JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Friday vowed to take action against those who released the contents of the sworn statement of Marc Anthony Ventura, the Aegis Juris member who turned state witness to testify against his fraternity brothers in the hazing death of law student Horacio Castillo III.
“Any copy of the sworn statement obtained by anyone and released publicly is a clear violation of the law and will be dealt with accordingly,” Aguirre warned in a statement.
On Wednesday, Ventura signed an agreement with the Justice Department to be placed under the Witness Protection Program after giving a sworn statement detailing the ordeal suffered by Castillo at the hands of his fraternity brothers in Aegis Juris.
“Under Section 7 of Republic Act No. 6981, an Act Providing For A Witness Protection, Security Program And For Other Purposes, no information or documents given or submitted in support of an application for admission to the WPP shall be released except upon written order of the department or the proper court,” Aguirre said.
“As of this statement, the Office of the Secretary of the DOJ has not issued any written order authorizing the release of any copy of the sworn statement of Marc Anthony B. Ventura, which he submitted to the Witness Protection Program,” Aguirre said.
On Wednesday, Aguirre announced at a press conference that Ventura had approached him to become a state witness in the hazing case. The DoJ is currently conducting a preliminary investigation over the criminal complaints against those believed involved in the hazing.
Aguirre provided some details of Ventura’s account of the initiation rites held at the Aegis Juris library on Sept. 17, which led to the death of the University of Santo Tomas law student.
He also assured the media that he would provide copies of Ventura’s sworn statement.
“In due time, we will give you a copy of the affidavits. But let’s wait until it’s final and he’s in permanent coverage of the WPP,” Aguirre told reporters who asked for a copy of the document.
Though no copies were released, several media organizations have reported the contents of Ventura’s sworn statement based on leaked copies.
Nilo Divina, dean at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law, on Friday urged his fraternity brothers to tell the truth regarding the fatal hazing of Castillo, and welcomed the testimony of Ventura, calling it “a most welcome development.”
“I trust that Mr. Ventura tell the whole truth in the spirit of remorse. I hope that others will follow suit,” Divina said in a statement.
Divina also commended Aguirre for his “relentless efforts to reach out to possible witnesses” by offering them protection through the Witness Protection Program.
“This only shows his commitment to ferret out the truth and bring to justice those who may be responsible,” Divina said.
Divina is one of the respondents in the criminal complaints now undergoing preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice.
Divina, as well as 64 others, were placed on the DoJ’s immigration lookout bulletin in connection with Castillo’s death.
Divina said his inclusion in the lookout bulletin was “an unfortunate but not entirely unexpected development” even as he maintained his innocence of the charges filed against him by Castillo’s parents.
Meanwhile, a report from ABS-CBN said members of the Aegis Juris argued among themselves instead of rushing Castillo to the hospital.
Apparently quoting from Ventura’s affidavit, ABS-CBN said member Robin Ramos urged his fraternity brothers to bring Castillo to the hospital when he fell unconscious and proved unresponsive to stimuli such as candle wax drippings on his feet.
But Aegis Juris president Arvin Balag allegedly rejected suggestions to bring Castillo to a hospital and told members to give him time to rest.
Ventura said Balag was worried that those who would bring Castillo to hospital would be detained.
After arguing some more, Balag gave in and agreed to have Castillo taken to hospital.
The Aegis Juris members then carried Castillo to a red pickup truck owned by Ralph Trangia and driven by Balag’s driver, the report said.
However, Balag later said he was able to talk to someone and instructed Aegis Juris members to bring Castillo back inside the frat library.
Ventura said Axel Hipe, whom he identified as “Master Initiator,” gave Castillo CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but Castillo vomited.
John Paul Solano, who arrived after Castillo was brought back inside the frat library, allegedly repeated the resuscitation attempt.
Ventura said Solano instructed the group to massage Castillo’s limbs.
At around this time, Solano told the group Castillo’s pulse was already borderline.
Ventura said it was Solano who suggested that Castillo be taken to the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center.
However, Castillo was brought to the Chinese General Hospital instead. Solano told emergency room staff he merely found him at a sidewalk in Tondo and did not know him personally.
Solano would later retract this statement.
Apart from those earlier charged, Ventura named nine other frat men who were present during “final rites.”
He said they prayed for “guidance and safety” before the “final rites” began.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said details of Castillo’s hazing were shocking, even for those who had gone through a similar ordeal when they joined a fraternity.
“I can only imagine the mixed feelings of relief and agony that the victim’s parents are going through right now—how they hate to hear what they have wanted to know,” said Lacson, chairman of the Senate public order committee, which is investigating Castillo’s death.
Lacson said he believed Ventura’s testimony was credible.
“In any criminal investigation and trial, the details of the truth always add up to the credibility of a testimony. Ventura’s narration of events that led to Atio’s hazing to death has provided exactly that,” the senator said, referring to Castillo by his nickname.
The senator said his committee seeks to strengthen the Anti-Hazing Law to avoid similar incidents.
His remarks came after Ventura tagged 23 individuals present at Castillo’s initiation rites.
But Lacson said: “It’s still a long way to go before justice is finally served.”