THE Justice department has ordered the release from detention of the principal suspect in the hazing death of University of Sto. Tomas law student Horacio Castillo III, saying there was not enough basis to detain him.
In its resolution, the Justice department ordered the Manila Police District to immediately release Aegis Juris member John Paul Solano, saying that the criminal charges against him were not yet resolved.
Solano had surrendered to the MPD on Sept. 22, after being tagged as a primary suspect in Castillo’s death.
“The release of the respondent would not mean he is already off the hook. The preliminary investigation that would be conducted would only mean that he would have the opportunity or chance to file his answer,” said acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr.
The Justice department ruled that the charges against Solano and 17 others should be heard and resolved in a preliminary investigation and not through an inquest hearing.
The panel led by Asst. State Prosecutor Susan Villanueva then set the hearings for Oct. 4 and 9.
Solano was charged with murder, violations of The Anti-Hazing Law, perjury, obstruction of justice and robbery in a complaint filed by the MPD.
Another primary suspect who reportedly fled to Chicago a couple of days after the incident, Ralph Trangia, was also slapped with the same set of charges.
Fifteen other respondents were also listed in the charge sheet for the same charges—Trangia’s father Antonio, Arvin Balag, Mhin Wei Chan, Ranie Rafael Santiago, Oliver John Audrey Onofre, Jason Adolfo Robiños, Danielle Hans Matthew Rodrigo, Karl Mathew Villanueva, Joshua Joriel Macabali, Axel Munro Hipe, Marc Anthony Ventura, Aeron Salientes, Marcelino Bagtang, Zimon Padro and Jose Miguel Salamat.
Trangia’s mother Rosemarie was also included in the complaint for obstruction of justice. She accompanied her son to the US.
Solano was brought to the DoJ Monday for inquest proceedings.
But his lawyer Paterno Esmaquel, founding member of their fraternity, has questioned the inquest proceedings, arguing that his client voluntarily surrendered and was not arrested through warrantless arrest by police.
Esmaquel said his client’s continued detention would be in violation of Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code.
Meanwhile, Esmaquel said Solano has rejected the government’s offer to be placed under the Witness Protection Program and be given legislative immunity.
The lawyer said such offers were unnecessary because his client is innocent of the charges.
“He will tell everything in his sworn statement to give justice on the death of Atio even without any immunity,” Esmaquel said in a text message, referring to Castillo by his nickname.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II immediately denied offering WPP coverage to Solano.
“We have no offer to him,” Aguirre said, in a text message.
Solano was the one who took Castillo, who suffered a heart attack due to injuries sustained during hazing, to the Chinese General Hospital.
Castillo’s mother Carmina, however, said they were open to Solano becoming a state witness so he could disclose all that he knew about the death of their son.
On Tuesday, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said Solano revealed to the senators in a closed session what he knew about Castillo’s death.
Zubiri said Solano gave them at least six names of people involved in the hazing death.
Carmina also urged anyone with information that could help solve the case to come forward.
“Please help us find justice for my son, Atio. In order to have closure… so that hazing will not be done anymore,” Carmina said in a mix of Filipino and English.
On Monday, the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs conducted a hearing on Castillo’s death.
Solano was supposed to tell all during the hearing, but the filing of criminal complaints against him prevented him from doing so.
During the hearing, Solano invoked his right to remain silent when asked certain questions about the involvement of Aegis Juris fraternity members in Castillo’s death.
Solano surrendered to Senator Panfilo Lacson last Friday after he was named as principal suspect in the hazing death of the freshman law student.
Solano first claimed to have found Castillo “half dead” and “unconscious” at the corner of H. Lopez Boulevard and Infanta Street in Balut, Tondo but police investigators later on discovered that he gave a “false statement.”
Solano also claimed that members of the Aegis Juris fraternity told him to give the false testimony on the death of Castillo.
Castillo died after attending the “welcoming rites” of the Aegis Juris fraternity based in the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law on Sept. 16.
The victim’s family learned about the incident in the morning of Sept. 17, when Carmina received an anonymous text message saying that her son had been brought to the Chinese General Hospital.