FB chat: Frat men planned cover-up
The Manila police chief told the Senate on Wednesday that members of Aegis Juris tried to cover up the hazing death of University of Santo Tomas (UST) law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.
Chief Supt. Joel Napoleon Coronel, Manila Police District (MPD) chief, told the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs inquiring into the fatal hazing of Castillo that investigators had retrieved the threaded conversations on Facebook of the fraternity members following the death of the UST law freshman.
The Facebook exchange – shown through a 38-page slide presentation at the hearing presided over by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the committee chair – was initiated by a UST graduate and member of Aegis Juris identified by Coronel as lawyer Marvi Abo.
Coronel said Abo started the exchange early on Sept. 17, the day Castillo was believed to have died from excessive beating during his initiation into the fraternity.
Avoid probe, prosecution
Coronel said the fraternity members’ “tendency” to avoid investigation and prosecution “at all cost” was “very evident” in the conversations.
He also said that based on the exchanges, active members of the fraternity were aware of Castillo’s death in the early hours of Sept. 17.
But Castillo’s parents were notified of his death only the next day, Coronel said.
“If you review the messages, it would appear that they intend to cover up the incident, contrary to their announcement on Sept. 19 that they were willing to face investigation and to support authorities in the conduct of the investigation,” Coronel said.
He said the two Facebook threads had been submitted to the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Unit for “verification, authentication and validation,” adding that MPD investigators got hold of the screenshots of the exchanges earlier this month.
The testimony of fraternity member John Paul Solano in a closed session of the committee on Sept. 25 was made public during Wednesday’s hearing.
Solano was the one who took Castillo to Chinese General Hospital (CGH), where the law student was pronounced dead on arrival on Sept. 17.
Solano said he took Castillo to CGH, a 20-to-30-minute ride from the fraternity’s library on Dapitan Street in Manila, on orders of Arvin Balag, alleged head of the fraternity.
He said it was also Balag who instructed him to tell the hospital staff that he found Castillo’s body in Balut, Tondo.
Cited for contempt
Balag, who was present at the hearing, was cited for contempt and ordered detained by the committee for refusing to answer questions from the senators.
Balag refused to answer even Sen. Grace Poe’s question whether he was the fraternity’s president.
In his testimony, Solano also identified fraternity member Oliver John Audrey Onofre as the one who called him twice on Sept. 17 to ask him to come to the fraternity’s library, as someone had “collapsed.”
In the library, he said he saw fraternity members Axel Hipe, Marc Ventura and two others he identified only as Zak and Dan.
Solano denied seeing another suspect in Castillo’s death, Ralph Trangia, but said Castillo’s body was taken to the hospital in Trangia’s red pickup.
Coronel said the vehicle, a Mitsubishi Strada with license plate ZTV 539, was registered in the name of Trangia’s father, Antonio Trangia.
Poe asked the Trangias if they owned the vehicle but they declined to answer, invoking their right against self-incrimination.
What to do
Coronel said the Facebook conversations showed the fraternity members were discussing what to do after learning that Castillo had died.
He said that in the exchanges, Abo was encouraging the fraternity members to hold a meeting, which was held at Novotel in Quezon City the same day that Castillo died.
Coronel said the chat group included 30 fraternity members, 19 of whom went to the meeting.
Of the 19, he said, 12 had been identified through their social media information.
Coronel also ran security camera footage showing Aegis Juris members in an elevator at Novotel.
“Based on the exchange of communication from these frat members, it would appear that the tendency of the frat to conceal or to obstruct justice is very evident, wherein they would like to evade, avoid at all cost, investigation and prosecution of this case,” Coronel said.
He said that some members favored facing the problem squarely, but the majority suggested that they avoid prosecution, as it might compromise the future of “brods” involved in the hazing.
Coronel also said there were portions of the exchanges that suggested getting in touch with Castillo’s parents immediately and reaching a settlement to keep them quiet.
A screen grab has a fraternity member, lawyer Alston Kevin Anarna, saying in Filipino: “Brod, his family is wealthy. They can get a search warrant tomorrow for the frat [library]. Let’s get it cleaned, remove the paddle.”
A certain Pareng Edong says: “Denial. Never ever give any hint.”
In the chat, Abo says he has instructed “GP Arvin,” a reference to Balag, to go home to Subic.
Coronel said a comment made by another fraternity member, Jose Miguel Salamat, showed that he had the cell phone of Castillo.
Speaking in Filipino, Salamat says in the chat: “The father called the cell phone, brod. The parents have called Axel and Ralph. Brod, the cell phone is flooded with messages from the mother and the father.”
Reviewing the messages in the thread, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said the points raised in the conversations were “obviously obstruction of justice and clearly a cover-up.”
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian observed that none of the fraternity members suggested calling the authorities.
“It confirms the analysis of [Chief Superintendent] Coronel that this group really was bent on covering up the injustice that happened to Atio,” Gatchalian said.
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