Monday, October 5, 2015

BROTHERHOOD OF THE DAMNED: THE FIRST EVER HAZING CONVICTIONS (Convictions under the Anti-Hazing law based on disputable presumption of actual participation and circumstantial evidence)

By Siesta-friendly

Republic Act No. 8049 (An Act Regulating Hazing And Other Forms Of Initiation Rites In Fraternities, Sororities, And Other Organizations And Providing Penalties Therefor), popularly known as the Anti-Hazing Law, has been in existence since 1995.  We’ve had several deaths due to hazing since then yet 2015 is the year we get our first convictions.  It also took a while to get the convictions considering it was in January 14, 2006 when Alpha Phi Omega neophyte Marlon Villanueva was killed during hazing.

Apart from the first hazing convictions, Dandy L. Dungo and Gregorio A. Sibal, Jr. vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 209464, July 1, 2015) is also notable for its anti-hazing convictions based on “disputable presumption of actual participation” and based on circumstantial evidence.

In support of the convictions, below are the facts detailed by the CA and cited by the SC -

1.      Marlon Villanueva is a neophyte of Alpha Phi Omega, as testified by his roommate Joey Atienza.
2.      At around 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon of January 13, 2006, [UPLB student Gay Czarina] Sunga was staying at their tambayan, talking to her organization mates.  Three men were seated two meters way from her.  She identified two of the men as appellants Sibal and Dungo, while she did not know the third man.  The three men were wearing black shirts with the seal of the Alpha Phi Omega.
3.      Later at 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon, two more men coming from the entomology wing arrived and approached the three men.  Among the men who just arrived was the victim, Marlon Villanueva.  One of the men wearing black APO shirts handed over to the two fraternity neophytes some money and told the men "Mamalengke na kayo."  He later took back the money and said, "Huwag na, kami na lang."
4.      One of the men wearing a black APO shirt, who was later identified as appellant Dungo, stood up and asked Marlon if the latter already reported to him, and asked him why he did not report to him when he was just at the, tambayan.  Dungo then continuously punched the victim on his arm.  This went on for five minutes. Marlon just kept quiet with his head bowed down. Fifteen minutes later, the men left going towards the Entomology wing.
5.      The deceased Marlon Villanueva was 'last seen alive by Joey Atienza at 7:00 in the evening of 13 January 2006, from whom he borrowed the shoes he wore at the initiation right [sic]. Marlon told Joey that it was his "finals" night.  
6.      On January 13, 2006 at around 8:30 to 9:00 o'clock in the evening, [nearby sari-sari store owner] Susan Ignacio saw more than twenty (20) persons arrive at the Villa Novaliches Resort onboard a jeepney.  She estimated the ages of these persons to be between 20 to 30 years old.  Three (3) persons riding a single motorcycle likewise arrived at the resort.
7.      Ignacio saw about fifteen (15) persons gather on top of the terrace at the resort who looked like they were praying.  Later that evening, at least three (3) of these persons went to her store to buy some items.  She did not know their names but could identity [sic] their faces.  After she was shown colored photographs, she pointed to the man later identified as Herald Christopher Braseros.  She also pointed out the man later identified as Gregorio Sibal, Jr.
8.      Donato Magat, a tricycle driver plying the route of Pansol, Calamba City, testified that around 3:00 o'clock in the morning of January 14, 2006, he was waiting for passengers at the corner of Villa Novaliches Resort when a man approached him and told him that someone inside the resort needed a ride. Magat then went to the resort and asked the two (2) men standing by the gate who will be riding his tricycle.
9.      The four (4) men boarded his tricycle but Magat noticed that when he touched the body of the man who was being carried, it felt cold.  The said man looked very weak like a vegetable.
10.  Seferino Espina y Jabay testified that he worked as a security guard at the J.P. Rizal Hospital and was assigned at the emergency room.  At around 3:00 o'clock in the early morning of January 14, 2006, he was with another security guard, Abelardo Natividad and hospital helper Danilo Glindo a.k.a. Gringo, when a tricycle arrived at the emergency room containing four (4) passengers, excluding the driver.  He was an arm's length away from said tricycle.  He identified two of the passengers thereof as appellants Dungo and Sibal.  Espina said he and Glinda helped the passengers unload a body inside the tricycle and brought it to the emergency room.
11.  Afterwards, Espina asked the two men for identification cards.  The latter replied that they did not bring with them any I.D. or wallet.  Instead of giving their true names, the appellants listed down their names in the hospital logbook as Brandon Gonzales y Lanzon and Jericho Paril y Rivera.  Espina then told the two men not to leave, not telling them that they secretly called the police to report the incident which was their standard operating procedure when a dead body was brought to the hospital.
12.  Dr. Ramon Masilungan, who was then the attending physician at the emergency room, observed that Marlon was motionless, had no heartbeat and already cyanotic.
13.  Dr. Masilungan tried to revive Marlon for about 15 to 20 minutes.  However, the latter did not respond to resuscitation and was pronounced dead.  Dr. Masilungan noticed a big contusion hematoma on the left side of the victim's face and several injuries on his arms and legs.  He further attested that Marlon's face was already cyanotic.
14.  When Dr. Masilungan pulled down Marlon's pants, he saw a large contusion on both legs which extended from the upper portion of his thigh down to the couplexial portion or the back of the knee.
15.  Due to the nature, extent and location of Marlon's injuries, Dr. Masilungan opined that he was a victim of hazing.  Dr. Masilungan is familiar with hazing injuries, having undergone hazing when he was a student and also because of his experience treating victims of hazing incidents.
16.  Dr. Roy Camarillo, Medico-Legal Officer of the PNP Crime Laboratory in Region IV, Camp Vicente Lim, Canlubang, Calamba City, testified that he performed an autopsy on the cadaver of the victim on January 14 2006;  that the victim's cause of death was blunt head trauma.  From 1999 to 2006, he was able to conduct post-mortem examination of the two (2) persons whose deaths were attributed to hazing.  These two (2) persons sustained multiple contusions and injuries on different parts of their body, particularly on the buttocks, on both upper and lower extremities. Both persons died of brain hemorrhage.  Correlating these two cases to the injuries found on the victim's body, Dr. Camarillo attested that the victim, Marlon Villanueva, sustained similar injuries to those two (2) persons. Based on the presence of multiple injuries and contusions on his body, he opined that these injuries were hazing-related.  (Dungo and Sibal vs. People)

The RTC convicted Dungo and Sibal for violation of Section 4 of the Anti-Hazing Law and sentenced them to suffer Reclusion Perpetua. 

Said Section 4 reads as follows:

“Section 4.  If the person subjected to hazing or other forms of initiation rites suffers any physical injury or dies as a result thereof, the officers and members of the fraternity, sorority or organization who actually participated in the infliction of physical harm shall be liable as principals.  The person or persons who participated in the hazing shall suffer:
1.      The penalty of reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment) if death, rape, sodomy or mutilation results there from.

The CA affirmed the RTC’s judgment in toto.

Sufficiency of the Information

On appeal to the SC, Dungo and Sibal claimed that the RTC and CA judgments violated the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against them because the offense charged in the information is different from that for which they were found guilty.

The information stated that Dungo and Sibal "did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously assault and use personal violence upon one Marlon Villanueva y Mejilla", i.e. they were charged for hazing by actual participation, while the only offense proven at trial was hazing by inducement.

The SC noted the complete wording of the information which reads as follows:

“That on or about 2:30 in the early morning of January 14, 2006, at Villa Novaliches, Brgy. Pansol, Calamba City, Province of Laguna and within the jurisdiction of the Honorable Court, the above-named accused, during a planned initiation rite and being then officers and members of Alpha Phi Omega fraternity and present thereat, in conspiracy with more or less twenty other members and officers, whose identity is not yet known, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously assault and use personal violence upon one MARLON VILLANUEVA y MEJILLA, a neophyte thereof and as condition for his admission to the fraternity, thereby subjecting him to physical harm, resulting to his death, to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of the victim.” (Dungo and Sibal vs. People)

The SC held that the information stated a “planned initiation rite” and “a planned event can be understood to have different phases … [T]he hazing activity had different stages and the perpetrators had different roles therein, not solely inflicting physical injury to the neophyte. One of the roles of the petitioners in the hazing activity was to induce Villanueva to be present.  Dungo and Sibal not only induced Villanueva to be present at the resort, but they actually brought him there.  They fulfilled their roles in the planned hazing rite which eventually led to the death of Villanueva.  The hazing would not have been accomplished were it not for the acts of the petitioners that induced the victim to be present.”  

The SC said that “[s]ecrecy and silence are common characterizations of the dynamics of hazing.  To require the prosecutor to indicate every step of the planned initiation rite in the information at the inception of the criminal case, when details of the clandestine hazing are almost nil, would be an arduous task, if not downright impossible. The law does not require the impossible”.

In upholding that the information was sufficient to convict the accused for violation of Section 4 of the Anti-Hazing Law, the SC held that it sufficiently stated “every element of the crime of hazing, the offenders, and the accompanying circumstances in the planned initiation activity”.

Prima facie evidence of participation does not violate the right of the accused to be presumed innocent

Despite alleging only one error in their appeal, appellants in their Reply alleged that the prosecution failed to establish conspiracy.  The SC, while noting that the appellants raised a question of fact not allowed in their appeal, decided to open the whole case for review “in the interest of justice” and “due to the novelty of the issue presented”.

The novel issue involves Section 4 paragraph 6 of the Anti-Hazing Law which states:

“The presence of any person during the hazing is prima facie evidence of participation therein as principal unless he prevented the commission of the acts punishable herein.”

The SC said that the law “presents a novel provision that introduces a disputable presumption of actual participation; and which modifies the concept of conspiracy …  because a disputable presumption arises from the mere presence of the offender during the hazing, which can be rebutted by proving that the accused took steps to prevent the commission of the hazing.”

First, the SC reminded appellants that “[p]enal laws which feature prima facie evidence by disputable presumptions against the offenders are not new, and can be observed in the following: (1) the possession of drug paraphernalia gives rise to prima facie evidence of the use of dangerous drug; (2) the dishonor of the check for insufficient funds is prima facie evidence of knowledge of such insufficiency of funds or credit; 102 and (3) the possession of any good which has been the subject of robbery or thievery shall be prima facie evidence of

The SC found there was prima facie evidence of appellants’ participation in the hazing based on the testimonies of disinterested and credible witnesses establishing their (1) acts of inducing Marlon Villanueva to participate in the hazing, and (2) their presence in the resort (the crime scene).  And since there was no testimony that either appellant prevented the hazing, the disputable presumption was not overcome.  Thus, the facts were sufficient to establish their roles in the conspiracy.

Guilt beyond reasonable doubt also proven by circumstantial evidence

The SC noted that “[c]rimes are usually committed in secret and under conditions where concealment is highly probable” and so direct evidence is understandably not always available.  And, “hazing is shrouded in secrecy.  Fraternities and sororities … are secretive in nature and their members are reluctant to give any information regarding initiation rites. The silence is only broken after someone has been injured so severely that medical attention is required … Bearing in mind the concealment of hazing, it is only logical and proper for the prosecution to resort to the presentation of circumstantial evidence to prove it.”

The SC laid down the requisites and rules for sustaining a conviction based on circumstantial evidence: “(1) there [is] more than one circumstance; (2) the inference must be based on proven facts; and (3) the combination of all circumstances produces a conviction beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused … Jurisprudence requires that the circumstances must be established to form an unbroken chain of events leading to one fair reasonable conclusion pointing to the accused, to the exclusion of all others, as the author of the crime.”

Finally, the defenses of denial and alibi - being the “weakest of all defenses because they are easy to concoct and fabricate” - were deemed insufficient by the SC. The only witnesses presented by appellants were their fraternity brothers and Dungo’s girlfriend who cannot be deemed impartial and disinterested so as to be credible and reliable.

SC’s suggested amendments to the Anti-Hazing Law

The SC suggested the imposition of penalty or liability for non-compliance of the following provisions regarding the requirement of notice (Section 2) and the requirement of representation (Section 3)-

“Section 2. No hazing or initiation rites in any form or manner by a fraternity, sorority or organization shall be allowed without prior written notice to the school authorities or head of organization seven (7) days before the conduct of such initiation. The written notice shall indicate the period of the initiation activities which shall not exceed three (3) days, shall include the names of those to be subjected to such activities, and shall further contain an undertaking that no physical violence be employed by anybody during such initiation rites.

Section 3. The head of the school or organization or their representatives must assign at least two (2) representatives of the school or organization, as the case may be, to be present during the initiation. It is the duty of such representative to see to it that no physical harm of any kind shall be inflicted upon a recruit, neophyte or applicant.“

The SC also suggested that Section 4 include not only physical harm but psychological harm as well.

It is really no cause for jubilation, that the first convictions on this law have been handed down and upheld.  The passage of the law should have been enough to do away with hazing.  This case only memorializes three lives that have been ruined, that of the victim’s which has been untimely taken and that of his two tormentors.  No real brotherhood is worth paying such a steep price for membership.  This case should give pause and reason to all prospective initiates and their masters.

We end this with how the SC ended its decision –

“R.A. No. 8049 is a democratic response to the uproar against hazing.  It demonstrates that there must, and should, be another way of fostering brotherhood, other than through the culture of violence and suffering. The senseless deaths of these young men shall never be forgotten, for justice is the spark that lights the candles of their graves.”