Aguirre offers protection to witnesses in UST student slay

MANILA — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Friday offered to place under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) those who would come forward and give information on the death of University of Santo Tomas (UST) law freshman Horacio Castillo III.

“If they want to tell the truth or clear their names, they can come to my office and we will place them under the WPP,” Aguirre said in a statement. “They can trust us. They have nothing to fear from us. They should fear more the ones hiding them or the ones advising them not to come out. They can be dangerous people with hidden agenda. I ask them to come out and tell the truth and we will protect them under the WPP.”

He said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is working to secure at least two witnesses in Castillo’s death.

Aguirre said they have had initial contact with two possible male witnesses, both UST students.

“One of the witnesses called my office and said to be a member of the Aegis Juris fraternity. This person knows the initiation rites that were done to Castillo… While the second witness, who was being recruited, went to my office,” Aguirre told reporters in a chance interview at the DOJ.

The witness who called up the department said “they made them suffer” during the initiation.

He added that Castillo was not included in the first batch of neophytes who went through the initiation and they “picked on him (Castillo)”.

Based on the information they have so far gathered, Aguirre said eight neophytes went through the initiation rites but he does not know if any of them is in the Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order (ILBO) issued last Wednesday.

“They are somewhat being kept against their will by their seniors so they would not disclose what they know. They are invoking the Code of Silence,” he said.

He said the two potential witnesses in the death of the 22-year-old Castillo have not given their affidavits and that fear might prevent them from having further coordination with the DOJ.

“That is the problem (they have not given their affidavits yet) and I am not sure if they would return to the DOJ because they are afraid and that there were threats against their lives… Right now, we are still at the very initial stages” of the investigation, the justice chief said.

He also hinted that there could be a third possible witness. A member of the Aegis Juris fraternity has reportedly sent a “feeler” to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), expressing interest to cooperate.

He is hoping that these witnesses would cooperate with the DOJ soon so they would be prioritized in the WPP.

“We do not need many witnesses, so your testimony could only be corroborative but we would still take you in,” he explained.

The DOJ Secretary said that these potential witnesses should not be afraid to come out and narrate the events that led to Castillo’s death.

Aguirre, who also belongs to a fraternity, the Lex Talionis, admitted that it is difficult for frat members to cooperate in an investigation since they have a close bond with their fraternity brothers.

The WPP, which is administered by the DOJ, encourages a person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court or quasi-judicial body, or before an investigating authority, by protecting him from reprisals and economic dislocation.

Aguirre said people, who have information on the incident, may contact the DOJ’s Horacio hotline at ‎‎0995 4429241.

On Thursday, he ordered the NBI to coordinate with the Interpol to locate one of the persons implicated in the death of Castillo.

The move came after the Bureau of Immigration confirmed that a certain Ralph Caballes Trangia departed on Tuesday on board Eva Air Flight BR262 bound for Taipei, Taiwan.

Trangia is one of 16 people named in the ILBO issued by Aguirre.

Aguirre said he will also seek the cancellation of Trangia’s passport.

“We will make representations with DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) for the cancellation of his passport,” he said.

The ILBO instructs all immigration officers in the country’s airports and seaports to be on the lookout to prevent attempts of the 16 “persons of interest” to leave the country.