fraternity hazings

Manila court convicts lawyer Lorna Kapunan of unjust vexation vs UST Law dean

Lian Buan
UST Law Dean Nilo Divina initially loses the case at a Manila Municipal Court but gets a favorable ruling after review by a Regional Trial Court

A Manila court found lawyer Lorna Kapunan guilty of unjust vexation, sentencing her to 30 days in prison and ordering her to pay P2.5 million in damages for statements she made against University of Santo Tomas (UST) Law dean Nilo Divina over the hazing death of Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.

The July 24 decision of Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 11 Judge Cicero Jurado Jr reversed Kapunan’s earlier acquittal at the Manila Municipal Trial Court (MTC). Divina filed a petition for certiorari at the Manila RTC after losing the case at the Manila MTC. 

“The lower court should have convicted Atty Lorna Kapunan of the crime charged,” said Cicero, nullifying the acquittal of MTC Branch 17 Judge Karla Funtila-Abugan.

The case is one of several suits filed by Divina against Kapunan, stemming from the death of Castillo, a UST law student, in September 2017. Kapunan was the lawyer for the Castillo family and made statements to media accusing Divina of “coddling” the Aegis Juris fraternity members who are now detained at the Manila City jail while undergoing trial. Castillo was killed during his fraternity’s hazing rites. 

Divina is member on-leave of the Aegis Juris fraternity, and was accused by the Castillo spouses of neglect and part of a supposed cover-up to protect his fraternity brothers. 

Divina was cleared of the hazing-related charges at the Department of Justice (DOJ) level.

“(Kapunan) could not substantiate her declaration in the ANC interview. She only mentioned that she has a credible source. The lower court apparently disregarded the fact of judicial notice that the DOJ dismissed the criminal case filed by Spouses Castillo against petitioner,” said Cicero.

Unjust vexation is defined in the Revised Penal Code as “any person who commits a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such a person and serves no legitimate purpose shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum period or a fine ranging from 500 pesos to 5,000 pesos, or both.”

Cicero decided that Kapunan also had civil liability, aside from criminal liability, saying that “it has been held in this jurisdiction that the institution of criminal action carries with it the claim of civil liability.”

“Considering that herein petitioner is the dean of the College of Law, University of Sto Tomas and is a member of good standing of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the act of private respondent entail the liabilities which the court will impose to compensate petitioner,” said Judge Cicero. –

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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 or tweet @lianbuan.