'Mockery of justice': Senators slam suspects' claim on Atio's heart condition

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Highlights

  • Escudero, Gatchalian, Villanueva, and Zubiri slammed Solano for alleging Atio died of a heart condition
  • Villanueva said UST community is 'disgusted, embarrassed' of hazing incident

This post was updated to include statements from Senators Chiz Escudero and Win Gatchalian.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 25) — Senators on Wednesday criticized suspects in the hazing case of Horacio "Atio" Castillo III, following their statements that the first-year law student died due to a pre-existing heart condition.

"If you look at the picture and go around the country and ask any Tom, Dick, and Harry how do you think he died, no one would tell you, [it was] because of a heart attack," Senator Joel Villanueva told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Villanueva was referring to a photo of Atio's body covered by a blanket, with only his right arm nursing a large bruise visible to the camera.

"'Pag ginawa mo sa kanila 'yung ginawa nila doon sa bata, hindi ka ba [magkaka-heart attack]?"

(Translation: If you did to them what they did to that kid, wouldn't they also have a heart attack?)

"It's a mockery of our justice system, para magpalusot," he added.

Main suspect John Paul Solano claimed that Atio suffered cardiac arrest due to a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in a counter-affidavit submitted to the Justice Department on Tuesday. Another suspect, Axel Hipe, echoed the argument.

Related: Atio died due to pre-existing heart disease, not hazing - Solano

But on Wednesday, one of the 17 respondents named in the hazing death, Mark Ventura, came forward to the Justice Department and was made state witness, after he revealed grisly details of what happened to Atio on September 16. Ventura named Hipe as the "Master Initiator 1" and said Solano was not present during the hazing.

Related: Atio collapsed on 4th paddle strike, lost consciousness on 5th - suspect-turned-witness

Senator Migz Zubiri hit back at Solano, saying the suspect and his legal counsel are "conjuring excuses for Atio's murder."

"The people cannot be fooled by this quack who is simply out to save his skin and now hunting (a scapegoat) by blaming Atio himself for his own death," Zubiri said in a statement on Wednesday.

"How can they explain the discoloration of the body due to massive hematoma? How can they dispute the medico-legal finding of DNA of Atio on the paddle used by the Aegis Juris fratmen? The use of paddle is illegal under the Anti-Hazing Law," the senator added.

Villanueva is an alumnus of UST, while Zubiri was a classmate of Atio's father. Both senators actively participated in the Senate hearings on the hazing of Atio, with Zubiri filing the resolution that paved the way for the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs to investigate.

Atio's parents have maintained that he had no pre-existing condition and he was healthy. His mother said he played for the football team, while his father claimed Atio had a clean bill of health from the university.

The counter-affidavit submitted by the suspects to the Justice Department is a turnaround for Solano. Solano had confessed to delivering Atio to the hospital and promised to tell all about the incident.

 

Other senators were incredulous at the suspects' counteraffidavit. Senator Chiz Escudero slammed Solano who earlier seemed like he would stand as state witness.

"Pinapakita lamang nito na hindi siya puwedeng maging state witness... maliwanag na pinili na niya yung panig niya at... yun ay panig ng fraternity at mga brod niya," said Escudero.

(Translation: This just shows that he can't be a state witness... it's clear he chose his side, and that is... the side of his brothers and the fraternity.)

Senator Win Gatchalian chided Solano for subverting justice for Atio.

"After filing a motion to throw away the strong evidence gathered by the police, he then files in his petition statements that are adverse to the case," said Gatchalian.

"Clearly, the [Aegis Juris] frat has complete control over him. However, he is not a competent doctor. His recent statements will not alter the real cause of the death of Atio, that is of hazing," he added.

Villanueva said Solano may have switched his stance after conversing with his Aegis Juris fraternity brothers. His lawyer, Attorney Paterno Esmaquel, is a founding member of the fraternity.

"What is disgusting about this counter-affidavit is during the executive session, Solano was talking," said Villanueva.

"He was mentioning all these names, tapos ngayon baliktad na - kaya nangigigil na ako diyan eh [and now he turns around - that's why I'm irritated with him]," he added.

He also noted that the counter-affidavit was delayed, as Solano initially promised to provide it during the onset of the preliminary investigation.

Atio, a law freshman at the University of Sto. Tomas, was pronounced dead at the Chinese General Hospital in September, with his body sustaining hematoma or bruises as well as candle wax drips following supposed initiation rites to the fraternity.

Related: Timeline: The case of Horacio Castillo III

The suspects' counteraffidavit also follows the surfacing of an incriminating thread of Facebook messages showing members and alumni of Aegis Juris allegedly attempting to cover up the hazing. Members are seen asking if the library, where the rites occurred, was clean -- as well as calling the incident an "accident."

Read: Aegis Juris attempted to 'cover up, conceal' UST law student's death - police

Thomasian community 'disgusted, embarrassed'

Villanueva, who graduated from UST in 1996, said the Thomasian community was "disgusted and embarrassed" over what happened to freshman law student.

"For us to look at the chat messages, yung obstruction of justice, perjury, coming from the elders of the fraternity... you're accomplice to this kalokohan [madness]," he said.

"'Yan ang panawagan natin, linisin natin to and bumalik tayo sa Thomasian values [That's what we are pushing for, that we settle this and return to our Thomasian values]."

In a statement released on October 20, the university lamented an "inaccurate portrayal" that it was indifferent to Atio's death. The school reiterated that it actively coordinated with police and it also launched an investigation committee of its own.

Related: UST stresses commitment to Atio Castillo hazing case

UST Law Dean Nilo Divina has also come under fire, as he is charged with murder and obstruction of justice. Divina also faces criticism for actions taken by UST, as well as not informing Atio's parents of the death as soon as possible.

Related: UST law professors express support for Dean Nilo Divina

Divina, who is an alumnus of the fraternity, maintains he filed a leave of absence from the organization when he assumed the deanship.

Solano and other members of the fraternity are facing murder charges. Arvin Balag, who is believed to be the fraternity president, is detained at the Senate for contempt after refusing to answer questions.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.