A member of the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity who allegedly drove the vehicle carrying the remains of hazing victim and Adamson University student John Matthew Salilig was found dead in his house in Taguig City, the Philippine National Police said Friday.
The police withheld the identity of the fraternity member in consideration of his grieving family.
Meanwhile, three more persons of interest in the hazing death of chemical engineering student Salilig said they want to surrender, police in Laguna said Friday.
The police said they already have in their custody the green AUV (Asian Utility Vehicle) that was used to bring Salilig’s remains to Imus, Cavite, where he was buried in a shallow grave.
“He was part of the group, an alumni. He’s not currently enrolled. He drove the AUV. Unfortunately, we did not get to him when he was still alive,” said police Lt. Col. Virgilio Jopia of Binan-PNP in a television interview.
In another TV interview, Laguna Provincial Police Director Col. Randy Silvio said the three persons of interest asked about the procedures for surrendering.
They were told to proceed to the Biñan City Police or to the nearest police station and they would be escorted to Biñan City Police, Silvio said.
At least 10 persons of interest are still at large. Seven are already in police custody, six of whom have already been charged with violating the Anti-Hazing Law.
Police said they already have the addresses of the remaining persons of interest.
The battered and decomposing body of Salilig, 24, was found in a shallow grave in Imus, Cavite on Tuesday, 10 days after he was first reported missing.
Police earlier found a vehicle used to transport Tau Gamma Phi fraternity members involved in the hazing. It was found in the house of the parents of one of the suspects, Aaron Cruz, in Parañaque City.
Police said Salilig sat on the passenger side of the SUV when the suspects noticed that he was already dead and transferred him to the compartment of a second vehicle.
One suspect told the police the location of the paddle that was used to beat Salilig.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday dismissed the complaint for obstruction of justice against the father of a person of interest.
Justice Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano said the complaint against the father was dismissed for lack of probable cause with reasonable certainty of conviction.
“I haven’t read the resolution myself… all I know is that the resolution was for dismissal. It did not reach the level of probable cause with reasonable certainty of conviction,” he said.
The DOJ has recently raised the standard of evidence provided in cases with Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla ordering prosecutors to recommend the withdrawal of pending criminal cases that have no reasonable certainty of conviction in first-level courts.
Clavano said the father will be released immediately.
On Thursday, the Biñan City Police filed a complaint against the father for obstruction of justice and a complaint for violation of the Anti-Hazing Law against six people linked to Salilig’s death.
Clavano said seven have already surrendered out of the 15 persons of interest in the case, including the alleged master initiator who surfaced on Thursday.
“We appeal to our schools, school authorities, the barangay officials to cooperate in the probe [and the] hunt for the rest of the respondents who have been identified already,” Clavano said.
The DOJ, meanwhile, also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe the circumstances surrounding the death of University of Cebu marine engineering student Ronnel M. Baguio, who also died after undergoing hazing by members of the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity on Dec. 19, 2022.
Baguio’s mother appealed last January to the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) for legal assistance in the prosecution of those responsible for her son’s death.
Justice Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano on Friday said Remulla ordered the investigation of Baguio’s death.
Remulla had earlier ordered the NBI to conduct a parallel probe into the death of Salilig, who also underwent hazing by members of the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity.
The PAO announced that it had granted the request of the families of Salilig and Baguio for legal assistance.
PAO Chief Persida V. Rueda-Acosta said that her office is preparing the criminal complaint against an instructor of the University of Cebu, who is also a member of the fraternity. She did not identify the university instructor.
Batting for more stiff penalties for hazing, Acosta said violent initiation rites could cause the death of a person and should not be treated as a case of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
“The victim would die after being hit repeatedly in various parts of the body. Isn’t it intentional? That is deliberately done,” she said.
Acosta said hazing-related deaths must be punishable by life imprisonment.
“When a hazing suspect loses in the case, he would file a plea before the Court of Appeals and even before the Supreme Court. By then, the case is reduced to a lighter offense,” she said, adding that the Anti-Hazing Law should be amended to include the school administrator and other school officials in criminal liability.
“We need to put more teeth into the law if we are really dead serious about stopping hazing,” Acosta added.
Meanwhile, opposition senators renewed their call to stop the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) bill following the fatal hazing of Salilig.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said the bill making ROTC mandatory should be scrapped.
ROTC should be optional, he said, and offered to those who are “militarily inclined” or those interested in military matters.
Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros, who strongly objected to the ROTC bill, said she has been consistently calling for reconsidering moves to revive the mandatory ROTC program.
“Now, that call is even clearer,” said Hontiveros.
She recalled that the murder of Mark Welson Chua after he exposed corruption and extortion in the ROTC program was the reason it was shut down decades ago. “Until now, justice has not been fully served to the family,” she said.
Hontiveros said there is no compelling justification to revive the mandatory ROTC program.
Instead, she said, the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education should focus on actively making campuses safe spaces and exert zero-tolerance of savage practices like hazing, to protect students from all forms of violence and unnecessary, preventable deaths.
Also, in times of economic and education crises, spending billions of pesos on ROTC is a waste of precious taxpayers’ money, she said. The government spending should go instead to programs that address learning poverty and gaps in literacy.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who supports mandatory ROTC, branded as “desperate and pathetic” efforts to defeat the bill from an “anti-ROTC leftist group.”
“What is the connection? The victim died because of fraternity hazing and not of ROTC training,” he said.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the death of Salilig that was caused by hazing was perpetuated by individuals who have absolutely no respect for the rule of law.
He pointed out that the goal of ROTC, on the other hand, is to inculcate discipline and good citizenship among the youth.
“It is precisely incidents like these that ROTC intends to eliminate by molding our youth to respect our country and one another,” he said.
Senator Nancy Binay said fraternity-related deaths have not stopped and that the implementation of the Anti-Hazing Law has been wanting.
“We must see to it that our laws can protect our children who engage in activities that supposedly espouse good citizenship and fellowship,” she added.
She noted that hazing victims must see justice to avert breeding a wider culture of impunity against young people.