Senate panel recommends disbarment of UST law dean Divina over Atio Castillo hazing

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The Senate public order committee has recommended the immediate disciplinary action against or even disbarment of University of Santo Tomas Law Dean Nilo Divina and other alumni of the Aegis Juris Fraternity over the fatal hazing of Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.

Senate committee chair Panfilo Lacson filed Committee Report 232 on Tuesday, January 23, recommending that the Supreme Court prioritize the actions against Divina and the following lawyers, who are alumni of the fraternity:

“With all due respect to the power of the [SC] to discipline members of the Philippine Bar, this Committee recommends the immediate institution of proper disciplinary or disbarment proceedings," the committee report said.

“Although we recognize the number of disbarment cases pending before the Supreme Court, it is humbly requested that the issue at hand be given preference and be dealt with as soon as possible considering that another life was lost because of the barbaric practices of the fraternity,” the report said.

The panel said that the actions committed by the members are “grossly immoral conduct” and are “against the decency expected from lawyers and a mockery of the legal profession.”

Lacson, in his sponsorship speech on Wednesday, called on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and all other SC justices to swiftly act on the issue.

"Mr. President, allow me to call the attention of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and all the magistrates of the High Court. We are speaking of the death of a young man who joined the fraternity in the hope of increasing his chances of becoming a member of the Philippine Bar," Lacson said.

"As such, upon adoption of this report, we will furnish the Supreme Court a copy of our report together with all the documents received by your Committee. May these documents be used as reference in the disbarment proceedings which we expect the Court to institute," he added.

Divina's role according to the panel

Divina earlier said he has long been inactive in the fraternity and that he took a leave of absence since he assumed deanship in 2009.

But the committee refused to buy it, saying there are photos that show his “active participation” during fraternity anniversaries and his “discretionary acts
before and even after Castillo’s death.

“[They] negate his never-ending claims of temporarily severing ties with the fraternity,” the report said.

The panel also said Divina’s post in UST “clearly posed a threat towards having a thorough investigation of the matter.”

“So long as he remains in office, possible student witnesses may opt to remain silent out of fear of jeopardizing their grades and ultimately their chances of graduating,” the report said.

The committee also said if Divina had the courtesy to take a leave from the fraternity, there is more reason for him to step down as Dean to allow for an impartial investigation.

“That is the least he can do to make up for the injustice done to the Castillo family. After all, his fraternity claims to subscribe to the principle: Do no injustice, suffer no injustice,” the report said.

The panel also criticized Divina’s pattern of passing the blame onto others.

“In fact, we find it strange that UST continues to stand by him despite his inefficiency and his tendency to attribute faults to the institution that his very own law firm represents.”

DOJ should investigate Ventura, cover-up

The panel also asked the Department of Justice to further probe the planned cover-up by resident and alumni members and recommended the filing of criminal charges for obstruction of charges.

It also requested the DOJ to further investigate the claims of Marc Anthony Ventura, a fraternity member who turned into a state witness, before they discharge him from the complaint.

“Should the DOJ utilize Ventura’s affidavit, the complaint must be immediately modified to include the additional names of respondents allegedly present in the initiation rites. The proceedings must be expedited considering the public interest imbued in this case,” the report added.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who called for the Senate probe, asked DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to file charges against those behind the death of Castillo.

“I urge Justice Secretary Aguirre to file the charges against the perpetrators in the killing of University of Santo Tomas student Atio Castillo. He was a victim of fellow students and ex-students of UST acting together and conniving to torture him which eventually led to his gruesome death. The death blow itself being unflinchingly inflicted by the so-called head of Aegis Juris on the pulped down body of young Atio,” Zubiri said, referring to Arvin Balag, the Grand Praefectus of the fraternity.

Just this month, the DOJ decided to reopen the preliminary investigation into the fatal hazing after hearings were earlier terminated.

The reopening of the probe was due to Ventura’s affidavit, where he named the members who carried out the fatal hazing rites on Castillo.

The affidavit was not taken into consideration in the earlier investigations, because the panel had not received it yet at the time. The panel received it only on January 3. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

image