WATCH | DOJ orders Solano freed temporarily, sets Oct. 4 preliminary investigation on Atio’s fatal hazing

September 27, 2017 - 6:57 PM
John Paul Solano
John Paul Solano, tagged as a principal suspect in the hazing death of University of Santo Tomas law freshman Horatio Castillo, at the Senate inquiry on Sept. 25. PHOTO BY MONG PINTOLO, PHIL. STAR

MANILA – The Department of Justice has ordered the release from detention of John Paul Solano, the only suspect in the fatal hazing of UST law student Tomas Horacio Castillo who is in custody, but ordered him to attend the preliminary investigation set Oct. 4 at the Department of Justice.

Solano, who surrendered to authorities on Sept. 22, is not yet off the hook despite his release, Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Galvez Catalan stressed to reporters on Wednesday.

Solano is facing charges of murder, violation of the anti-hazing law (RA 8049), perjury, obstruction of justice and robbery. Thirteen other members of the Aegis Juris fraternity, and the father of one member, have also been charged by the Manila police.

In its resolution ordering Solano’s release, the DOJ upheld the view of Solano’s lawyer, Paterno Esmaquel, that Solano was entitled to a regular preliminary investigation and not an inquest proceeding, as he was not arrested and had voluntarily gone to the authorities when he learned he was considered a “person of interest” in Castillo’s Sept. 17 hazing.

“Inquest investigation is an informal and summary investigation conducted by public prosecutors in criminal cases involving persons arrested and detained without benefit of a warrant of arrest by the court for the purpose of determining whether or not said persons should remain under custody and correspondingly be charged in court,” the resolution said, citing the 2008 Revised Manual for Prosecutors.

In Solano’s case, the resolution noted, Solano had presented himself to authorities through the office of Sen. Panfilo Lacson. And, added the resolution, “at the time police authorities were looking for respondent, he was not then considered a suspect but a person in interest.”

At the Senate hearing last Monday evening (Sept. 25), some senators had discussed the legal complications in the handling of Solano’s case, mainly because of two issues: one, solano should not be subjected by DOJ to an inquest but a preliminary investigation, since he was not arrested and had yielded himself to Manila police through the office of Sen. Panfilo Lacson. Two, Solano should not be charged with both murder and violation of the anti-hazing law, the latter being a special law and murder being in the Revised Penal Code. He cannot be charged with a complex crime.

As DOJ announced its decision to let Solano go free for the meantime while investigation proceeds, Castillo was being laid to rest at the Manila Memorial Park. Castillo, 22, had attended what he thought was simply a “welcome ceremony” for neophytes of the Aegis Juris fraternity, but was badly beaten up, with blows in the upper body believed to have triggered a heart attack.

Solano, a medical technologist who enrolled in law at UST but was on student leave, was called in by the fraternity members when Castillo became unresponsive. Solano claimed he tried to revive Castillo and had simply followed the group that brought the student to the Chinese General Hospital.

Manila police: no copy of release order yet

The Manila Police District (MPD) said it had not yet received a copy of Solano’s release order, but vowed to comply with it.

It stressed that the temporary release of Solano did not mean that the case filed against him was weak, or that there was an error in the inquest proceeding last Monday.

According to MPD, it is the court’s discretion to order a detainee’s release, and they are ready to comply.

Meanwhile, the MPD is treating the Aegis Juris fraternity library as a crime scene, as probers believe the fatal hazing happened there and that the place – padlocked by fraternity leaders since right after Castillo was brought to hospital – could hold crucial evidence.

It was unclear, however, why they were still unable to get a search warrant for the place more than a week since the case broke.

Besides Solano, facing charges are: Ralph Trangia and his father Antonio, whose vehicle was used to bring Castillo’s body to the hospital; Arvin Balag, Mhin Wei Chen, Ranie Rafael Santiago, Oliver John Onofre, Jason Robinos, Daniel Rodrigo, Karl Matthew Villanueva, Aeron Salientes, Marcelino Bagtang and Zimon Pedro.