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SC clears two suspects in 2014 hazing death

The Supreme Court (SC) has exonerated two alleged Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity members who have been convicted to a maximum of 40 years in jail in 2014 for the death of an 18-year-old college student during a reported hazing activity in Cavite in 2009.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, the SC resolved to acquit and ordered the release from detention of petitioners Carlos Paulo Bartolme and Josel Bandalan, unless they are being held for some other lawful cause.

The SC granted the petition for review filed by Bartolome and Bandalan and reversed the 2014 regional trial court (RTC) and 2016 Court of Appeals decisions.

“After a careful review of the case and the body of evidence adduced before the RTC, the Court is not convinced that petitioners are guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of hazing. Thus, the Court resolves to reverse the appealed decision and acquit petitioners,” the high court ruled.

“Wherefore, the petition is granted. The decision dated August 30, 2016 and the Resolution dated October 26, 2016 of the Court of Appeals . . . is hereby reversed and set aside. Accordingly, petitioners Carlos Paulo Bartolome y Ilagan and Joel Bandalan y Abordo are acquitted for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Section 4(a) of Republic Act No. 8049,” the SC decision stated.

The SC ordered the Bureau of Corrections to immediately cause the release of petitioners from detention, unless they are being held for some other lawful cause, and to inform the court of his action within five days from receipt of this Decision.

Bartolome and Bandalan were criminally indicted for the death of John Daniel Samparada on Oct. 22, 2009.

Bartolome and Bandalan were indicted after the Department of Justice found probable cause to hold them criminally liable for “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously conduct initiation rites and practice, and subjected neophyte Samparada to physical suffering while undergoing said initiation rites or practice… that led to the untimely death of Samparada.”

They were charged with and convicted of violation of Section 4 (a) of Republic Act No. 8049, the Act Regulating Hazing and Other Forms of lnitiation Rites in Fraternities, Sororities, and Organizations.

The case arose when the Silang town police in Cavite received a call from the Estrella Hospital that a victim of hazing was brought to their hospital.

During the investigation, the police learned that Samparada was a college student of the Lyceum of the Philippines in Cavite. Samparada was brought to the hospital by Bartolome and Bandalan and another unidentified person.

The police recovered from Bartolome and Bandalan a document which bore the name of Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, markings connected with the organization, and the handwritten name of Bartolome, so it concluded that they were members of Tau Gamma Phi.

Bartolome and Bandalan said they were in the house of a certain Ivan Marquez on Oct. 22, 2009 for a night of swimming. There Marquez introduced Samparada to them. Then, they said, they left Marquez’ house to buy provisions.

They said that when they returned to Marquez’s house, Samparada suddenly fell to the floor, hit his head on the pavement, and complained of difficulty in breathing. They said they brought Samparada to the hospital.

At the police station, they claimed the police forced them to admit their participation in the infliction of injuries that caused Samparada’s death.

After trial, the RTC convicted them for violation of Section 4(a) of RA 8049 which states that “if the person subjected to hazing or other forms of initiation rites suffers any physical injury and dies,” the penalty of reclusion perpetua (a jail term ranging from 20 to 40 years) will be imposed.

The appellate court upheld the conviction of Bartolome and Bandalan on circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution. Aggrieved with the decision, the accused elevated the case to the SC which granted their petition.

“Regrettably, there is a dearth of evidence to establish that Samparada applied for membership into or was recruited by Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, and that as a prerequisite for his admission, Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, through petitioners, subjected him ‘to some embarrassing or humiliating situations such as forcing him to do menial, silly, foolish and either similar tasks or activities’ or otherwise ‘to physical or psychological suffering or injury. Simply put, the failure of the prosecution to prove that Samparada was a recruit, neophyte, or applicant of Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity prevents the Court from concluding that the injuries he sustained were due to the fraternity’s hazing-related activities,” the SC stressed.

The SC pointed out that the mere presence of petitioners “at the time Samparada fell unconscious in the house of Ivan as well as their subsequent act of accompanying Samparada to the hospital fall short of proving that they, to the exclusion of all others, are the persons responsible for the injuries sustained by Samparada,” the SC said.

“In sum, the circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution has failed to establish the elements of hazing and to produce an unbroken chain that leads to one fair and reasonable conclusion pointing to petitioners, to the exclusion of others, as the persons liable for the death of Samparada. Hence, petitioners’ conviction for violation of RA 8049 based on circumstantial evidence cannot be upheld,” the high court held.

The SC reminded the prosecution that it their primordial duty “to present its side with clarity and persuasion so that conviction becomes the only logical and inevitable conclusion.”

Topics: Supreme Court , SC , Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity , 2014 hazing death , Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting , Carlos Paulo Bartolme , Josel Bandalan
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