Venturina murdered by rival fraternity members, SC affirms

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Venturina murdered by rival fraternity members, SC affirms
Twenty years since the attack, the Supreme Court upholds a guilty verdict against the murderers of UP scholar Dennis Venturina

MANILA, Philippines – “Fraternity rumbles exist because of past impunity… The perpetrators must stand and suffer the legal consequences of their actions. They must do so for there is an individual who now lies dead, robbed of his dreams and the dreams of his family.”

Thus read a 28-page Supreme Court (SC) decision upholding the conviction of 5 Scintilla Juris fraternity members for the murder of University of the Philippines (UP) scholar Dennis Venturina.

The decision was released to the media in a notice of judgement dated Thursday, June 5.

A member of rival fraternity Sigma Rho, Venturina was bludgeoned to death in a December 8, 1994 attack inside the UP premises by members of Scintilla Juris. Wearing improvised masks, the attackers were armed with baseball bats and lead pipes.

Voting 3-2, the SC affirmed that Danilo Feliciano Jr, Julius Victor Medalla, Christopher Soliva, Warren L Zingapan and Robert Michael Beltran Avir were guilty of Venturina’s murder.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen wrote the majority decision, while Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo concurred.

The decision was promulgated on May 5.

‘CA erred’

Reversing a modification by the Court of Appeals (CA), the SC also found the 5 accused liable for the attempted murder of all 5 Sigma Rho members who sustained injuries during the attack.

It was the CA which turned the Quezon City Regional Trial Court’s earlier ruling of 5 counts of attempted murder to only 2 counts, involving only surviving victims who were unable to escape most of the 45-second mauling.

The charges over the attack on the 3 other survivors were downgraded to serious physical injuries. Their lacerations were not deep enough to reflect intent to kill, the appellate court said. They were also “no longer chased by the attackers.”

But the SC reversed this, saying the CA erred in its decision.

“The intent to kill was already present at the moment of attack,” the SC said, adding that it was “immaterial to distinguish between the seriousness of the injuries suffered by the victims.”

Cyclical volence

In its decision, the SC referred to fraternity-related violence as “shameful” and hoped its ruling empowers those whose view of masculinity “valorizes courage, sacrifice and honor in more life-saving pursuits.”

“Fraternity rumbles are an anathema, an immature and useless expenditure of testosterone. It fosters a culture that retards manhood,” its decision read.

Dissenting opinion of retired justice

While also condemning the “senseless death” of Venturina and calling fraternity wars “cruel and barbaric,” newly-retired Associate Justice Roberto Abad disagreed with the majority decision handing down a guilty verdict.

Abad wrote a 15-page dissenting opinion acquitting all the accused.

Abad said the defense witnesses established reasonable doubt in saying the identities of the attackers could not be ascertained, as they were all wearing masks at the time of the riot. This, despite surviving victims naming 5 of the attackers whose masks allegedly fell off or were not worn at all.

He also doubted the incubation period of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, who refused to provide statements on the incident until 4 days after and only to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta dissented with Abad, who retired on May 22 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. (READ: SC Justice Abad retirement paves way for 5th Aquino appointee)

20 years long

The trial court decision at the time on Venturina’s case was penned by then RTC judge and now SC Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza.

Now 4 years shy of mandatory retirement, Mendoza was only in his late forties when the trial commenced at the RTC level. The trial lasted for 7 years at the RTC.

At the CA level, upon appeal by the defendants, the cases were re-raffled many times and took time to commence. Several CA justices inhibited from the case.

Justice Romeo Barza inhibited due to membership in Sigma Rho Fraternity. Justices Celia Librea-Leagogo and Isaias Dicdican also inhibited. 

In December 2010, a CA division voted 3-1 in favor of conviction. 

In that same year, defendant Zingapan was reported as head of a religious organization of inmates in the New Bilibid Prison.

‘Justice for a shattered dream’

In a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated February 23, 2002, 5 days before the then RTC Judge and now SC Justice Mendoza was to issue a verdict, Venturina’s grandfather Benedicto described his grandson’s death as “a merciless attack.”

Then 82 years old, the patriarch said his grandson Dennis had “a lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer” and was “the only grandson who would have continued the Venturina lineage.”

“He was our first grandson, a bundle of joy to us in spite of being born prematurely, weighing barely 5 pounds,” he wrote. “There is no other gift we can ask God but justice for our beloved grandson. Justice for a shattered dream.” –


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