Solano found guilty of obstruction of justice in Atio hazing death
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Aegis Juris fratman John Paul Solano was found guilty of obstruction of justice in the hazing death of University of Santo Tomas (UST) freshman law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.
In a decision promulgated on Monday, June 17, the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 14 sentenced Solano to a minimum 2 years and 4 months up to 4 years and 2 months in prison.
Judge Carolina Esguerra acquitted Solano of perjury charges.
According to testimonies and sworn affidavits, Solano is the Aegis Juris alumnus called to supposedly revive Atio. Solano was with the convoy that took Atio to the Chinese General Hospital where he eventually died. Solano reported the death to the police, initially lying and telling authorities he was just a stranger who found Atio's dead body by the roadside.
Solano defended himself by saying he was under duress and fearing for his life and liberty, compelling him to lie to the police. The court did not agree, and convicted him of obstruction of justice.
"(Solano's) fear of being implicated in the death of Castillo is not imminent. Had accused spoken of the true incidents prior to bringing Castillo to the hospital, the matter would have been investigated first by the police before hailing him to court should they find that he acted in complicity with the others in bringing about Castillo's injuries," said the MeTC Branch 14.
The court added: "The fear which the accused claims to have overtaken him is not, in contemplation of law, as imminent as he believed, and is even speculative at that. Thus, his defense that he acted under the impulse of uncontrollable fear for his life or limb has no leg to stand on."
Solano was cleared of perjury charges because of police missteps in taking and preserving his judicial affidavit while being questioned. One of the requirements of the crime of perjury is for the accused to make a statement under oath.
However, Solano said he was never made to take an oath before the police officer. Solano added he merely signed the affidavit. The police explanations did not satisfy the court, which said "the inconsistencies put to doubt the administration of the accused's oath."
"That part of the first element of the offense that the accused made a statement under oath was not proven beyond reasonable doubt," said the court.
Because obstruction of justice is a bailable charge, Solano cannot be sent to prison until a final decision is reached. He can appeal up to the High Court.
Solano has enjoyed freedom because perjury and obstruction of justice are bailable charges. His 10 other fraternity brothers, who were on trial for violating the anti-hazing law, have been in jail.
Castillo was killed during his fraternity’s hazing rites in September 2017.
"We have a first conviction, at least ito 'yung sinasabi namin na may sala sila sa obstruction (this is what we've been saying that they are guilty of obstruction), they concealed, they lied," said Atio's mother Minnie after the judgment.
Minnie and husband Horacio Jr said they are studying filing more complaints of obstruction of justice against other Aegis Juris fratmen, particularly those included in the group chat, including newly-elected Cavite 5th District Board Member Kevin Anarna.
The Castillos also slammed the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for what they said was inaction on the part of the Catholic University.
"Wala silang cooperation (they have no cooperation), nothing," said Horacio Jr, adding that the university "has been very silent."
The Castillos were accompanied to court by Leonardo "Lenny" Villa's mother Gerarda. Lenny was the Atenean student who died during the Aquila Legis hazing rites in 1991. His death paved the way for the passage of the anti-hazing law.
"Parehong-pareho ng kaso ng anak ko, at up to now, masakit pa sa loob ko ang pagkamatay ng anak ko, hindi ko makalimutan. But we have to fight for our children, for the other children, mangyayari pa ang ganito kung hindi tayo magkatulungan," said Gerarda.
(This is exactly like the case of my son, and up to know, I'm still hurting over the death of my son, I cannot forget it. But we have to fight for our children, for the other children, this will continue to happen if we do not help each other.)
Atio's death has led to the passage of Senate Bill No. 1662, which seeks to strengthen the anti-hazing law.
The bill seeks to ban all forms of hazing in school fraternities, sororities and organizations, as well as those in the community or other associations, including those in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and other uniformed service learning institutions.
It defines hazing as any physical or psychological suffering, harm or injury inflicted on a recruit, member, neophyte or applicant for admission or continuing membership into the fraternity, sorority or organization.
The measure also expands the coverage of hazing to include paddling, whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the weather, forced consumption of food, liquor, beverage, drug and other substance, as well as any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity.
Under the bill, officers and members of a fraternity, sorority or organization who participated in the hazing would suffer the penalty of reclusion temporal and be fined P1 million.
The school would also be held liable if officials fail to prevent hazing from occurring during initiation rites and be fined P1 million, according to the bill.