A member of the Aegis Juris fraternity who took part in the initiation rites for Horacio “Atio” Castillo III has been provisionally accepted into the government’s witness protection program, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Wednesday.
Aguirre identified the Aegis Juris member as Marc Ventura, who was accompanied by his mother and lawyer in a meeting with Aguirre on Tuesday afternoon.
Ventura is one of the respondents in the several complaints filed by the Manila Police District (MPD) and Castillo’s parents over the death of the freshman law student of the University of Tomas (UST).
“Mr. Ventura narrated to us what he knew about what happened to Horatio ‘Atio’ Castillo III from the time of his admission as a neophyte of the Aegis Juris Fraternity until his initiation rites on the early morning of September 17, 2017,” Aguirre said in a press conference.
“Mr. Ventura gave us the names of the persons who were present during the initiation rites of Mr. Atio Castillo III. After hearing the narration of Mr. Ventura, I immediately decided to place him under provisional acceptance into the WPP,” he added.
Marc Anthony Ventura, Aegis Juris member who turned witness in Atio hazing case, went to DOJ to process his full WPP coverage. ????: DOJ pic.twitter.com/jEh7FgbRbO— Virgil Lopez (@virgillopez) October 25, 2017
Aguirre said Ventura, the fraternity's former secretary, has already executed an affidavit which would be used as basis for his formal admission into the WPP.
“Mr. Ventura’s decision to seek admission into our WPP is a most welcome development in this case as we all endeavor to give justice to Atio’s untimely demise,” the Justice secretary said.
MPD director Chief Superintendent Joel Coronel also welcomed Ventura's move.
"His testimony will strengthen the case as long as he will reveal and divulge everything and also name those who participated in the initiation; as long as he corroborate the statements and evidence we have gathered and ma-identify niya ang other persons involved in the planning and hazing," Coronel said in an interview.
Coronel said Ventura was mentioned by Castillo's parents as one of the three persons who recruited Atio. The other two are Arvin Balag and Axel Hipe.
Roughly an hour after the press conference, Ventura went to the DOJ to process his application for a full WPP coverage, which would entitle him to benefits such as security protection and escort services, secure housing facility, and assistance in obtaining a means of livelihood.
Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes said Ventura would be given permanent coverage once Aguirre signs the memorandum of agreement entered into by Ventura and the DOJ.
Aguirre had offered state protection to anyone who has knowledge of the incident but said only Ventura took advantage of it.
The DOJ chief, however, said he was not aware if someone had convinced Ventura to come forward.
"Siguro if we need somebody else from among those who witnessed the initiation rites baka isa na lang to be covered by the WPP just to corroborate, pero yung linaw ng kanyang deklarasyon, even without any corroborative testimony, I believe that his statement will stand in court," Aguirre said.
A three-person panel of prosecutors is currently doing a preliminary investigation on the complaints to determine whether charges should be filed against the suspects in court.
With Ventura's admission into the WPP, Aguirre said the Aegis member would no longer be indicted if the panel finds probable cause against other respondents. — MDM, GMA News