SC acquits 2 students convicted in 2014 for ‘fraternity hazing’ death

Published October 27, 2021, 12:17 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has acquitted two alleged Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity members who were sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in jail in 2014 for the death of an 18-year-old college student during a reported hazing activity in Cavite in 2009.

Acquitted and ordered released “unless they are being held for some other lawful cause” were Carlos Paulo I. Bartolome and Joel A. Bandalan.

The SC decision, which was made public last Oct. 26 and written by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, granted the petition for review filed by Bartolome and Bandalan.

It reversed the 2014 regional trial court (RTC) and 2016 Court of Appeals (CA) decisions.

Bartolome and Bandalan were criminally indicted for the death of John Daniel L. Samparada on Oct. 22, 2009. The indictment stated that Bartolome and Bandalan “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously conduct initiation rites and practice, and subjected neophyte Samparada to physical suffering while undergoing said initiation rites or practice… that led to the untimely death of Samparada….”

They were charged with and convicted of violation of Section 4 (a) of Republic Act No. 8049, the Act Regulating Hazing and Other Forms of lnitiation Rites in Fraternities, Sororities, and Organizations.

The SC ruled: “After a careful review of the case and the body of evidence adduced before the RTC, the Court is not convinced that petitioners are guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of hazing. Thus, the Court resolves to reverse the appealed decision and acquit petitioners” (Bartolome and Bandalan).

A case summary received from the SC’s public information office (PIO) stated that the Silang town police in Cavite received a call from the Estrella Hospital that a victim of hazing was brought to their hospital.

During the investigation, the police learned that Samparada was a college student of the Lyceum of the Philippines in Cavite. Samparada was brought to the hospital by Bartolome and Bandalan and another unidentified person.

The summary stated that the police recovered from Bartolome and Bandalan a document which bore the name of Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, markings connected with the organization, and the handwritten name of Bartolome, so it concluded that they were members of Tau Gamma Phi.

Bartolome and Bandalan said they were in the house of a certain Ivan Marquez on Oct. 22, 2009 for a night of swimming. There Marquez introduced Samparada to them. Then, they said, they left Marquez’ house to buy provisions.

They said that when they returned to Marquez’s house, Samparada suddenly fell to the floor, hit his head on the pavement, and complained of difficulty in breathing. They said they brought Samparada to the hospital. At the police station, they claimed the police forced them to admit their participation in the infliction of injuries that caused Samparada’s death.

The RTC convicted them for violation of Section 4(a) of RA 8049 which states that “if the person subjected to hazing or other forms of initiation rites suffers any physical injury and dies,” the penalty of reclusion perpetua (a jail term ranging from 20 to 40 years) will be imposed.

Both the RTC and the CA convicted Bartolome and Bandalan on circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution. They elevated the case to the SC which granted their petition.

The SC said:

“Regrettably, there is a dearth of evidence to establish that Samparada applied for membership into or was recruited by Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, and that as a prerequisite for his admission, Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity, through petitioners, subjected him ‘to some embarrassing or humiliating situations such as forcing him to do menial, silly, foolish and either similar tasks or activities’ or otherwise ‘to physical or psychological suffering or injury.’

“Simply put, the failure of the prosecution to prove that Samparada was a recruit, neophyte, or applicant of Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity prevents the Court from concluding that the injuries he sustained were due to the fraternity’s hazing-related activities.

“In addition, the mere presence of petitioners at the time Samparada fell unconscious in the house of Ivan as well as their subsequent act of accompanying Samparada to the hospital fall short of proving that they, to the exclusion of all others, are the persons responsible for the injuries sustained by Samparada.

“In sum, the circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution has failed to establish the elements of hazing and to produce an unbroken chain that leads to one fair and reasonable conclusion pointing to petitioners, to the exclusion of others, as the persons liable for the death of Samparada.

“Hence, petitioners’ conviction for violation of RA 8049 based on circumstantial evidence cannot be upheld.

“The Court reminds that it is the primordial duty of the prosecution to present its side with clarity and persuasion so that conviction becomes the only logical and inevitable conclusion. It is required of the prosecution to justify the conviction of the accused with moral certainty.

“Upon the failure to meet this test, acquittal becomes the constitutional duty of the Court, lest its mind be tortured with the thought that it has imprisoned an innocent man for the rest of his life.

“WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated August 30, 2016 and the Resolution dated October 26, 2016 of the Court of Appeals in CA-GR. CR-HC No. 07930 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

“Accordingly, petitioners Carlos Paulo Bartolome y Ilagan and Joel Bandalan y Abordo are ACQUITTED for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Section 4(a) of Republic Act No. 8049.

“The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ORDERED to immediately cause the release of petitioners from detention, unless they are being held for some other lawful cause, and to inform the Court of his action within five (5) days from receipt of this Decision.

“A copy shall also be furnished to the Director General of Philippine National Police for his information. Let an entry of final judgment be issued immediately. SO ORDERED.”