A Manila court yesterday convicted a member of the University of Sto. Tomas-based Aegis Juris fraternity for obstruction of justice over the hazing death of freshman law student Horacio Atio Castillo III in September 2017.
Manila Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 14 Presiding Judge Carolina Esguerra sentenced John Paul Solano to four years, two months and one day imprisonment for one count of obstruction of justice.
Solano, however, was acquitted of perjury in relation to the fatal hazing of Castillo.
It was the first conviction in the controversial case that led to calls for updating and stricter implementation of Republic Act 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law.
It will be recalled that Solano brought an unconscious Castillo from the Aegis Juris library in Manila to the Chinese General Hospital on September 17, 2017. He had initially claimed he found Castillo on the sidewalk and was initially hailed as a “good Samaritan.”
His claim, however, was later disputed by authorities during the investigation of the case. Solano later backtracked and said during the preliminary investigation of the case that it was Arvin Balag, the head of the fraternity and a respondent in the hazing case, who instructed him to lie to authorities.
In his defense, Solano told the court he gave false statements to police under instructions from Balag and from fear of being implicated in Castillo’s death.
Castillo died of “severe blunt traumatic injuries” after undergoing initiation rites at the Aegis Juris fraternity safehouse.
Former Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Castillo’s initiation lasted three to four hours, which included “physical punishment” such as punching and paddling.
In her decision, Esguerra dismissed Solano’s argument, saying nothing could have prevented him from refusing to follow the instructions of Balag or from speaking the truth to the police investigators.
The court added that Solano’s explanation that he feared being implicated in the crime was not imminent so as to exempt him from any criminal liability, calling his claim “speculative.”
In acquitting Solano of perjury, the court said he did not actually and physically draft the judicial affidavit containing the false claim. Solano had insisted he did not sign the judicial affidavit. A statement under oath is a key element of the crime of perjury.
Solano remains free for now subject to the conditions of his bail. His camp has 15 days to question the court’s ruling.
Balag and other members of the fraternity identified as Ralph Trangia, Marcelino Bagtang, Arvin Balag, Mhin Wei Chan, Axel Munro Hipe, Oliver John Audrey Onofre, Joshua Joriel Macabali, Robin Ramos, Jose Miguel Salamat and Danielle Hans Matthew are facing homicide charges and violation of the Anti-Hazing law.
They all pleaded not guilty during their arraignment in July last year. They are detained at the Manila City Jail since May 2018.
Castillo’s parents, Horacio Jr. and Carminia, who were present during the promulgation of the case against Solano, welcomed the decision, calling it a proof of the cover-up of the fraternity.
“This proves there was cover-up, that they were in collusion,” Mrs. Castillo said, adding they are mulling the possibility of filing charges against other fraternity members who they said were also involved in Atio’s death.
The mother of hazing victim Leonardo “Lenny” Villa also attended the promulgation to show support for Castillo’s parents.
Villa died in an initiation rites conducted by the Ateneo-based Aquila Legis fraternity. His death paved the way for the passage in 1995 of the Anti-Hazing Law. (A. Hachero, Malaya)