MANILA – Connecting the dots: that’s what Sen. Grace Poe sought to do Monday, at the resumption of the Senate hearing on the fatal hazing of Horatio “Atio” Castillo III. Citing the “connections” of the high-profile law office headed by lawyer Nilo Divina of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Civil Law, the senator said such may provide critical links in the case of the freshman UST law student who died early morning of Sept. 17, 2017.
At the hearing on the death of the Aegis Juris neophyte, Poe cited instances of the involvement of DivinaLaw, whose founder and managing partner is a member of the Aegis Juris fraternity — the fraternity that carried out the initiation rites on Castillo on Sept. 17.
Poe said the Pacific Star Building, which houses DivinaLaw, is owned by Century Properties, whose corporate secretary is a “senior partner” at DivinaLaw.
The senator revealed that Century Properties also owns Novotel Manila in Cubao, Quezon City where some Aegis Juris fratmen, including some elder brods, met in the afternoon of Sept. 17, hours after Castillo’s death.
Poe asked for footage of the closed-circuit television cameras at the Pacific Star building to check if Castillo had visited the law firm. On Sept. 12, Castillo texted his mother that he was at a law office just across Petron on Buendia Ave.
“The reason why I’m asking here is because there are just a few connections here that we need to seriously note,” said Poe, vice-chairperson of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs.
Committee chair Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the building owner is asking for a court order before the Senate committee secures CCTV footages, but the panel was able to obtain video recordings on Sept. 12 which showed Castillo inside the building.
“So I just want to make sure that they’re complying because their general counsel is DivinaLaw, again connected to this situation,” said Poe.
Shown footage of the building, Castillo’s parents confirmed to senators that their son was indeed the man wearing the blue jacket. “It looks very much like him… His mom bought that jacket. He was wearing black pants and black shoes. And also the hairstyle,” Castillo’s father, Horacio Jr., said.
Notwithstanding the CCTV footage, Divina said Castillo did not set foot at his law office and denied seeing him at Pacific Star. “One thing is for certain, he (Castillo) did not set foot in DivinaLaw. We installed 16 CCTVs in our office and it will clearly show that he did not set foot in DivinaLaw office,” said Divina, adding they submitted footages to the committee.
Poe however said that Castillo could have met with senior fraternity members in other areas of the building.
“Is there a possibility that he may not have set foot physically in your office but he may have met a few of your people within the building, maybe a cafeteria or any other common place? It’s not unlikely that DivinaLaw, maintaining an official lease in one particular space there, could also have another place where you meet in the building. Is there a possibility?” Poe asked Divina, to which he responded that he was “not so sure about that.”
Divina said there are about three law offices in Pacific Star building.
The UST law dean claimed that he had distanced himself from the fraternity, including its activities and meetings, telling Senate probers during previous hearings that he took a leave of absence some eight years ago and is not an active member anymore.
However, Poe expressed disbelief, citing connections of the fraternity and its activities with the UST dean.
“From what is clear here he said that he (Castillo) was going to a law office. It could be one of the three, not necessarily yours. All of the connections—Aegis Juris having strong ties with DivinaLaw; DivinaLaw maintaining the website for the school; DivinaLaw having a lot of support for the fraternity; you being the dean and him, mentioning that he is in a law office close to that building or within that building where you have your law firm,” said Poe.
Before that meeting took place, some 30 frat members exchanged messages on Facebook to discuss their next move, which the Manila Police District said was an attempt to cover up the criminal act.
Marc Anthony Ventura, frat member who participated in the initiation rites but turned state witness, also said he went to the Pacific Star building before the initiation rites, but not inside the DivinaLaw office. He said he met DivinaLaw members after he was accepted as member of the fraternity.
Poe also asked Aegis Juris member Eric Fuentes who was the “big brother” he was referring to in a chat message who gave instructions to “all brods especially the alumni” to show support to their fratmates by attending the Senate investigation.
Fuentes, however, said “big brother” is a generic term for former Aegis Juris presidents and elder brods. He denied it was Divina, saying they refer to him as “Dean Divina” or “Sir Divina.”
Pressed about the identity of big brother, Ventura named a certain “Atty. Bernardo” as the big brother.
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