Cover-up suspected in death of UST student after frat hazing

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(L-R) Arvin Balag, Horatio Castillo III, and John Paul Solano (Photo: www.cnnphilippines.com)

By William Casis | FilAm Star Correspondent

Members of the Aegis Juris Fraternity were implicated in the September 17 death of UST law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III after a hazing at initiation rites.

During the resumption on November 6 of the Senate public order and dangerous drugs hearing on Castillo’s death, Sen. Grace Poe questioned frat member Eric Fuentes, who the was the “Big Brother” he mentioned in a chat group on Facebook.

In the chat exchange, Fuentes also relayed Big Brother’s request for all frat members to show support to their “brods” by attending the Senate investigation and also to visit John Paul Solano, one of the principal suspects in Castillo’s death.

Poe demanded from Fuentes to identify the Big Brother he referred to in his messages posted on FB for all the frat members allegedly involved in the fatal hazing at the Juris library in Sampaloc, Manila.

“Madam chairman, big brother is a generic term that we give to all our Grand Prafectus or elders, your honor,” Fuentes told the Senate panel chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

“Most of my colleagues (believe) that Big Brother is supposed to be Dean Divina. But definitely, Big Brother does not refer to the elders as ascribed by Fuentes,” said Lacson.

Fuentes maintained it was really the term they use to address the elder members of their fraternity.

Poe then questioned Fuentes if the fraternity considers Divina a Big Brother.

“We can but we don’t call him Big Brother, your honor. We call him Dean Divina or Sir Divina,” replied Fuentes.

Another frat member, Alston Anarna, posted on FB that Big Brother should be informed to direct the baranggay near the Juris library (the site of the fatal hazing) where the closed circuit TV (CCTV) was not functioning during the hazing and immediately after the initiation rites.

Marc Anthony Ventura, former fraternity official, who participated in the initiation rites but turned state witness, gave a different answer when Poe pressed for the identity of Big Brother.

He said Big Brother referred to only one person but he has never met him.

Ventura, who also said he was not among those who paddled Castillo, said he knows Big Brother to be Arnel Bernardo, another frat member.

He also apologized several times for failing to answer some questions of Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian. But when Gatchalian asked how many people hit Castillo, Ventura answered “four.”

Ventura also admitted to Gatchalian that it took about 30 to 40 minutes before Castillo was brought to the Chinese General Hospital because somebody prevented them but did not name names.

Lacson asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) to look into the possibility that Ventura may be a “Trojan horse” to muddle the investigation into Castillo’s death. He made the statement after noticing inconsistencies on Ventura’s claims about him being a former master initiator of Aegis Juris.

Meanwhile, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who initiated the Senate probe, confronted Bernardo about Ventura’s statement that he’s the “Big Brother.” The latter said he’s not aware about this tag.

Poe spelled out the “connections” of a high-profile law office headed by Divina that may possibly provide critical links in the case of Castilo.

She cited instances of the involvement of DivinaLaw, whose founder and managing partner is a member of the Aegis Juris. She said the Pacific Star Building, which houses DivinaLaw, is owned by Century Properties, whose corporate secretary is a “senior partner” at DivinaLaw.

She also revealed that Century Properties also owns Novotel Manila in Cubao, Quezon City where some Aegis Juris fratmen, including some elder brods, met in the afternoon of September 17, hours after Castillo’s death.

Manila Police District Senior Supt. Joel Coronel earlier testified in the Senate hearing that at least 19 fraternity members attended the meeting at Novotel to allegedly plan a “cover-up” on Castillo’s death.

“The points being raised here, are a matter of obstruction of justice, a cover up. May messages na inuutusan ang isang tao na i-erase ang CCTV, na bayaran kung kailangan ang barangay officials para makuha ang CCTV. Obviously, this is a clear cover-up,” emphasized Zubiri.

Poe requested for footage of the CCTV cameras at the Pacific Star building to check if Castillo visited the law firm. On September 12, Castillo texted his mother that he was at a law office just across Petron on Buendia Ave.

“The reason why I’m asking is because there are a few connections here we need to seriously note,” said Poe, vice-chairperson of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs.

Lacson said the building owner is asking for a court order before the Senate committee secures CCTV footages but the panel was able to obtain video recordings on September 12 showing Castillo inside the building. He presented the CCTV during the hearing.

“So I just want to make sure that they’re complying because their general counsel is DivinaLaw, again connected to this situation,” said Poe.

Shown footage of the building, Castillo’s parents confirmed to senators that their son was indeed the man wearing the blue jacket. “It looks very much like him. His mom bought that jacket. He was wearing black pants and black shoes. And also the hairstyle,” Castillo’s father, Horacio Jr., said.

Castillo’s mother, Carminia, affirmed her husband’s testimony. A photo of the blue jacket was likewise flashed on the big screen at the Senate gallery where the Senate hearing was being conducted.

Despite the CCTV footage, Divina said, “One thing certain, (Castillo) did not set foot in DivinaLaw. We installed 16 CCTVs in our office and it will clearly show that he did not set foot in DivinaLaw office.”

“Is there a possibility that he may not have set foot physically in your office but he may have met a few of your people within the building, maybe a cafeteria or any other common place? It’s not unlikely that DivinaLaw, maintaining an official lease in one particular space there, could also have another place where you meet in the building. Is there a possibility?” Poe asked Divina, to which he responded that he was “not so sure about that.”

Divina said there are about three law offices in Pacific Star building. He claimed that he had distanced himself from the fraternity, including its activities and meetings, telling Senate probers during previous hearings that he took a leave of absence some eight years ago and is not an active member anymore.

Citing connections with the fraternity and its activities with the UST dean, she rejected Divina’s assertions.

“From what is clear here he said that he (Castillo) was going to a law office. It could be one of the three, not necessarily yours. All of the connections—Aegis Juris having strong ties with DivinaLaw; DivinaLaw maintaining the website for the school; DivinaLaw having a lot of support for the fraternity; you being the dean and him, mentioning that he is in a law office close to that building or within that building where you have your law firm,” said Poe.

Before that meeting took place, some 30 frat members exchanged messages on Facebook to discuss their next move, which the Manila Police District said was an attempt to cover up the criminal act.

The senators also grilled the UST administration for their “negligence” and unclear accreditation guidelines for organizations in the university.

Lacson said frat member Arvin Balag will remain at the Senate’s detention facility since he filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court (SC), seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Senate’s detention order.

“Nobody wants to lose by default, so we will fight it out in the Supreme Court and in the meantime, you will stay longer in the Senate premises,” Lacson told Balag. He was detained at the Senate facility October 18 on contempt charges.

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