerra of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 14 sentenced Solano to imprisonment of two to four years.

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On The Chiefs, the Castillo couple said the conviction would pave the way for the indictment of more individuals involved in the cover-up of the crime.

Prosecutors are also readying charges against about 30 other individuals. Most of them were present at the fraternity house and reportedly drinking, singing or listening to loud music outside the room where Atio was being beaten to death, possibly to mask the sounds of torture. The 30 include girls, the Castillos told us.

How this pursuit of justice will fare deserves monitoring. The case that led to the passage of the first anti-hazing law – which actually allowed hazing under regulated circumstances – was the death of Ateneo de Manila law freshman Lenny Villa at the hands of Aquila Legis fraternity members in 1991.

Thanks to the Aquila Legis network in the judiciary, most of the defendants were cleared and became lawyers.

Here is The STAR’s 2017 report on the fate of the defendants in Villa’s case:

“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 the 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 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 the 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 the Philippine Olympic Committee and complainants in the One Dream investment scam; Jonas-Karl Perez of the Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos law offices in Makati; Dalmacio Lim Jr., a contributor to the senatorial campaign of former senator Ernesto Maceda in the 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.”

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Of course when Villa was killed there was still no Anti-Hazing Law – neither the original nor the amended version, which expressly prohibits hazing.

This time, the parents of Atio Castillo have RA 11053, which will be tested in the Aegis Juris case.

Judge Esguerra’s ruling gives reason to hope that justice is possible. And parents – including those cleared in the death of Lenny Villa – can rest assured that their sons will not suffer his fate.

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