6 frat men yield; hazing case still ‘not closed’
Police have considered the death by hazing of Adamson University student John Matthew Salilig a “solved” case after the arrest of several members of the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity and the filing of criminal complaints against them.
In Cebu City, the local police office said it was also investigating an alleged fraternity hazing death of a 20-year-old second year marine engineering student of University of Cebu (UC) in December last year.
“By the arrest of most officers of this fraternity chapter, we can consider this case solved, but not case closed. I am morally convinced that we have an airtight case,” Biñan City police chief Lt. Col. Virgilio Jopia told reporters.
On Thursday morning, six Tau Gamma members were brought to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila for inquest proceedings on two counts of violation of the anti-hazing law, Republic Act No. 8049, as amended by Republic Act No. 11053.
Each one faces a prison term of 20 years to 40 years and a fine of P3 million for each count.
Salilig’s brother, John Michael, and Roi Osmond Tuazon dela Cruz, a 21-year-old neophyte who reportedly underwent hazing with Salilig, were named complainants.
The six fraternity members — Tung Cheng Teng Jr., 22, the “Grand Triskelion,” or leader of Tau Gamma’s Adamson chapter; Earl Anthony Romero, 21; Jerome Balot, 22; Sandro Victorino, 28; Michael Lambert Ritalde, 31; and Mark Pedrosa, 39 — “voluntarily” appeared on Wednesday, March 1, at the police station in Biñan, Laguna province, where the hazing occurred.
The six persons of interest were supposed to just answer questions from investigators and give statements on their participation during welcoming rites conducted by members of Tau Gamma’s Adamson chapter for Salilig and initiation rites for three neophytes.
However, in the course of investigation, they became suspects when Dela Cruz showed up and positively identified them as those principally involved in brutalizing Salilig and himself.
Gregorio Cruz — the father of Aron Cruz, who is also a Tau Gamma member and person of interest — was also detained on Wednesday for obstruction of justice for refusing to hand over the blue-grey Ford Everest of his son in their home in Parañaque City.
The car was allegedly used to transport a bloodied Salilig on February 18 back to Metro Manila from a house in Barangay Casile, in Biñan, where the initiation rites took place.
When his fratmates noticed that he was already lifeless, Salilig’s body was transferred to the compartment of a second vehicle, and eventually buried in a shallow grave in Imus City, Cavite province, according to Jopia, quoting one unidentified witness.
Authorities found the 24-year-old Salilig’s battered and decomposing body 10 days later in a vacant lot in Barangay Malagasang I-G.
One suspect led police to the grave site, while another executed an extrajudicial confession, Jopia said.
An autopsy conducted by the Cavite Provincial Crime Laboratory Office found that Salilig died due to “severe blunt force trauma to the lower extremities.” His body was mangled from his chest down to his thighs.
Witnesses told investigators Salilig was beaten with a paddle more than 70 times during which he vomited and even defecated himself.
Of the 11 other persons of interest, three who are members of Tau Gamma’s Biñan chapter had already surrendered to the local police. The eight others who are members of the fraternity’s Adamson chapter have not yet surfaced.
According to Dela Cruz, who is also an Adamson student, his recruiters told him that he would only receive at most 24 paddle beatings. But on the day of his initiation rites, they beat him more than 70 times.
“I was thinking of already quitting in the middle of the initiation rites, because I might die since I couldn’t bear it anymore. After receiving 20 paddles, I wanted to quit, because it’s too painful. But I was already there, and got past 20 paddles, so I just pursued,” he told reporters.
He said it took him a week’s rest before he was able to walk again.
But the hazing did not stop with the paddles.
Candle wax, leather belt
Dela Cruz said hot melted candle wax was also poured on his back in the image of a triskelion, Tau Gamma’s logo. And to remove the dried wax, he was whipped with a leather belt.
Salilig was not even supposed to undergo the welcoming rites as he had been a member of the fraternity since 2020 and passed initiation rites in Tau Gamma’s chapter in Zamboanga City.
One of the largest fraternities in the country, Tau Gamma Phi was founded in 1968 by students from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Its members call themselves “triskelions.”
Although the fraternity has publicly declared a “no hazing” policy, at least 14 hazing incidents have been attributed to its members since 2006.
Prior to Salilig’s death, Reymarc Rabutazo, a Grade 12 student, died after undergoing initiation rites by Tau Gamma in Laguna in March 2022. According to his mother, the 18-year-old “suffered a lot” before he died, with his body bearing cigarette burns, his teeth missing, and his skull cracked.
In 2012, Tau Gamma’s founder Vedasto “Tito” Venida condemned the fraternity’s practice of hazing and said that the brotherhood had “taken so many innocent lives.”
Among notable personalities in Congress who are Tau Gamma members are Representatives Bong Teves Jr. and Alfredo Garbin of TGP and AKO Bicol party lists, respectively; Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto; Leyte Rep. Richard Gomez; and Senator Joel Villanueva.
In Cebu, the police said they were also looking into the alleged hazing death of Ronnel Baguio, 20, a second year marine engineering student of UC.
Cebu police chief Col. Ireneo Dalogdog said they got wind of Baguio’s death after the student was brought to the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC) for treatment of difficulty in breathing and bruises all over his body on Dec. 18. He was pronounced dead at 5 p.m., two and a half hours after he was brought in.
An autopsy revealed that he died of “severe acute respiratory distress secondary to indirect lung injury,” Dalogdog said.
His body was immediately flown to his home province of Bataan and investigators were unable to conduct a proper investigation, Dalogdog said.
“Updates of this case moved so slow because there is no complainant,” he said, but added that at least one suspect had been identified.
He did not give the suspect’s name or identify the fraternity pending further investigation.
Dalogdog said Baguio’s mother had not returned to Cebu to help probers.
In a statement, UC condemned the death of Baguio and stressed that fraternities and hazing had no place in the university.
It said its Maritime Education and Training Center was not aware of the incident and that it did not recognize any fraternity or sorority.
Manuel Sarausad, the university’s legal counsel, said the school learned about Baguio’s death due to hazing injuries the day after.
Recently, UC received a request from the Public Attorney’s Office for a formal investigation of the death of Baguio, the lawyer said.
“The university reiterates its commitment to cooperate and assist the police and the Baguio family as they seek justice for Ronnel,” he said.