A Manila City court on Monday convicted John Paul Solano, a member of the Aegis Juris Fraternity, of obstruction of justice when he gave false information to mislead the police to prevent them from arresting those responsible for the hazing death of Atio Castillo.
The Manila City Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 14, sentenced Solano to two to four years in prison, but at the same time acquitted him of perjury.
It was Solano who brought an unconscious Castillo from the frat library to the Chinese General Hospital, where the 22-year-old law student was declared dead on arrival, on Sept. 17, 2017.
Solano initially told police that he found Castillo lying on the road and covered with a blanket.
During the investigation, Solano told the Department of Justice that Arvin Balag, another fraternity member, instructed him to say he found Castillo in Tondo—a story he said he stuck to out of pressure and fear. He repeated this claim in court.
In its 27-page decision, the court ruled that “it is clear that [Solano] gave false and fabricated information to mislead the police or prevent them from apprehending those responsible for the death of Castillo.”
The court also noted that Solano also failed to convince the court that he lied to the police without any intention to mislead them, because of fear of being implicated in the crime, and under Balag’s orders.
“Nothing would prevent him from refusing to follow the supposed instructions or get lost in the hospital or from speaking the truth to the police officers who arrived to investigate,” the court said.
The court said Solano’s fear of being implicated in Castillo’s death was “speculative.” “Thus, his defense that he acted under the impulse of uncontrollable fear for his life or limb has no leg to stand on.”
Nonetheless, the court absolved Solano of perjury upon finding inconsistencies in the accounts of the police officers who signed his judicial affidavit.
The Manila City court said it “entertains reasonable doubt” that Solano took an oath before Police Senior Inspector Rommel Anicete, the officer who supposedly administered it. That a statement is made under oath is one of the four elements of the crime of perjury.
“Consequently, that part of the first element of the offense that the accused made a statement under oath was not proven beyond reasonable doubt,” the court said.
Ten other Aegis Juris members face hazing charges before the Manila Regional Trial Court, which is still hearing their petition to be allowed to post bail. They have been detained at the city jail since May 2018.
“We have a first conviction, obstruction. At least it shows what we said was true, it was proved that they were guilty of obstruction. They concealed [what happened to our son],” said Castillo’s mother, Carminia, in a mix of English and Filipino.
Carminia and her husband, Horacio Jr., said they intend to file more cases against other fraternity men, including those in the group chat where they supposedly discussed covering up the crime.
They also criticized the University of Santo Tomas for being silent on the case.