SC punishes 5 frat members for Lenny Villa’s death

High Court wants Anti-Hazing law amended

MANILA, Philippines – Remember Lenny Villa?

The Supreme Court, in a ruling dated February 1, found 5 members of the Aquila Legis fraternity guilty for the death of Leonardo “Lenny” Villa, an Ateneo law student who died of multiple injuries after undergoing hazing in 1991.

Villa’s case 2 decades ago reminded the public of the dark side of hazing and hounded the Aquilia Legis, a fraternity of law students from the Ateneo, for years.

His death eventually led to the passage of Republic Act No. 8049, or the Anti-Hazing law.

In its latest ruling, however, the High Court’s hands are tied; it cannot impose the maximum punishment of lifetime imprisonment on the 5 since the Anti-Hazing law was not yet passed when Villa died.

It also said the law should be amended to include the role of senior fraternity members and the factor of intoxication as “aggravating circumstances.”

The SC’s second division elevated the charges of the 4 guilty – Vincent Tecson, Junel Anthony Ama, Antonio Mariano Almeda, and Renato Bantug Jr. – from slight physical injuries to reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. It however downgraded the charge against Fidelito Dizon, from homicide to reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, saying Dizon’s intent to kill Villa could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt. 

Dizon was one of the 2 – along with Artemo Villareal – which the Court of Appeals found guilty of homicide in 2002.

Villareal appealed the CA ruling, but he died in 2011. Meanwhile, the CA established Dizon’s intention to kill Villa from the testimony of witness Bienvenido Marquez, who said that Dizon zeroed in on Villa because the latter’s father allegedly stole his father’s parking space.

CA’s error

In the ruling penned by Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, however, the second division declared that given the “factual milieu and contextual premise of the incident,” Dizon only made the said allegation to raise the psychological pressure on the neophytes – which is part of hazing.

The SC, on the other hand, said the CA erred when it applied the High Court’s decision in People v. Penesa in charging Tecson, Ama, Almeda and Bantug only with the offense of slight physical injuries.

In People v. Penesa, the SC ruled in 1948 that the accused, Timoteo Penesa, should only be charged with slight physical injuries instead of frustrated homicide because his assault on Santiago Cerrado did not cause “incapacity for labor nor required medical attendance.”

But Villa died of cardiac arrest after he was repeatedly mauled.

“Considering that the CA found that the ‘physical punishment heaped on [Lenny Villa was] serious in nature,’ it was patently erroneous for the court to limit the criminal liability to slight physical injuries, which is a light felony,” the SC said. 

The SC sentenced the 5 frat members to 4 months up to 4 years in prison and ordered them to pay P1-M in moral damages and P50,000 indemnity. 

The High Court, meanwhile, sustained the appellate court’s  2006 ruling, which dismissed the case against 4 other Aquilans – Manuel Escalona II, Crisanto Saruca, Jr., Anselmo Adriano and Marcus Joel Ramos – because their right to speedy trial was  violated.

The initial trial of the 4 was conducted 12 years after they were arraigned.

The SC noted the finding of the CA, which showed that the delay was caused by the prosecution’s failure to secure the records of the case from the appellate court after the 4 were arraigned in 1993.

The SC also upheld the CA 2002 ruling which acquitted 19 of the 26 initially found guilty of the crime.

Amend law

The Philippine Star then reported that the CA ruled out that there was consipiracy to commit a crime, because the neophytes knew that they would all be subjected to hazing.

In arguing for amendments to the Anti-Hazing law, the SC highlighted the fact that some of the fraternity members were drinking at the time of the initiation rites. 

The SC also took note that Dizon and Villareal – both members of Aquila Legis – ordered that the initiation rites be conducted again. 

“It appears from the aforementioned facts that the incident may have been prevented, or at least mitigated, had the alumni of the Aquila Fraternity – accused Dizon and Villareal – restrained themselves from insisting on reopening the initiation rites. Although this point did not matter in the end, as records would show that the other fraternity members participated in the reopened initiation rites – having in mind the concept of ‘seniority’ in fraternities – the implication of the presence of alumni should be seen as a point of review in future legislation,” the SC said. – Rappler.com