By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The death due to hazing of 22-year-old Horacio “Atio” Castillo III shocked the public once more. Castillo died while undergoing hazing by his ‘brothers’ from the Aegis Juris fraternity of the University of Sto. Tomas law school.
The public discussion that Castillo’s death generated is comparable to that of Leonardo “Lenny” Villa who died in the hands of his ‘brothers’ from another law school fraternity the Aquila Legis of Ateneo de Manila University in 1991. Villa’s death was the reason why Congress passed the Anti-Hazing law of 1995.
Now, because of Castillo’s death, the Senate is conducting hearings with the end in view of amending the Anti-Hazing law of 1995 and imposing stiffer penalties for violators.
Why did Castillo’s death generate so much news?
First, it was because of the recent senseless killings of youth in their prime. Castillo’s death followed that of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos, 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman. Even if the circumstances of Castillo’s death are different –Santos, Arnaiz, and De Guzman were killed by policemen doing anti-drug operations – the senselessness of it all is much the same.
Second, because of the attempts at covering up the killing by a supposed Good Samaritan who purportedly found Castillo lying on a sidewalk, wrapped in a blanket. The supposed Good Samaritan John Paul Solano turned out to be a member of the fraternity that subjected Castillo to hazing, which resulted in his death.
Third, because the members of Aegis Juris fraternity who caused the death of Castillo have continued to elude authorities, allegedly with the assistance of senior members of the fraternity, who obviously have connections. Otherwise, how could the suspects continue to elude authorities in the capital where there are not too many places to hide, especially if the police would conduct a thorough search and investigation.
Sadly, these are the very same reasons why fraternities continue to attract recruits despite its long history of violence against its neophytes, with 37 reported deaths due to hazing, and against rival fraternities. “Brothers” would supposedly protect a member by inflicting violence on others who offended the member, and cover up for him, in case he gets into trouble. The code of silence of fraternities – perhaps derived from the omertá of the Italian mafia, which places importance on silence and non-cooperation with authorities – is meant to cover up for a member or the organization’s wrongdoing. This warped code of honor is supposedly a measure of a member’s loyalty to the brotherhood or to the gang. Snitches are at the minimum, ostracized, and worse, killed.
Acquiring connections with people from high places is another reason why fraternities still attract recruits. Fraternities boast of their prominent alumni. And once a “brother,” one is a “brother” forever. Members of the brotherhood are supposed to look after the interests of one another.
This is why fraternities are very popular among law students. A fledgling lawyer could use a lot of help from “brothers” in big law firms, for jobs, in the judiciary, for favorable decisions in the cases they handle, in Congress, for the laws they are lobbying for or against, and in government, for contracts, franchises, and the like.
This system of fraternities is one of the factors that perpetuate the kind of politics the country has: violent, with a propensity for cover up, and heavy on patronage.
Why? Because they start to train future politicians and members of the judiciary – on the kind of politics that we have – while they are still young, in law school.
Will justice be attained for Horacio Castillo III?
In the Lenny Villa case, 26 were convicted of homicide by the Caloocan court in 1993. Nineteen were subsequently acquitted by the Court of Appeals in 2002, which also affirmed the homicide conviction of two of the accused, and found four of the accused guilty of slight physical injuries. In 2012, the Supreme Court set aside the homicide conviction of one of the accused and found him guilty, instead, of reckless imprudence resulting to homicide (the other also convicted of homicide died the year before); it found the four other accused, who were convicted of slight physical injuries by the Appellate Court, guilty of reckless imprudence resulting to homicide. The High Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Court acquitting the 19. All of the convicted were released that year.
Since its enactment in 1995, there has been only one conviction under the anti-hazing law. This, despite the fact that there were 22 reported hazing deaths after 1995.
With the slow grind of justice in this country and the prevailing patronage politics, the question of attaining justice for Horacio Castillo’s death depends a lot on how the wheel of political fortune would turn for or against the Castillo family.