MANILA - The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered a Makati City trial court to proceed with the trial of 5 members of the Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity in connection with the alleged fatal hazing of College of Saint Benilde sophomore student Guillo Cesar Servando in June 2014.
In a 25-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier, the appellate court’s Special Fifth Division nullified orders issued by Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Presiding Judge Honorio Guanlao on December 22, 2015 and February 19, 2016 dismissing the case for violation of the Anti-Hazing Law against Daniel Paul Martin Bautista, Vic Angelo Dy, Michael David Castañeda, Francisco Joel Villegas, and Justin Francis Reyes.
Eighteen-year-old Servando, along with 3 other Tau Gamma neophytes, underwent initiation rites on June 26, 2014 in a house in Barangay Palanan, Makati City. CCTV footage showed he was later escorted into a condominium, still alive but barely conscious, and eventually collapsing on the hallway.
The lower court dismissed the case citing the accused’s right to speedy trial after the prosecution failed to present its witnesses on scheduled dates during the pre-trial.
In its ruling, the appellate court stressed, “While courts recognize the accused’s right to speedy trial and adheres to a policy of speedy administration of justice, the State may not be deprived of a reasonable opportunity to fairly prosecute criminals.”
“The Supreme Court has invariably held that delay per se does not offend one’s right to speedy trial. It is the unjustified delay which does,” it added.
Records of the case bare 8 prosecution witnesses failed to appear on the first hearing on December 10, 2015, and again 5 days after or on December 15, 2015.
On the third scheduled hearing, on December 17, the prosecution learned the defense’s motion to dismiss was granted.
“How can there be denial of private respondents’ right to speedy trial when we only speak of no more than seven days of supposed delay and when the witnesses concerned were not even shown to have received the earlier notices to explain sent out to them by the trial court?” the CA pointed out.
At least 31 reported hazing deaths have been recorded in the Philippines since 1954, when the first hazing victim was reported and became publicly known.
Gonzalo Albert, a student of the University of the Philippines and a neophyte of the Upsilon Sigma fraternity, was the first reported hazing victim in the country. The latest victim was Horacio Castillo III, a neophyte of the University of Sto. Tomas’ Aegis Jvris fraternity, who died in 2017.