Police: Fraternity tried to cover up Castillo's death

THE code of silence being observed by Aegis Juris Fraternity and the act to conceal the truth amid the death of its member, University of Santo Tomas (UST) freshman law student Horacio "Atio" Castillo III, was revealed at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, October 18.

During the hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs into the hazing death of Castillo, the exchange of conversation in the social media group chat that took place last September 17, immediately after the law student's death, was presented.

Manila Police District (MPD) director Chief Superintendent Joel Coronel said the Facebook group chat was intended to cover up the death of Castillo from the hands of his "brothers" in the university-based fraternity.

He said the participants in the group chat includes Ferdinand Rogelio, Mong dela Fuente, Edzel Bert Canlas, Jose Miguel Salamat, Cecilio Jimeno, Car Mhel (Brian Mhel Bangui), Gaile Dante Caraan, Miguel Ventura III, Milfen Alvarado, Jet Dela Peña Villaroman, and Henry Pablo Jr.

"In light of the discovery of the chat message that was formed on Sunday, September 17, the objective of the Aegis Juris fraternity is to cover up, conceal, to avoid, and evade investigation and prosecution of this case," said Coronel.

"They were in a panic. They couldn't agree where to meet, some of them agreed to talk to Castillo’s parents but majority advocated that they avoid prosecution, having concerns for their fraternity brothers involved na baka daw masira ang kinabukasan," he added.

He said some of the members even suggested to talk to Castillo's family and offer a settlement.

Coronel said they see no indication in the said social media conversation that fraternity members who are involved in the killing of Castillo will submit themselves for investigation, despite an earlier statement by the group that they will participate in any proceeding.

Coronel also revealed that the Aegis Juris Fraternity held a meeting in at one of the function rooms at the third floor of Novotel Manila in Cubao, Quezon City, days after the killing of Castillo.

He said they were able to obtain surveillance footage from the hotel showing several members of the fraternity arriving there. Among the fraternity members present at the meeting were Jimeno, Salamat, Canlas and Rogelio, based on the CCTV footage inside an elevator.

Senator Miguel Zubiri also revealed that several fraternity members even planned to pay the barangay officials to delete security footages near the Aegis Juris library in Manila, the venue of the initiation rites.

"I believe most of them are lawyers. 'Yung ganito na future lawyers actively covering up for crime, I feel sorry for them," he said.

[I believe most of them are lawyers. If these are our future lawyers actively covering up for crime, I feel sorry for them.]

Intent to cover-up

Senator Joel Villanueva said evidently, those fraternity members involved in the killing of Castillo intended to cover-up the incident.

Through the online communication and exchange of chat messages of the frat members, it was revealed that several elders were giving them advice and reminded each of the members to maintain their "code of silence."

"Sa takbo ng pagpapalitan ng usapan parang ipinakikita dito na wala silang balak ilahad ang katotohanan sa tunay na pangyayari sa kaso ni
Castillo [In the course of their conversation it appeared that they have no intention to express the truth in Castillo's case]," Villanueva said during the hearing.

It was revealed that despite the fact that they were in a panic mode, the group and some of the elders insisted on the need for those allegedly involved to conceal the truth.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian who was present during the hearing described the conversation as "very disturbing and very alarming".

"Disgusting. We are talking here of our future lawyers and obviously they are being taught to conceal the truth and to lie," Gatchalian said.

During the questioning hour, Senator Grace Poe moved to cite Aegis Juris Fraternity president Arvin Balag in contempt for his continued refusal to confirm whether or not he was a member of the fraternity that carried out the initiation rites that killed Castillo last September.

"I'm not asking if you performed hazing. Ikaw ay miyembro ng Aegis Juris, hindi ba? Siguro naman malinaw 'yan dahil nandito ka ngayon o nagmamatigas ka na ngayon sa sinasabi mong 'code of silence' dun sa iyong messages? Poe grilled Balag, who refused to answer yes or no saying his testimony may further incriminate him in ongoing cases against him.

[I'm not asking if you perform hazing. You are a member of Aegis Juris, aren't you? Maybe it's obvious that because you're here now or you're still stubbornly saying what you say 'code of silence' in your messages]

Poe was referring to the Facebook group chat among frat members in which Balag told members to deactivate their social media accounts and reminded them of the brotherhood's code of silence.

"We have given him more than enough time to speak but he continuously refused," Lacson said as he explained that Balag was already given a chance to cooperate as he confirmed that he might stay in detention at the Pasay City Jail since Congress is currently on session break.

It was revealed in the hearing that Castillo died of severe blunt traumatic injuries.

Senator Miguel Zubiri who was also present during hearing expressed the belief that John Paul Solano who earlier gave the information to members of the Senate committee on public order in a closed-door hearing late Monday is just trying to muddle the issue in order to confuse everyone.

"Naniniwala po ako na ginagawa tayo ng taong ito para lituhin ang totoong issue at pangyayari sa pagkamatay ni Atio," Zubiri said.

[I believe that this person is making us confuse of the real issue and events surrounding Atio's death]

Zubiri said there were inconsistencies in the statement of Solano as he tagged him as one of those who were trying to conceal the truth.

Solano earlier presented himself as a witness in the case until they found inconsistencies in his affidavit, wherein he claimed to have found the Castillo sprawled on a sidewalk in Tondo on September 17.

Solano on Wednesday revealed the names of the six frat members who were present at the fraternity library, as well as that of the driver of the vehicle used to take Castillo to the Chinese General Hospital.

He identified the fratmen as Axel Hipe, Arvin Banag, Onofre and Mark Ventura and a certain Zack and Dan who were later identified by Senator Panfilo Lacson as Zack and Dan as Zach Abulencia and Daniel Ragos.

Solano told the Senate panel that the six fraternity members were with him in the frat library near the UST campus when he was administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation to the "unconscious" Castillo.

Also with them was Romeo Laboga, the driver of a black Toyota Fortuner, one of two vehicles they used in taking Castillo to the hospital.

The other vehicle was a red Toyota Strada pickup truck later found registered in the name of the Antonio Trangia, the father of one of the primary suspects, Ralph Trangia.

It was learned during the hearing that the cellphone of Castillo was kept by Jose Miguel Salamat, also a frat member, prompting the mother of Castillo, Carminia, to demand the return of her son's cellphone and other personal belongings.

Medical staff of Chinese General Hospital, Mark Anthony Chua, the emergency nurse during the time Castillo was brought in the emergency room positively identified Solano, as well as two other nurses.

Castillo's father said his son told them that he would attend the welcoming rites of the Aegis Juris Fraternity at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) campus late Saturday. But hours later, his bloated body which bore bruises, cigarette and candle wax burns, which the police said was caused by hazing, was allegedly found by Solano.

Solano, 21, is a UST law student and a part-time medical technologist at San Lazaro Hospital, is a member also of the Aegis Juris Fraternity.

DNA test

Lacson also challenged members to undergo a DNA test but only Salamat, Zimon Padro, and Aeron Salientes agreed to submit themselves to a DNA test.

"Dito pa lang alam na natin kung sino mga kasamang pumalo kay Atio [Here we know already who beat Atio]," Lacson said during the hearing.

The MPD earlier conducted a search at the Aegis Juris Fraternity library in Manila where Castillo's hazing took place.

Coronel said the frat men's DNA sample will help them to identify if they were present during the initiation rites.

Lacson scored the fraternity members who refused to give their DNA samples.

"You know, when I hear somebody says na payag siya eh tiyak na wala s’ya doon. Pero as long as you say you don’t want to subject to DNA examination, most probably you were there," he said.

[You know, when I hear somebody says he is willing to give his DNA sample, I'm sure he is not there. But, as long as you say you don't want to subject to DNA examination, most probably you were there.]

Gatchalian, for his part, said the other member’s refusal indicates they were present during Castillo’s hazing.

Aside from the Castillo couple, those who were present during the hearing include UST College of Law dean Nilo Divina, lawyer Irvin Joseph Fabella, lawyer Arthur Capli (both faculty secretary), Judge Philip Aguinaldo, UST Student Welfare and Development Board director Ma. Socorro Guan Hing; UST Office for Student Affairs; Jonathan Santos, Faculty of Civil Law Student Council.

Also present were members of Aegis Juris fraternity namely Balag, Mhin Wei Chan, Marc Anthony Ventura, Axel Mundo Hipe, Oliver John Audrey Onofre, Joshua Adolfo Robinos, Ranie Rafael Santiago, Danielle Hans Matthew Rodrigo, Carl Matthew Villanueva, Aeron Salientes, Zimon Padro, Josel Miguel Salamat, Ged Villanueva, Milfren Alvarado, Daniel Ragos, Dave Felix.

Dean Divina was asked by Senator Poe to take a leave of absence considering that there was a case filed against him but the latter refused, insisting that he is not part of the party or the crime that was committed by some members of Aegis Juris Fraternity.

"I cannot abandon my students. I have the support of my colleagues and my conscience is clear," Divina said during the hearing.

Earlier, the students and alumni also urged UST to implement stricter policies on the recruitment of organizations and release the list of members of Aegis Juris and its sister sorority Regina Legis et Juris.

"Hindi pwedeng magsawalang kibo na lamang tayo dito. Marami na ang nasasayang na buhay dahil sa hazing na ito [We cannot just sit back here. There are a lot of lives wasted because of this hazing]," Poe said as she slammed the continued code of silence of Aegis Juris fraternity members and their refusal to fully cooperate. (SunStar Philippines)
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