SC upholds murder conviction of 5 UP fratmen
The Supreme Court has upheld the convictions of five members of the Scintilla Juris fraternity who were found guilty of murdering Dennis Venturina, a member of the rival Sigma Rho fraternity, during a rumble on the University of the Philippines campus in Quezon City nearly 20 years ago.
In a decision dated May 5 and released on Friday, the high court’s Third Division, voting 3-2, affirmed the sentences of reclusion perpetua meted out by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Daniel Feliciano Jr., Julius Victor Medalla, Christopher Soliva, Warren Zingapan and Robert Michael Beltran Alvir.
The court also restored the RTC’s verdict which also found the five men guilty of the attempted murder of Venturina’s fraternity brothers, Cesar Mangrobang Jr., Cristobal Gaston Jr., Leonardo Lachica, Mervin Natalico and Arnel Fortes. The Court of Appeals (CA) earlier downgraded the attempted murder case to slight physical injuries.
2 justices for acquittal
The Supreme Court said the collective intent of the accused to kill “was already present at the moment of attack and that intent was shared by all of [them] when the presence of conspiracy was proven [in the RTC].”
“It would be illogical to presume that despite the swiftness and suddenness of the attack, the attackers intended to kill only Venturina, Natalicio and Fortes, and only intended to injure Lachica, Mangrobang and Gaston. Since the intent to kill was evident from the moment the accused took their first swing, all of them were liable for that intent to kill,” according to the 28-page decision penned by Justice Marvic Leonen.
Two division members, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Justice Mariano del Castillo, concurred in the decision. However, the acting division chair, Justice Diosdado Peralta and one member, Justice Roberto Abad (now retired), voted to acquit all the accused, saying the lower court trial failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The majority justices condemned fraternity violence, saying: “The culture of impunity must stop. There is no space in this society for hooliganism disguised as fraternity rumbles. The perpetrators must stand and suffer the legal consequences of their actions. They must do so for there is an individual who now lies dead, robbed of his dreams and the dreams of his family. Excruciating grief for them will never be enough.”
“Fraternity rumbles are an anathema, an immature and useless expenditure of testosterone. It fosters a culture that retards manhood. It is devoid of ‘giting at dangal’ (‘valor and honor,’ words in the UP anthem). This kind of shameful violence must stop,” they added.
Masks raise doubts
Abad, who wrote a 15-page dissenting opinion, said that while he also condemns Venturina’s senseless death and regards fraternity wars as “cruel (and) barbaric,” the fact that the attackers wore masks meant that the court should not hastily send those charged to prison without proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“In a case like this, where the identities and participation of the several accused are difficult to prove, the ideal solution is to convince the least guilty of them, the one who showed the most reluctance and delivered the lightest blows, to turn state witness. I am unable to say if efforts in this direction were taken by the National Bureau of Investigation or the prosecutors to ensure that they had a good case,” he said.
Bats and lead pipes
Venturina, then a law student, and his fraternity mates were eating lunch at the Beach House Canteen near the UP main library on Dec. 8, 1994, when they were attacked by several masked men wielding baseball bats and lead pipes.
Venturina sustained head injuries and died two days later at St. Luke’s Medical Center.
The Sigma Rhoans, who filed complaints in the NBI two days later, identified 12 of their attackers, all members of Scintilla Juris.
In February 2002, after a six-year trial, the QC-RTC found five of the suspects guilty of murder and attempted murder. Five other suspects were acquitted, the case against one was earlier dropped, while another suspect—Benedict Guerrero—remained at large.
The five who were convicted questioned the verdict in the CA, arguing that the prosecution witnesses failed to identify them as the culprits.
The Sigma Rhoans claimed that they were attacked by 15 to 20 men wearing masks but that some of them lost that cover during the scuffle.
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