Atio hazing suspect asks for temporary release due to COVID-19 threat

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2020 04:01 PM

MANILA – One of the accused in the hazing of law freshman Horacio “Atio” Castillo III has asked a Manila court that he be temporarily freed amid the threat posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Mhin Wei Chan, who is detained at the Manila City Jail over Castillo's fatal hazing in September 2017, asked Manila Regional Trial Court 20 for his temporary release on humanitarian grounds, saying the virus has “put his life and health…in great danger.”

“We are aware of the fact that the Manila City Jail is notorious for being one of the most congested and overpopulated detention facilities in the Philippines, which makes it a perfect nesting place for the immediate and uncontrollable spread of the COVID-19,” the urgent motion said.

“It will be the height of injustice if we stand by and wait for the COVID-19 to spread and infect hundred or even thousands of inmates at MCJ, which considering their overpopulation, is a very possible consequence,” it added.

Mhin Wei Chan invoked the House Committee on Justice recommendation to temporarily release prisoners in order to decongest jails during the crisis.

“To do nothing in this time of national public health emergency would effectively be sentencing these detainees to death while their cases are pending before the courts,” he quoted the House committee report as saying.

Mhin Wei Chan said he is qualified under the House committee recommendation as he is a first-time alleged offender with no history of jumping bail and is not a flight risk, having voluntarily surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation immediately after the warrant of arrest was issued.

He said he continues to respect court processes and volunteered to be placed under the recognizance of his parents who will guarantee his appearance during hearings until the threat of COVID-19 ceases.

He also cited the grant of provisional liberty to former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile on humanitarian grounds. It was the Supreme Court who allowed him to post bail.

Castillo’s parents strongly opposed Mhin Wei Chan’s move.

In a statement to ABS-CBN News, Horacio Castillo, Jr. and wife Minnie said the plea for release was “premature” as they believe the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, which oversees operations in the Manila City Jail, “is more than ready to address” the COVID-19 situation.

“Many options and safety nets are in place to safeguard the needs of all persons affected. There are facilities available for isolation if the need arises,” they said.

They added: “There is no need to release inmates. Setting them free could result to chaos rather than calm, to more injustice rather than justice and more harm than good.”

Atio died during the initiation rites of the Aegis Juris fraternity on September 17, 2017. Ten UST students are facing a hazing charge under Republic Act 8049, which carries a penalty of up to 40 years in prison if the hazing resulted in death.

In January this year, the same Manila court denied their bail plea after the court found sufficient evidence that all of them took part in hitting and punching Atio, among other acts, and that he died due to “severe blunt traumatic injuries” on “both upper limbs.”

In June 2019, another Manila court found one Aegis Juris fraternity member guilty of obstruction of justice after he lied about having found the law freshman’s body on a sidewalk. John Paul Solano, who brought Atio’s body to a hospital, was sentenced to up to 4 years, 2 months and 1 day in prison.