THE supposed identity of the “big brother” of the Aegis Juris fraternity was finally revealed Monday – Arnel Bernardo – a lawyer said to wield influence and could help fraternity members escape liability for the death of UST law freshman Horacio “Atio” Castillo 3rd.
The fraternity’s “big brother” was often mentioned in group chats and text exchanges of Aegis Juris members leaked over social media.
Bernardo was identified by Mark Anthony Ventura, a former officer of the fraternity who was present during the initiation rites that led to Castillo’s death on September 17.
The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, led by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, on Monday resumed its probe into Castillo’s death wherein Ventura’s testimony became one of the highlights.
Ventura has turned against the law fraternity and has agreed to become a government witness in the case.
A certain Alston Kevin Anarna suggested in the group chat that they inform “big brother” about Castillo’s death.
“Brods dapat masabihan si big bro. Para masabihan n’ya ang barangay na sira ang mga CCTV. What u think? Suggestion lng (Brods we need to inform big brother so he could tell the village officials that the CCTVs are not working. What do you think? Just a suggestion),” Anarna said, as read by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri during the hearing.
Bernardo, who was present in Monday’s Senate hearing, said he was not aware that he was the one being referred to as the big brother.
“Your honor I am not aware that I’m being called the big brother,” Bernardo told senators.
Bernardo admitted to being one of the incorporators and a founding member of the Aegis Juris Foundation.
In an interview after the hearing, Lacson said the committee still needed to validate the statement of Ventura identifying Bernardo as the “big brother.”
“Most of my colleagues are of the belief that the big brother is supposed to be Dean Divina,” he told reporters, referring to Nilo Divina, dean of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law, who has denied any responsibility for the hazing death.
But Lacson made it clear that he did not share the belief of his colleagues and that there was no strong indication to suspect that the big brother was Divina.
Asked why some senators suspected Divina as the fraternity big brother, Lacson said the law dean was the most prominent and most influential member of the fraternity.
Atio wanted ‘purpose in life’
Ventura, the former Aegis Juris assistant master initiator, on Monday claimed that all fraternity members went through the same initiation rites that Castillo 3rd was subjected to.
“We went through the same initiation rites as Horacio’s. Walang binago (Nothing was changed),” he said.
Ventura clarified that it was not the “master initiator 1” who decided what initiation procedures the neophyte must go through. The master initiator 1 merely guided the conduct of the initiation rites, he said.
Ventura also said he constantly reminded Castillo to hold on to his “purpose” in life to hurdle the initiation rites.
He testified that Castillo, Atio to his family and Hor to his UST classmates and schoolmates, was still responsive after being dealt with blows on his arms.
Responding to Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian’s query on what made him say that Castillo was still “okay,” Ventura said, “Sinasabi ko po sa kanya na kaya niya po ‘yung proseso ng gabing ‘yun (I was telling him that he can hurdle the initiation process that night).”
“Lagi ko po ipinapaalala ang sinabi niya sa akin ‘pag nag-uusap kami. Ang gusto niya kasi ay purpose (I always reminded him about what he told me during our conversations. He wanted purpose),” he said.
“Every time na nagkakausap kami lagi niya sinasabi was ‘purpose.’ Parang hinahanap niya purpose sa buhay niya (Everytime we talked, he always mentioned ‘purpose.’ It seemed that he was looking for some purpose in life),” Ventura said.
He added, “Every time na mag-uusap kami constant reminder ko po sa kanya na ‘yung purpose na ‘yun hindi kami ang magbibigay sa kanya. Magsisimula ‘yun sa kanya (Every time we talked, my constant reminder to him was that we would not be the ones to give him purpose. It should come from him).”
Ventura said that he became a member of Aegis Juris in August 2016, and was elected secretary. Later on he was appointed “master initiator 2” who assisted the master initiator 1. But he stopped being an officer in August 2017.
Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr. tried to stop Ventura from disclosing more details surrounding the death of Castillo, as contained in his sworn statement.
Catalan told the Senate panel that Ventura “cannot testify this time because his testimony is confidential in nature.”
Ventura, he said, was still considered a respondent in the case since his application for the Department of Justice’ Witness Protection Program was still being processed.
Ventura declined to answer some questions from the senators such as when he was asked to identify the frat men present during the initiation rites, who were the ones who paddled the victim, and who stopped them from bringing the victim immediately to the hospital.
“I’m sorry, your honor. But I will testify in the proper court,” he said.
with JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA