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Justice for a young man cut down in his prime

THE death of a neophyte of the Aegis Juris law fraternity of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) – Horacio Castillo III – is, on its face, a legal case that will ultimately be decided by the courts.

The first recorded hazing fatality in the country was Gonzalo Mariano Albert of the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1954. Thirty-seven more hazing deaths were reported in succeeding years in various schools all over the country – at the UP Diliman, the Philippine Merchant Marine Institute, Cavite Naval Training Center, Pamantasan ng Araullo, San Beda College, University of the Visayas, Ateneo de Manila, Holy Angel Academy, Philippine Military Academy, Far Eastern University Laguna campus, Philippine National Police Academy, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa, UP Los Baños, Central Luzon State University, Palawan State University, Enverga University, University of Iloilo, University of Makati, De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, Western Mindanao State University, and now UST.

The death of Lenny Villa of the Ateneo de Manila in 1991 caused such a public uproar and Congress enacted the Anti-Hazing Law in 1995, providing for a sentence of life imprisonment if the hazing results in death, rape, or mutilation. Twenty-six fraternity members were convicted of homicide in the Villa case but their convictions were overturned on appeal.

It was only in 2015, 20 years after the law was passed in 1995, that the Supreme Court reached a final decision on a hazing case – conviction of two fraternity men for the death of a UPLB student. They were found guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, with the penalty of imprisonment of four months to four years and P1 million in damages.

In the face of so many continuing hazing deaths in the country, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian have filed bills seeking stiffer penalties for hazing. Sotto’s bill calls for a maximum penalty of 20 to 40 years imprisonment, while Gatchalian’s bill widens the scope of liabilities and requires schools to play a central role in hazing prevention.

Pending the enactment of stiffer penalties, the case of young Castillo will now go through the police, prosecution, and court processes.

The case has drawn more than the usual share of public attention and sympathy because of the circumstances – grieving parents, a father openly weeping, a mother asking to talk to the fraternity member who brought her son to the hospital, to ask how he died. And then there is that Facebook photo of Horacio’s pet dog looking forlornly at his body at the Santuario de San Antonio in Makati.

It may take years – as in the Lenny Villa case – before there can be closure in the Castillo case. Today we can only share in the public indignation and outcry over a young man’s death and ask that the government see to it that justice – no matter how long it takes – is done.