Sponsorship Speech: Committee Report on the Fatal Hazing of Horacio ‘Atio’ Castillo III, and SB 1662 (Anti-Hazing Law of 2018)

Mr. President, sometime in September 2017, Horacio “Atio” Castillo III was offered the promise of mutual support and brotherhood by the Aegis Juris Fraternity not only during his tenure as a law student at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil law, but also during the Bar review and even in his future practice of the legal profession.

Apart from the guarantees made known to him, Atio decided to join the fraternity with a specific goal in mind, to discover his real purpose in life. Little did he know that his search for purpose would cost him his own life.

At a Glance: Findings and Recommendations on the fatal hazing of Horacio Castillo III
Read: Committee Report 232, Findings/Recommendations on the hazing death of Atio Castillo
Read: Senate Bill 1662, strengthening the Anti-Hazing Law

According to Justice Jose Catral Mendoza in the case of Dungo vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 209464, July 01, 2015): “The fraternal contract should not be signed in blood, celebrated with pain, marred by injuries, and perpetrated through suffering. This is the essence of Republic Act No. 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995.”

In relation to Atio’s death, this Committee conducted several hearings and looked into the surrounding circumstances of his death, with the end goal of identifying the loopholes of our present Anti-Hazing Law. With only one conviction over the years, it is apparent that the law is weak and must be amended.

Mr. President, granting that several controversial issues came out during our public hearings, allow me to highlight some of our Committee’s findings:

1. Hazing is a practice of the Aegis Juris Fraternity. No less than three members of the fraternity, namely, John Paul Solano, Jason Adolfo Robiños and Marc Anthony Ventura, who joined the fraternity on different academic years, testified under oath that they were mentally tortured, slapped, punched and paddled as conditions precedent to becoming members of the said fraternity.

2. Based on the testimonies of Solano and Ventura, both of them acknowledged the fact that Atio was a neophyte of the fraternity and that he underwent initiation rites.

Moreover, our Committee was able to confirm that Atio’s body was at the fraternity library before he was brought to the Chinese General Hospital (CGH) on September 17, 2017, contrary to initial reports that the body was found in Tondo, Manila.

3. Atio Castillo died due to injuries he sustained during the barbaric and inhumane initiation rites of the Aegis Juris Fraternity led by Grand Praefectus Arvin Balag. Based on the medico-legal findings submitted by the Philippine National Police (PNP), Atio’s death is due to severe blunt traumatic injuries. To be more specific, the muscle trauma sustained by Atio resulted in an increase in the potassium level and a decrease in calcium in his blood thereby causing immediate death from cardiac failure. This fact was corroborated by Ventura’s statement that it was during the paddling when Atio collapsed and became unresponsive.

4. Through the fraternity’s Facebook “frat page,” the residents and alumni members were already in the loop and knew what transpired from the time Atio’s body was being brought to the Chinese General Hospital up until the news or information that confirmed his death.

Mr. President, while almost all fraternity members active on Facebook already knew of Atio’s death in the morning of September 17, Mr. and Mrs. Castillo were just beginning to worry about their son. Later that night, they even wandered around the surrounding streets of UST in search of their beloved Atio. Mr. President, no parent deserves to undergo such agony and misery experienced by Mr. Horacio and Mrs. Carmina Castillo.

5. Mr. President, now we proceed to infamous fraternity group chats which caused public outrage on television and social media. In the course of our hearings, the conspiracy among the members of the Aegis Juris Fraternity to cover up, conceal, avoid, and evade prosecution was revealed through a presentation of numerous screenshots of what appeared to be two separate Facebook group messages of some members. On the first thread of messages, we highlight Arvin Balag’s explicit instructions to deactivate all Facebook accounts and to observe the code of silence.

6. The second message thread, created by fraternity alumnus, Atty. Marvi Abo, contained messages from the residents, non-residents and alumni members. A perusal of the messages reveal exchanges regarding the condition of their neophyte, the confirmation of Atio’s death, their initial plan to inform the family and their decision to forgo the said plan and to rather go with Solano’s alibi that the body was found in Tondo.

Mr. President, before proceeding further, allow me to highlight the fact that the screenshots presented and the contents thereof were never denied by the members present in our public hearings. In fact, Jose Miguel Salamat and Atty. Ferdinand Rogelio even authenticated the same, albeit impliedly, when they acknowledged and commented on some of their messages in the group chat.

7. Mr. President, upon confirmation of Atio’s death, both messages and actuations of identified members of the fraternity were clearly directed towards a cover-up. These include, among others, Ronald Cheng’s search for CCTV cameras that may have captured a footage of members when they loaded Atio’s body inside Ralph Trangia’s red Mitsubishi Strada; Atty. Alston Kevin Anarna’s advice to clean the fraternity library and remove the paddles; and, Atty. Edzel Bert Canlas’ forceful resolve that it was best to deny everything.

8. The resident and alumni group chat contained plans to urgently meet in private at noon time of September 17 at the Novotel Hotel in Cubao, Quezon City to discuss how the situation should be dealt with. With the CCTV footages submitted by Novotel, the PNP was able to confirm that the meeting actually took place that day as several members active on the group chat were seen in the footages to have used the hotel elevator between 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

9. Per the exchange of messages in the group chat, the Novotel meeting was immediately followed by another meeting in the house of Brian Bangui also in Cubao, Quezon City. During a press conference of DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, he made mention that Marc Ventura revealed to them that alumni members gathered several resident members present during Atio’s initiation rites in a high-rise apartment for rent somewhere in Cubao.

In the course of our research online, we came across an advertisement posted by Brian Bangui on Facebook which is being flashed on the projector right now. It appears that Brian Bangui is offering a high-rise apartment for rent located in Cubao, similar to the description given by Ventura to the DOJ.

Mr. President, before I close the issue on the group chat, I will not allow this opportunity to pass without calling out and make publicly known the pretentiousness and hypocrisy of the Aegis Juris Fraternity. Given their evident intention to conceal the result of their barbaric practice of hazing neophytes, it was utterly impertinent for them to issue a statement to the media expressing their condolences to the Castillo family and that they were willing to extend utmost cooperation in the investigation of the case.

Their alumni even published a Manifesto decrying the alleged hazing incident and called on those who have personal knowledge to come forward and shed light on the incident. We are disgusted to see that among the signatories were lawyers Alston Kevin Anarna, Henry Pablo, Jr., Gaile Dante Caraan, Gem Dimaculangan, Edwin Uy and Alfonso Verzosa, whose names appeared prominently in the infamous group chat that tried to cover up the fatal hazing of Atio Castillo.

The mere appearance of their names on the said manifesto calls for public outrage for such indignation and disrespect towards Atio and his family.

10. With respect to Dean Nilo T. Divina, apart from his discretionary acts that showed bias in favor of the fraternity before and even after Atio’s death, the following photos reveal his active participation in fraternity-related activities negating and belying his oft-repeated claims of temporarily severing ties with the fraternity when he assumed the position of Dean of the UST Faculty of Civil Law.

Mr. President, this Committee rejects Dean Divina’s claim that he had no means of identifying the neophyte who died while being initiated by his own fraternity. Why so? Because he could have easily reached out to his law partner, Atty. Edwin Uy, who at that time already had knowledge of Atio’s death. Further, he could have also contacted fraternity adviser Atty. Irvin Fabella in order to reach out and be in contact with the resident members of the fraternity.

Hindi naman po yata katanggap-tanggap na ang isang personalidad as “influential” as Dean Divina would allow himself to be clueless, considering that the issue would have disastrous effect not only on his leadership, but also on his reputation.

Mr. President, we take exception to Dean Divina’s assertion that there was no oversight on his part. He even dared mention that he did what was expected. If this Committee is asked whether we agree with him on his statement, we will qualify our answer. If based on his capacity as Dean, the answer is obviously no. As a member of the Aegis Juris Fraternity, Mr. President, our answer is a resounding yes.

11. Mr. President, with respect to the University of Santo Tomas, we find that it failed to exercise due diligence in ensuring the implementation of the Anti-Hazing Law. Based on the testimony of its representative, the university’s denial as to the ongoing hazing practices of the fraternity was based solely on a signed document entitled “Commitment to Anti-Hazing Law” which the university requires from every fraternity and sorority requesting to be acknowledged.

A perusal of the by-laws of the fraternity submitted to the UST Office of Student Affairs shows that a neophyte must undergo initiation rites before becoming a member. Granting that the list of members is updated each year, UST should have inquired as to why they were not notified of any initiation rites notwithstanding the inclusion of new names of members on their Petitions for Recognition.

Finally, granting not only the late filing of the petition for recognition by the fraternity but also the lack of the required endorsements, the Office of Student Affairs should have outrightly rejected the fraternity’s application for recognition. If that were the case, the fraternity would have had no business in the freshmen orientation, much more the permission to recruit students like Atio in the Faculty of Civil Law.

As a result of our Committee’s inquiry in aid of legislation, we came up with the proposed amendments to the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995. The misgivings of the said law in protecting future recruits necessitate these amendments. At this point, Mr. President, allow me to briefly enumerate the highlights of our proposed amendments to the Anti-Hazing Law:

1. We seek to expand the definition of hazing to refer to any physical or psychological suffering, harm or injury inflicted on a recruit, member, neophyte, or applicant as a form of initiation rite or practice made as a prerequisite for admission or a requirement for continuing membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization, including but not limited to paddling, whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the weather, forced consumption of food, liquor, beverage, drug and other substances. Also included are any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical and psychological health of such recruit, member, neophyte or applicant.

2. In terms of scope, our amendments cover all forms of hazing, whether in school-based fraternities, sororities or organizations, or in community-based and other non-school fraternities, sororities, or organizations.

3. For a more active and proactive participation of schools in regulating school-based initiation rites, fraternities, sororities, and organizations are required to submit and post a written application not later than seven days prior to the scheduled date, indicating pertinent details regarding the initiation rites. In addition, we add the obligation by school representatives to monitor, record and report initiation rites so as to ensure that no hazing shall be conducted.

4. We would also require the appointment and identification of adviser/s and create a presumption of knowledge and consent on the adviser’s part to the commission of any unlawful act in violation of the Anti-Hazing Law.

5. Lastly, apart from the simplification of the imposable penalties, we find it necessary to also penalize persons who had knowledge of any hazing acts committed but failed to report it to the authorities or those to be found guilty of hiding, concealing or hampering or obstructing lawful investigation by the authorities.

Mr. President, hazing needs to stop now. Awareness must be raised as to the fact that there is no unity, no brotherhood, no strength, no honor, no dignity and no respect in hazing. Hazing is merely violence and abuse.

Mr. President, to create an effective deterrent against hazing, active participation from the three great branches of government, namely: the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary is required. On the part of the Executive branch, the Department of Justice has already submitted the Castillo case for resolution. In addition, we recognize the fact that no less than the President of the Philippines had committed the speedy resolution of this case.

With respect to the Legislative branch, the passage of amendments to the Anti-Hazing Law is deemed forthcoming.

As to the Judiciary, their role is not limited to adjudicating the case in the event of a finding of probable cause against the accused. In the course of the public hearings, we made it clear that the Supreme Court should be proactive and responsive to the issue which obviously calls upon it to exercise its authority to discipline the lawyers involved in this case.

To be blunt, Mr. President, sa aming paniniwala, nararapat lamang po na ma-disbar ang mga miyembro ng Aegis Juris Fraternity na sangkot sa tangkang pagtatakip sa krimeng naganap. Sila ay ang mga sumusunod: Lawyers Marvi Abo, Alston Kevin Anarna, Edzel Bert Canlas, Cecilio Jimeno, Ferdinand Rogelio, Eric Fuentes, Cesar Ocampo Ona, Gaile Dante Caraan, Henry Pablo, Jr., Jet Villaroman, Cesar Dela Fuente, Niño Kjell Servañez, Manuel Angelo Ventura III, Michael Vito, Nilo Divina, Arthur Capili, Irvin Joseph Fabella, Edwin Uy, Allan Christopher Agati and all other members to be determined to have had knowledge of Atio’s death and failed to report the same to the authorities.

Mr. President, during our public hearings, we have invited Atty. Ma. Cristina Layusa, the Bar Confidant of the Supreme Court. Notwithstanding the public interest invested in ensuring that justice is served for the death of Horacio Tomas Castillo III, there appears to be no initiative on the part of the Court to proceed against the lawyers involved in their attempt to cover up the crime committed by their fraternity brothers. She insisted recourse towards a longer route through the Integrated Bar of the Philippines even if the Supreme Court has the power to motu propio commence disbarment proceedings.

Mr. President, allow me to call the attention of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and all the magistrates of the High Court. We are speaking of the death of a young man who joined the fraternity in the hope of increasing his chances of becoming a member of the Philippine Bar.

Mr. President, it is undeniable that these lawyers have lost their moral fabric and became undeserving to be part of this noble and dignified profession. As such, upon adoption of this report, we will furnish the Supreme Court a copy of our report together with all the documents received by your Committee. May these documents be used as reference in the disbarment proceedings which we expect the Court to institute.

Sa ating kataas-taasang hukuman, sana ho mapatunayan ninyo sa lahat ng sumubaybay sa kuwento ni Atio na mali ang sabi-sabi na walang mangyayari dahil malakas ang kanilang mga koneksyon at makakalimutan din ang isyung ito.

On another note, just to put things in their proper perspective – while this Committee complied with the order of the Supreme Court dated December 12, 2017 ordering the release in the interim of Arvin R. Balag pending the resolution of his Petition, we are of the view that such order was unprecedented.

Further, the order violated the time-honored principle of separation of powers considering that the prevailing doctrine enunciated in the case of Arnault vs. Nazareno (G.R. No. L-3820, July, 18 1950), has not yet been reversed by the Supreme Court. The ruling cited that the very reason for the exercise of the power to punish for contempt is to enable the legislative body to perform its constitutional function without impediment or obstruction.

Towards this end, I hereby call on my colleagues to be more prudent in protecting the Senate’s independence so as to avoid encroachment of its authority in the performance of legislative functions.

Finally, with respect to the University of Santo Tomas, an institution known as “The Royal and Pontifical Catholic University of the Philippines,” the maintenance of a morally encouraging educational environment will be endangered should they continuously fail to meet the demands of the issue. Notwithstanding established proof as to the actual practice of hazing by a fraternity that has existed in the university for the past thirty six years, we have yet to hear any pronouncement or decision perpetually banning the Aegis Juris Fraternity.

Mr. President, hanggang sa mga sandaling ito, nakakabingi ang katahimikan at nakakabahala ang kakulangan ng karampatang aksyon ng UST sa trahedyang sinapit ni Atio. As long as the university remains silent in the hope that all these shall pass, members of the fraternity will continue to huddle somewhere and arrogantly blurt out their senseless pretentious chant, “Lumalakas, Lumalawak, Lumalaban…”

Mr. President, Atio Castillo sought to join a brotherhood in search for his purpose in life. Since there’s no more life to speak of, let his death serve the purpose of ensuring that the misery of hazing and the employment of appalling rituals will no longer be imposed in the name of brotherhood.

Finally, Mr. President, before I close, I beg your indulgence as I find it appropriate to put on record the names of some reported victims of hazing who we mark this day. Let this legislation be a testament that the following persons did not die in vain and were never forgotten:

Mel Honasan
Leonardo “Lenny” Villa
Raul Camaligan
Earl Karl Initia
Norel Borja, Jr.
Guillo Servando
Christian dela Cruz
Marc Andre Marcos
Cris Mendez
Gonzalo Albert
Ferdinand Tabtab
Arbel Liwag
Frederick Cahiyang
Felipe Narne
Joselito Hernandez
Mark Roland Martin
Alexander Icasiano
Rafael Albano III
Marlon Villanueva
Dennis Africa
Mark Rodriguez
Menardo Clamucha, Jr.
Nor Silongan
Ariel Inofre
Anthony Javier
Marvin Reglos
Elvis Sinaula
Horacio Tomas Castillo III

Thank you, Mr. President.