Sen. Panfilo Lacson supports the plan of the Manila Police District (MPD) to use entries in the group chat of Aegis Juris Fraternity members as electronic evidence in the charges to be filed against several fratmen tagged behind the hazing death of freshman law student Horacio Castillo 3rd.
Lacson also hinted that one of the members of the fraternity who joined the group chat may have leaked its contents.
“Iyan ang tinutumbok ng MPD ngayon, na magamit as electronic evidence (That is what the MPD is intending to do now, to use the group chat as electronic evidence),” he said in a radio interview.
The senator advised the MPD to coordinate with the relevant telecommunications firm as well as Facebook in order to authenticate the contents of the group chat and verify the identities of the persons who participated in the chat.
Asked if the MPD would need the consent of a chat participant to use its contents as evidence, Lacson replied that the MPD would have to determine first whether the participants had reasonable expectations of privacy when they communicated through the cited medium.
The senator, however, sees no problem in this regard as he said privacy cannot be reasonably expected from chatting through Facebook which is “open to the public.”
“In this case, ano ine-expect nila eh FB ‘yan [what are they expecting from Facebook]? Open ‘yan sa publiko [That is open to the public], maski sabihin nila na group chat lang namin ito [even if they say that it is their exclusive group chat],” Lacson said.
He added that one of his staff was able to gain access to the group chat and took this to mean that an outsider may have been included as a participant.
The contents of the group chat were divulged by Senior Supt. Joel Napoleon Coronel of the MPD during his October 18 testimony before a Senate panel probing the hazing death of Castillo.
Coronel said, “We are in receipt of several information particularly social media communication or exchanges of information which we believe to have been published or reported and communicated by members of this fraternity members pertaining to the incident of hazing of Atio Castillo.”
“It was indicated that several fraternity members, not only residents but also alumni, were aware of the death of Atio Castillo even on the early hours of September 17 when Atio was brought to Chinese General Hospital.
Because of this, we submitted [the contents of the group chat]to [the]anti-cyber crime unit for examination and evaluation,” he said.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said it was necessary for the MPD to determine whether some of the individuals in the chat group were merely using “pseudo” accounts.
Zubiri said he would also recommend the filing of appropriate criminal charges against the fratmen who made some proposals to hide the crime.
All of them in the chat group—lawyers and law students—may face charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to commit crime, he said.
Zubiri would also seek the filing of administrative complaints or disbarment cases against senior members of Aegis Juris fraternity, who are already lawyers, for trying to cover up Atio’s death.
A printout of the fraternity’s online conversation turned out to be 36 pages.
“There is an informant within the fraternity who turned this over to the committee of Sen. (Panfilo) Lacson and to the Manila Police District,” Zubiri said in a radio interview.
Lacson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, leads the probe on Castillo’s death.
In a separate radio interview, Lacson admitted that a member of the Aegis Juris fraternity tipped him off about the chat group they created to discuss how to cover up Castillo’s death.
“Someone shared the information. My staff also made an effort to penetrate the group chat,” he said.
Lacson then referred the matter to the MPD. “We asked them to authenticate the group chat.”
He said the screenshot of the thread where the fratmen discussed what must be done to cover-up the crime was acceptable as “electronic evidence” under the anti-cyber crime law.
“We have cybercrime units at the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and PNP (Philippine National Police) who can do the authentication,” he said.
“My staff was able to provide the URL where you can detect who posted the online conversation. You cannot post anything in social media without providing your personal circumstances as well as mobile phone number. It can be traced,” Lacson said.
UST defends response to hazing death
On Friday, the University of the Santo Tomas issued a statement expressing concern over what it called an “inaccurate portrayal that it was indifferent to the death” of freshman law student Horacio Castillo 3rd.
The statement was posted on the official Facebook account of the university and was addressed to its students, professors, alumni, and stakeholders.
“The University of Santo Tomas expresses concern over the inaccurate portrayal that it was indifferent to the death of its law student, Horacio Castillo III. On the contrary, on the first day that the news broke out, the University manifested its grief, offered prayers, and conveyed its profound sympathy to the family of Horacio. It condemned the senseless act of violence and declared a day of mourning. It immediately created a committee to investigate and ferret out the truth observing the due process requirements of the law,” the statement said.
“It closely coordinated with the Manila Police District and National Bureau of Investigation which led to the identification of the members of the fraternity and possible perpetrators of the crime. Despite the limitations under the Education Act and the Data Privacy Act, the University allowed representatives of the Legal Education Board and the Commission on Human Rights to observe the proceedings of the investigation committee. At no point did the University indicate lack of interest concerning the death of Horacio,” the statement added.
The statement closed with a call for everyone to pray and work together to achieve justice for Horacio and for truth to prevail.
Earlier, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero said he was “saddened, dismayed and disappointed” over the apparent apathy of the UST administration on the death of Castillo.
“They don’t seem to care. To be honest, it is disappointing. What they have is a religious school. They should be at the forefront of giving good example particularly in bringing to justice those liable in this case,” he told reporters in a news conference.
MPD chief Joel Coronel said the UST administration did not recognize the Aegis Juris Fraternity. As such the school was not informed of the initiation rite of the fraternity. Under the anti-hazing law, the school is obligated to send a representative to the initiation rite of the recognized fraternity.
“The school, is claiming the Aegis Juris is not recognized,” Coronel told The Manila Times.
Coronel said there would be another preliminary hearing before the Justice department on October 24.
“We hope for a favorable resolution on October 24. After that, criminal complaints will be filed before the court and arrest warrants will be issued,” he added.
WITH JAIME R. PILAPIL