Senate panel urges SC to disbar UST law dean over 'Atio' hazing death

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2018 06:38 PM | Updated as of Jul 18 2019 03:47 PM

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MANILA (UPDATE) - A Senate committee that conducted a probe into the hazing death of law freshman Horacio "Atio" Castillo III is urging the Supreme Court to disbar University of Santo Tomas (UST) law dean Nilo Divina, a member of the fraternity linked to the crime.

In a committee report released Wednesday, the Senate panel also said Divina should step down as law dean because his role in the law school and the fraternity may have implications on the case. 

"If the Dean had the courtesy to take a leave of absence from the fraternity so as not to lead under a cloud of bias in favor of his fraternity brothers, as he claims to be, with more reason for him to humbly step down," the report read. 

It further noted Divina's active participation in the anniversary celebrations of Aegis Jvris despite repeatedly saying that he has severed ties with the fraternity, and his pattern of blaming his faults to others during the course of the proceedings. 

"We take exception to Dean Divina's assertion that there was no oversight on his part. He even dared to mention that he did what was expected," said Lacson, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs that co-led the inquiry, said in reporting the committee's findings at the Senate floor. 

"If this committee is asked whether we agree with his statement we will qualify our answer: if based on his capacity as dean, the answer is obviously no. If as a member of Aegis Jvris, our answer is a resounding yes," Lacson said.

In a statement, Divina maintained his innocence and said allegations against him would not hinder him from performing his responsibilities as a law dean.

“My conscience is clear. I did not do anything wrong, illegal or unethical. I did all I could have done under the circumstances to prevent incidents of hazing from happening during my watch as Dean of the UST Faculty of Civil Law,” the statement read.

“I have nothing but the best interest of UST, its students, faculty and alumni in my heart. And I am heartened by their continuing outpouring of support and encouragement. I will never allow the wrongdoings of some and the unfair accusations of a few to get in the way of my fulfilling my job as Dean. I regret with all my heart what had happened to Atio but a wrong can not be rectified by another injustice.”

Screengrab from Senate Committee Report 232

The panel also recommended the filing of charges against lawyers, also members of Aegis Jvris, who figured in a Facebook conversation attempting to cover-up the circumstances surrounding the death of Castillo in September last year. 

It also urged the Department of Justice to "thoroughly verify" the testimony of Aegis Jvris fraternity member Marc Anthony Ventura, who claims to have witnessed Castillo's beating on the night of the fatal fraternity initiation rites. 

Ventura had bared in the Senate inquiry last year that Castillo was hit by paddle almost endlessly during the initiation rites. He, however, recently told the Department of Justice (DOJ) that strikes on the law freshman were "mild."

Aegis Jvris members, including John Paul Solano and Arvin Balag, are currently facing murder raps over Castillo's death.

Screengrab from Senate Committee Report 232

Senate: UST failed to fully enforce the Anti-Hazing Law

Meanwhile, the Senate panel also said the UST had failed to exercise due diligence in ensuring that the existing Anti-Hazing Law is implemented as the Office of Student Affairs still approved Aegis Jvris' application for recognition despite the lack of requirements. 

The committee urged the university to review possible violations made by its officials in relation to the case. 

The report is a product of joint hearings by Lacson's committee and the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, headed by Sen. Richard Gordon. 

As a result of the inquiry, the Senate proposed a law banning hazing and holding school officials accountable if any such incident happens.

Castillo died due to massive injuries consistent with hazing, according to an autopsy report. He was rushed to the hospital September 17 but was declared dead upon arrival.