AFP turns to JAGO on custody of cadets in Dormitorio's death from hazing

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday disclosed that it will refer to the recommendation of the Judge Advocate General Office (JAGO) on whether or not to give to the court the custody of the cadets tagged in the hazing death of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadet Darwin Dormitorio last year.

Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said the military leadership has yet to receive a copy of the warrant of arrest issued on Tuesday by a Baguio City court against dismissed cadets Felix Lumbag Jr. and Shalimar Imperial Jr., cadet Julius Carlo Tadena, former PMA Station Hospital chief Lieutenant Colonel Ceasar Candelaria and medical officers Captain Flor Apostol and Major Maria Ofelia Beloy.

Once they receive the copy of the arrest warrant, Arevalo said the AFP's Judge Advocate General will attend to the matter and give appropriate recommendation to General Felimon Santos Jr., AFP Chief of Staff, as to the disposition of the cadets.

"Kailangan munang pag-aralan ng Judge Advocate General natin kasi may kaso sila sa atin pero hindi ibig sabihin ay sinagot na natin na hindi ibibigay o ibibigay natin (The Judge Advocate General will have to assess because they also have a case with us but it does not mean we already provided an answer that we won't or we will give the custody )," Arevalo said.

Nonetheless, Arevalo reiterated the military's commitment to cooperate in the investigation on Dormitorio's death.

"We once more commit to the court that we will cooperate and, when needed, assist in the swift dispensation of justice. We owe it to the people--especially to the parents of the late Cadet Darwin Dormitorio--and the community of PMA Alumni," Arevalo said.

"Ang sinasabi natin na cooperation halimbawa, halimbawa lang ano without preempting the decision, kung kinakailangan na dalhin natin ang kadete kung may hearing, we are willing to do that (What we mean by cooperation is for exmaple, and this is just an example without preempting the decision, if there is a need to present the cadets in a hearing, we are willing to do that)," he explained.

Baguio Regional Trial Court Judge Maria Ligaya Itliong-Rivera released the arrest order of Lumbag and Imperial, who are the principal suspects in the hazing case; Tadena, who allegedly injured Dormitorio with a taser; and Candelaria, Apostol and Beloy, who were accused of misdiagnosing the victim after he was merely treated for a urinary tract infection (UTI).

The cadets have since been placed under the custody of the AFP General Headquarters (GHQ) in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

They were arraigned and are already facing trial before a General Court Martial for violation of Article of War 97 or Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline. The arraignment was finished on February 14.

Meanwhile, Arevalo said it is up to PMA leadership to "take appropriate action" as to the medical officers named in the arrest warrants.

"Wala sa amin 'yan. 'Yung kadete lang ang nasa GHQ (Their custody is not with us. Only the cadets are at the GHQ)," he said.

Dormitorio, a first year cadet, died on September 18, 2019 after being hazed by his senior cadets. Initially, there were seven cadets who were tagged as suspects in the case. 

Dormitorio's case was a very sensational issue that it led to the unprecedented resignation of Lieutenant General Ronnie Evangelista as PMA Superintendent and Brigadier General Bartolome Vicente Bacorro as Commandant of Cadets last year.