Aegis Juris president urged hazing suspect to lie, Solano testimony shows

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
totalITemsFound:
maxPaginationLinks: 10
maxPossiblePages:
startIndex:
endIndex:

(L-R) Arvin Balag, Horacio "Atio" Castillo III, John Paul Solano

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 18) — The alleged incumbent president of the Aegis Juris Fraternity is accused of urging suspect John Paul Solano to tell lies about the fatal hazing of Horacio "Atio" Castillo III.

Senators expressed frustration as Arvin Balag, an Aegis Juris member who is believed to be president, frequently invoked his right against self-incrimination when questioned. This prompted senators to cite him in contempt and order his detention.

Solano's closed-door testimony on September 25 was made public at the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous' drugs hearing into the death of Castillo. In it, Solano told senators it was Balag who directed frat members how to deal with an unconscious and bruised Castillo on September 17.

It began with a phone call from frat member Oliver John Onofre early Sunday, asking Solano to come to the fraternity library in Manila, where the hazing took place.

Related: Paddles found in Aegis Juris fraternity library

Solano said he refused Onofre's "calm request," saying he had other things to do.

But three words prompted him to rush to the library.

"Brod, may nag-collapse (Brod, someone collapsed)," Solano quoted Onofre as saying in another phone call at around 7 a.m.

Solano arrived at the library after an hour.

"I opened the door, I found Atio was lying (on the floor)," Solano's testimony said. He said it was the first time he saw Castillo, and he addressed him as "Hor," short for "Horacio."

Castillo's pupils were dilated, and  he had no pulse, Solano said. A registered medical technologist, he said he tried to revive Castillo, but he failed.

Solano told frat members Castillo had to be rushed to the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital, which he said was 10 to 15 minutes away from the frat library.

But Balag insisted they should go to the Chinese General Hospital which Solano said was 20 to 40 minutes away.

Aside from Balag and Onofre, fraternity members Axel Hipe and Mark Ventura were there, Solano said.

They went straight to the hospital's parking lot. Solano said he did not know what to say to the nurses, so he asked Balag.

"Sabi ni Arvin Balag, 'Sabihin mo napulot mo sa Balut, Tondo (Arvin Balag said, 'Tell them you saw the body in Balut, Tondo),'" Solano said. He said he followed Balag's order, out of panic.

He said it was also Balag who forced him to stay behind with Castillo.

"Tinanong ko si Arvin, sabi ko 'Brod kailangan daw may maiwan.' Sabi niya, 'Ikaw na maiwan (I asked Arvin who will stay. He said I should stay)," Solano recalled.

He refused, but Balag said, "Alangan namang kami (It shouldn't be us)."

Solano said he stayed behind, "Out of gusto ko ring tulungan iyong bata (because I wanted to help Castillo)."

The four frat members left him behind. "I am on my own," Solano recalled telling himself.

 

Solano, a principal suspect in the case, turned himself in to Senator Panfilo Lacson on September 21 after going into hiding. He was released on September 27, the same day Castillo was laid to rest, as he promised to cooperate with authorities.

Read more: Police release suspect in hazing victim's death

Senators are investigating the death of Castillo, a 22-year-old freshman UST law student killed after a supposed "welcoming party" of the Aegis Juris Fraternity on September 16.  His parents said Castillo promised to come back on September 17, Sunday. But he never did. Police said his cause of death was "severe blunt traumatic injuries." They added Castillo had hematoma or bruises on both upper arms, as well as marks of candle wax drips all over his body.

Frat president declared in contempt, ordered detained

Fraternity members Balag, Onofre, Hipe, and Ventura all invoked their right against self-incrimination when asked about Solano's testimony. They are all facing murder, robbery, perjury, and anti-hazing law charges filed by the Manila Police District.

Balag at first refused to affirm a question as to his position in the fraternity, prompting Senator Grace Poe to move for him to be cited in contempt.

Senators approved Poe's motion.

"Sergeant-at-arms, after this hearing you place him under detention," said Lacson, chairman of the Committee on Public Order. "Just answer straight, do not be evasive," he told Balag.

Balag later apologized, saying he was afraid any detail he would provide can be used against him.

"Yes I'm a member. But as to its incumbent presidency, I'm already in another school po kasi. I'm already in Lyceum College of Law since August," he said.

UST Law Dean Nilo Divina, an Aegis Juris Fraternity almunus himself, said Balag had actually been debarred or removed from law school for failing some subjects. The dean also added that Aegis Juris was not accredited to operate on campus in 2017 due to a previous case against them in 2016 concerning an altercation.

Related: UST Law Dean mulls resigning from Aegis Juris

Balag, however, refused to answer Senator Joel Villanueva's question on who decided for Castillo's body to be brought to the Chinese General Hospital.

Balag again invoked his right against self-incrimination.

"Then your contempt will remain," Villanueva said.

Balag tried to speak as Lacson suspended the hearing, but Lacson refused to recognize him.

"We gave you all the chances kanina (a while ago)," Lacson said.

Balag was brought to a detention room in the Senate.

Solano testimony

Solano first disclosed details of what transpired in the hazing death during an executive session with senators on September 25.

He initially refused to release it on Wednesday.

"I am bound due to the cases that have been filed against me. And there is an ongoing preliminary investigation. So I am invoking my right against self-incrimination," he said.

But Senator Miguel Zubiri moved to release Solano's testimony.

"Let's no longer allow the disrespect of this committee and I move to release the testimony of Mr. Solano that he had given during executive session authored and approved by 21 members of this honorable body," Zubiri said.

The motion was approved with no objections.

 

Prior to that, Zubiri lashed out at Solano for the delayed release of his sworn statement.

"Ginagago mo ba ang committee na ito dahil dalawang beses na, at ilang beses na po, may panahon ng pagbigay ninyo ng iyong sinalaysay, sworn statement… at hindi ninyo ginawa," he said.

[Translation: Are you playing dumb with this committee because for several times, you had the chance to give your sworn statement but you didn't."]

Solano said, "No, po… What happened was beyond my control."

But Zubiri did not buy Solano's excuse and said he was being forced by his frat brothers to hold the release of his statement.

Later, in an interview on CNN Philippines' News Night, the senator claimed the possible cover-up was undeniable.

"Well it was very clear... that there was a possible cover up being done by members of Aegis Juris fraternity right after the crime had been committed. In many of the timeline that you see there, it is right after the reported death of Atio Castillo," Zubiri said.

"And what is disturbing... [sic] is many of these gentlemen are lawyers, they're not just law students, many of them are actual lawyers," he added.