CA junks court order dismissing case vs. frat men in Benilde hazing

MANILA — The Court of Appeals has nullified the order of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissing the case against five members of the Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, who were indicted over the death of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde student Guillo Cesar Servando four years ago.

In a 25-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier and concurred in by Associate Justices Ramon Cruz and Luisa Quijano-Padilla, the CA’s Special Fifth Division nullified the orders issued by Presiding Judge Honorio Guanlao of Makati RTC Branch 57 on Dec. 22, 2015 and Feb. 19, 2016 dismissing the complaint for violation of Republic Act 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law filed against the respondents; and denying the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration, respectively.

Servando, a culinary arts student of Benilde, died in July 2014 during the initiation rites of the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity held at One Archer’s Place Condominium in Makati.

The CA ordered the Makati RTC to proceed with the trial of the criminal case filed against the respondents — Daniel Paul Martin Bautista, Vic Angelo Dy, Michael David Castaneda, Francisco Joel Villegas, and Justin Francis Reyes — who were some of the frat members who participated in the hazing rites.

A video footage from the CCTV of the condominium showed Servando collapsing along the hallway and was being carried away by fraternity members.

Following an investigation, the NBI filed a complaint for violation of RA 8049 against 20 Tau Gamma Phi fraternity members, including the respondents.

It can be recalled that the RTC court junked the case, citing the respondents’ right to speedy trial under the Speedy Trial Act of 1998; and the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court for decongesting holding jails by enforcing the rights of accused persons to bail and speedy trial.

“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 CA said in its ruling.

“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.

Based on the records of the case, the first hearing was set on Dec. 10, 2015, where the eight prosecution witnesses did not appear.

On the same day, the trial court sent out notices to the witnesses requiring them to explain their absence during the first scheduled hearing date.

During the second scheduled hearing on Dec. 15, 2015, the prosecution witnesses still did not show up, prompting the prosecution to move for the issuance of warrants against them.

However, the motion was denied by the judge for being premature since there were no returns yet on the earlier notices to explain sent out to the witnesses.

But the prosecution was surprised during the third scheduled hearing on Dec. 17, 2015, when the trial court granted the defense’s motion to dismiss, citing respondents’ right to speedy trial.

The dismissal came even as the court had yet to receive the returns of its notices to explain.

“Indeed, the present case is peculiar in itself. As stated, the three settings in question were only a few days apart from each other and clustered all within a week’s time,” the Court noted.

“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 sent out to them by the trial court,” it stressed.