Who is Aegis Juris’ Big Brother? Not me, says Divina

Lian Buan
Who is Aegis Juris’ Big Brother? Not me, says Divina
Senator Grace Poe brings up the ties of UST law dean Nilo Divina's firm with Aegis Juris fraternity, and his supposed meeting with hazing victim Horacio Castillo III

MANILA, Philippines – Who is the so-called Big Brother of Aegis Juris fraternity and why is he important?

Senator Grace Poe sought to determine in a Senate hearing on Monday, November 6, if University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Civil Law dean Nilo Divina – a member of Aegis Juris – could be Big Brother.

Divina earlier claimed to have a non-active membership in the fraternity because he is serving as law dean.

But the parents of freshman law student Horacio Castillo III, who died due to Aegis Juris initiation rites, had included Divina in their complaint for murder and violation of the Anti-Hazing Law.

The mystery around Big Brother comes from a message sent by lawyer Eric Fuentes, telling fraternity members: “Big Brother requested all the Brods, especially the alumni, to show our support by attending the Senate investigation and visiting Brod Popoy (John Paul Solano).”

Despite Poe’s pressing whether it could be Divina, Fuentes said on Monday that “Big Brother” is a generic term for their fraternity elders.

“We call him Dean Divina or Sir Divina,” Fuentes added.

Witness Mark Anthony Ventura, also a fraternity member, said that as far as he knows, Big Brother is lawyer Arnel Bernardo, a co-founder of Aegis Juris and one of the incorporators of the Aegis Juris Foundation.

“I am not aware that I am being called the Big Brother,” Bernardo said on Monday.

Divina Law

Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs which is handling the inquiry, said most of the lawmakers believe Divina is Big Brother.

“Most of my colleagues are of the belief na ang Big Brother is supposed to be Dean Divina. But definitely ang Big Brother, hindi ang elders as manifested by Attorney Fuentes,” he said.

(Most of my colleagues are of the belief that Big Brother is supposed to be Dean Divina. But definitely, Big Brother does not refer to the elders as manifested by Attorney Fuentes.)

During the Senate hearing, Poe tried to establish links between Divina and the Castillo case – Big Brother or not.

Senators presented a screenshot of CCTV footage showing a man wearing a blue jacket inside the Pacific Star Building in Makati City. Castillo’s parents are convinced the man is their son because they recognize the blue jacket.

The Divina Law Office is located inside the Pacific Star Building.

If Castillo visited Divina Law, it would imply that the dean had knowledge of the student’s fraternity recruitment, and possibly the hazing. This is what the Castillo camp is trying to pinpoint in their arguments.

Divina had already denied meeting Castillo in his counter-affidavit. On Monday, Divina said Castillo “never set foot inside the Divina Law Office.”

Poe said they would ask the 3 other law firms at the Pacific Star Building if they were ever visited by Castillo. The student’s mother, Carmina Castillo, earlier showed a text message from her son saying he was visiting a “law firm” on September 12.

Ventura said they would usually visit elders at the Pacific Star Building, but claimed the elders he has met do not belong to Divina Law.

“The reason why I’m asking here is because there are just a few connections here that we need to seriously note,” Poe said.

“The Pacific Star Building, which houses Divina Law, is owned by Century Properties, whose corporate secretary is a senior partner at Divina Law. Century Properties also owns Novotel Manila in Cubao, Quezon City where some Aegis Juris fratmen, including some elder brods, met in the afternoon of September 17, hours after Castillo’s death.”

Poe vs Divina

Aside from citing Divina Law’s supposed links to Aegis Juris, Poe said Divina may be liable as UST law dean. (READ: ‘Negligence’ of UST officials partly led to Castillo’s death – senators)

“All of the connections – Aegis Juris having strong ties with Divina Law; Divina Law maintaining the website for the school; Divina Law having a lot of support for the fraternity; you being the dean and him (Castillo), mentioning that he is in a law office close to that building or within that building where you have your law firm,” Poe told Divina.

The links between Poe and Divina go back to the 2016 presidential elections when lawyer Estrella Elamparo filed a disqualification case against Poe. Elamparo is a lawyer of Divina Law. She’s also Divina’s lawyer in the Castillo case. (READ: The Scrum: Elamparo vs Poe)

“The firm did not have any hand in the filing of the disqualification case. It was a personal decision and act of one of our senior partners,” Divina said.

Asked whether the Elamparo connection may be Poe’s motivation for being hard on him, Divina said, “It is difficult for me to speculate but based on what we are seeing, it is not unlikely.”

Disbarment

The other significance of Big Brother is that he’s believed to be among the alumni who tried to pull off a cover-up. Some alumni, who are practicing lawyers, already face complaints for obstruction of justice.

The Manila Police District (MPD) said Facebook has agreed to preserve the chats of the alumni, and that copies will be given to them upon a court order.

Lacson then asked Maria Christina Layusa of the Supreme Court (SC) Office of the Bar Confidante about the disbarment process.

Layusa said a complaint must first be filed for a lawyer to be disbarred.

According to Lacson, the Senate committee report will likely include a recommendation for the alumni’s disbarment.

“Most of the members are inclined to make some very harsh recommendations against lawyers who are supposed to be responsible officers of the court who were part of the cover-up,” he said. – Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.