Police: Aegis Juris attempted to 'cover up, conceal' UST law student's death

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  • Police presented to Senate several screengrabs of a Facebook conversation that focused on Atio Castillo's hazing death.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 18) — Police on Wednesday revealed to senators attempts by Aegis Juris Fraternity members to "conceal" circumstances behind the death of hazing victim Horacio "Atio" Castillo III.

The Philippine National Police on Wednesday presented to the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs several screengrabs of a Facebook conversation that focused on Atio's hazing death. Those on the thread are active Aegis Juris alumni and members, said Manila Police Department Chief Superintendent Joel Coronel in the Senate hearing.

"Based on the exchange of communication from these fraternity members, it would appear that the tendency of the fraternity to conceal or obstruct justice is very evident. They want to evade, avoid at all costs the investigation and prosecution of this case," Coronel said.

During the second Senate probe on Castillo's case, Coronel testified that members of the fraternity had a Facebook conversation from September 17, the day Castillo died, to the 18th, when news of his death broke, to discuss their next moves.

UST Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina, an alumnus of the Aegis Juris fraternity who is on leave from the group, said he was notified by the faculty secretary of Castillo's death 15 minutes after he attended noon mass on September 17. Atio's mother, Carmina Castillo said she only knew of her son's fate on September 18, at around 1 p.m., more than 24 hours after the dean did.

Castillo's body was brought by one of the principal suspects, John Paul Solano, to Chinese General Hospital on September 17. Solano, in his closed-door testimony on September 25 that was made public by the senate panel on Wednesday said that Aegis Juris President Arvin Balag told him to bring the body to Chinese General which was further away from the UST Hospital.

Frat meets to discuss next moves

Chief Superintendent Coronel told the Senate panel that the two Facebook threads made up a 38-page report of screengrabs that were submitted to the PNP's Anti-Cybercrime Unit "for verification, authentication, and validation." Even as validation was pending, parts of the Facebook exchange were revealed in the Senate hearing.

The thread begins with several alumni sending consecutive messages just a few hours after they learned of Castillo's death. There was also a lot of back-and-forth talk about where they would meet to discuss what happened.

Coronel said, that in the thread, the frat members discussed meeting in a hotel to talk about Castillo's case. Coronel showed footage from the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) of the Novotel Manila Araneta Center hotel in Cubao, Quezon City showing Aegis Juris Fraternity members inside an elevator of the Novotel hotel days after Atio's death. He added that their meeting was held in a third floor function room of the hotel.

 

"Several members of this fraternity met in a meeting in Novotel Hotel purposely to discuss the actions to be taken in this investigation," he said.

 

Sense of urgency in messages

One brod named Jet Dela Peña Villaroman on September 17 asks: "GP (name concealed) may news ba tayo if napalinis na ang fratlib?" GP stands for Grand Praefectus, a term Aegis Juris members use to refer to their present and past presidents.

[Translation: GP (name concealed), do we have news if the fratlib was already cleaned?"]

It also appears the person was referring to the fraternity's library (fratlib) where Castillo's hazing was believed to have taken place.

The frat members also discussed how influential the Castillo family are.

A message from Alston Kevin Anarna on September 17 reads: "Brod may kaya yang family nyan. Bukas makakakuha na sila search warrant sa fratlib. Sana malinis na"

Matanggap (sic) na ang paddle dun."

(Senator Joel Villanueva, a member of investigating panel then clarifies that this may have been mean to read "Matanggal" or "to remove.")

Related: Paddles found in Aegis Juris fraternity library

The Manila Police Department earlier disclosed that some Aegis Juris alumni were able to get hold of footage from the CCTV camera near the fraternity library on the night of the hazing. They said some also checked the CCTV footage of barangays in the area.

This appears to be backed by the conversation, as one alumnus named Ronald Cheng on September 18 says: "Nakita ko na CCTV ng baranggay... Nilapitan ko ung tanod na contact ng brod dito saten. Plus nakita ko din ung mismong monitor. Hindi covered ang frat lib ng cctv." Cheng, who is a staff of the Supreme Court Second Division, was obstructing justice with the information he revealed, Senator Villanueva said.

[Translation: "I saw the CCTV. I also went around the area but the fratlib is not covered by the CCTV of the barangay."]

Hazing suspect Jose Miguel Salamat, who goes by Mig Salamat on Facebook, posted he was in possession of Atio's cellphone. He added Atio's parents have been calling their son and sending him several messages.

"Brod flood na ng messages laman ng cellphone nung brod na yon puro from mom and dad lagpas na rin sa daliri ko ung missed calls (sic)," he said in the thread.

Atio's mother, Carmina, asked the suspects to return their son's watch, eyeglasses, and cellphone.

Others raised security concerns about their conversation thread. A fraternity member identified as Alston Kevin Anarna on September 18 says: "Can we leave this chat group and add again all members. At least every 24 hours. So messages will be deleted."

Later in the hearing, Senator Migz Zubiri, who is a friend of the Castillo family expressed his dismay.

"Kung ganito ang ating future lawyers, I feel sorry for the law profession," said Zubiri, who is pushing for an amendment in the Anti-Hazing law that will penalize professionals with disbarment of revocation of their licenses if they are found to have been involved in hazing activities.

Senator Win Gatchalian added, "Nakakakilabot. Ang objective is really pagtakpan ang isa't isa."

Chief Superintendent Coronel said that the conversation casts doubt on the fraternity's sincerity in cooperating with the investigation into the case. Days after Castillo's death, Aegis Juris issued a statement pledging cooperation with authorities.