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When lawyers hide misdeeds

opinion / Editorial
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Editorial

When lawyers hide misdeeds

/ 05:32 AM October 20, 2017

The hours-long hearing on Wednesday of the Senate committee on public order inquiring into the hazing death of 22-year-old Horacio Castillo III was an ordeal to watch, in part because the tragedy was again discussed in detail but mostly because the unethical conduct, inhumane attitude and naked self-interest of lawyers and law students that led to the hazing death in the first place were laid bare for all to see.

No wonder our legal system suffers from such conflicting reputations: The legal profession continues to enjoy great prestige and influence, while the administration of justice remains mired in a losing struggle to give every person their due. If the conduct of the Aegis Juris fraternity members
present at the hearing are a reasonable gauge,
we can only conclude that there are many lawyers and law students who are not dedicated to the rule of law itself, but only to those benefits that accrue to a calculating practice of the law: power, privilege, personal survival.

Perhaps the most infuriating moment of the hearing was when the alleged leader of Aegis Juris, law student Arvin Balag, declined to even state his position in the frat for the record. (This was part of a pattern where he, like some of the other frat members at the hearing, invoked the right against self-incrimination.) His first explanation was
that “being charged with the violation of the Anti-Hazing Law, [membership was] one of the elements” of the crime. Because he was identified in documents as “Grand Praefectus” and in executive-session testimony as the man who gave the instructions on what to do with Castillo’s body, Balag’s refusal to give a direct answer was immediately suspect. His second explanation was that he was no longer a student at the University of Santo Tomas, where Aegis Juris is based, but at the Lyceum College of Law. This admission did not help him, because there was no proof that in that capacity he could not have presided over the hazing ritual. The senators were right to be irked by Balag’s noncooperation even on such basic questions, and to cite him for contempt.

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But there were other horrors in that hearing. Seven fraternity members—including Balag; Oliver Onofre, who summoned frat member John Paul Solano to the site of the hazing after Castillo collapsed; and Ralph Trangia, who was one of those who brought Castillo to the Chinese General Hospital—declined to take part in a DNA examination to establish who was at the hazing site, again invoking the right against self-incrimination.

Even more horrifying: The content of an extended conversation in a Facebook chat group involving some 30 frat members, released by Chief Supt. Joel Coronel, proved that there was a resolve to obstruct justice. “If you review the messages, it would appear that they intend to cover up the incident, contrary to their announcement on Sept. 19 that they were willing to face investigation and to support authorities in the conduct of the investigation,” Coronel said.

The conversation is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with Philippine society: There is a suggestion that the fraternity reach an accommodation, or “areglo,” with Castillo’s family (who had not yet heard the tragic news at the time of the conversation). There is the series of instructions to clean up the hazing site or destroy evidence, including CCTV footage, to avoid the legal consequences. There is the repeated assertion to stand together and help each other, in a misguided appeal to group loyalty rather than to the interests of justice. There is the appeal to sentiment, warning about the consequences of the incident on the careers of new or would-be lawyers. There is the political reading of the legal landscape, asserting that Castillo’s family was wealthy and connected and that the frat must adjust accordingly. Not least, there is the invocation of a fraternity principle, “Do no injustice, suffer no injustice,” followed
by: “Bro, aksidente ang nangyari, wala tayong
ginawang injustice (Bro, it was an accident, we did not commit any injustice)”—an astonishing denial of plain reality.

When these are all proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the lawyers involved must be disbarred, the law students disqualified, the guilty placed behind bars.

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TAGS: hazing death, hearing, Horacio Castillo III, Senate committee
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