SC Acquits Two Alleged “Fraternity Members” of Hazing

October 27, 2021

Due to the failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Supreme Court has acquitted two suspected members of the Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity of charges of violating the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995 for the death of an 18-year-old college student in 2009.

In a Decision penned by Justice Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, the Court’s Third Division granted the petition of Carlos Paulo Bartolome and Joel Bandalan to reverse and set aside the August 30, 2016 Decision and October 26, 2016 Resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA). The CA rulings affirmed the September 4, 2014 Decision of the Branch 20, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Imus, Cavite convicting Bartolome and Bandalan for violation of Section 4(a) of RA 8049, or the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995.

The Court also ordered the Director of the Bureau of Corrections to immediately cause the release of petitioners from detention unless they are being held for some other lawful cause.

“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,” the Court held.

The prosecution claimed that on October 22, 2009, the Silang Municipal Police Station received a call from the Estrella Hospital that a victim of hazing was brought to their hospital. The hospital staff said that the deceased was a victim of hazing as shown by the bruises he sustained on his thighs. During investigation, police learned that the victim, John Daniel Samparada, a college student from the Lyceum of the Philippines, Cavite, was brought to the hospital by petitioners Bartolome and Bandalan and another unidentified male. Police recovered from petitioners 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. Also, in the course of investigation, the petitioners told police that they went with Samparada to Silang, Cavite for an outing where the latter lost consciousness. It was then that they brought him to the hospital.

For their part, petitioners Bartolome and Bandalan averred that they were in the house of a certain Ivan Marquez on October 22, 2009 for a night of swimming. There Marquez introduced Samparada to the petitioners. Thereafter, they left Marquez’ house to buy provisions. When they came back to the house, Samparada all of a sudden fell to the floor, hit his head on the pavement, and complained of difficulty in breathing. The petitioners brought Samparada to Estrella Hospital where the police arrived and interrogated them. Later, they were brought to the police station and forced them to admit their participation in the infliction  of injuries upon Samparada that resulted in his death.

Based on these testimonies, the RTC ruled that the circumstantial evidence given by the prosecution was sufficient for the conviction of petitioners. It imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua on the petitioners and ordered both to pay the heirs of Samparada indemnity and temperate damages. On appeal, the CA affirmed the conviction but modified the award of damages. This prompted the petitioners to elevate their case to the SC. Petitioners argued that both the RTC and the CA resolved the case based only on erroneous and inadmissible circumstantial evidence.

The Supreme Court ruled that Bartolome’s and Bandalan’s petition is impressed with merit. It held that “it is undisputed that no direct evidence was presented to link petitioners to Samparada’s death. In fact, the RTC, as affirmed by the CA, convicted petitioners through circumstantial evidence.”

Direct evidence, the Court said, is not always necessary as it has become a settled ruled that circumstantial evidence is sufficient to support a conviction. However, it stressed that “jurisprudence instructs that ‘for circumstantial evidence to be sufficient to support a conviction, all circumstances must be consistent with each other, consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty, and at the same time inconsistent with the hypothesis that he is innocent.’” The Court further emphasized that conviction based on circumstantial evidence can be upheld only if the circumstances proven constitute an unbroken chain which leads to one fair and reasonable conclusion that points to the accused, to the exclusion of all others, as the guilty person.

The Court noted that the enactment of RA 8049 was for the purpose of regulating hazing and other forms of initiations rites in fraternities, sororities, and other organizations. In 2018, during the pendency of the present petition, RA 8049 was amended by RA 11053 of the Anti-Hazing Act of 2018. Superseding Section 4 of RA 8049, Section 14 of RA 11053 now imposes more severe penalties for the offense of hazing.

The Court held that the prosecution failed had to establish the elements of hazing under RA 8049, to wit: 1) that there is an initiation rite or practice as a prerequisite for admission into membership in a fraternity, sorority or organization;

2) that there must be a recruit, neophyte or applicant of the fraternity, sorority or organization; and 3) that the recruit, neophyte or applicant is placed in some embarrassing or humiliating situations such as forcing him or her to do menial, silly, foolish and other similar tasks or activities or otherwise subjecting him or her to physical or psychological suffering or injury.

The Court held that the prosecution did not present evidence to prove that hazing actually took place to establish the first element of the offense. The second element was also absent considering that nobody testified that Samparada was a recruit, neophyte, or applicant of Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity. And with the prosecution’s failure to prove the present of the second element of hazing, the Court said that the absence of the third element become readily apparent.

“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 said.

The Court also underscored that “it is the primordial duty of the prosecution to present its side with clarify 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.”

The Justices who concurred with the decision of Justice Inting were Justice Edgardo L. Delos Santos (now retired) and Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez.

Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen wrote a separate dissenting and concurring opinion. He was joined in his opinion by Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando. (G.R. No. 227951, Bartolome and Bandalan v. People, June 28, 2021)