A Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) on Friday convicted Lawyer Lorna Kapunan of unjust vexation over statements she made against University of Santo Tomas (UST) Law Dean Nilo Divina regarding the hazing of Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.
Kapunan was sentenced to 30 days in jail and ordered to pay P2 million in damages to Divina.
In a decision dated July 24, Manila RTC Branch 11 set aside for grave abuse of discretion the earlier ruling of Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila Branch 17 Judge Karla Funtila-Abugan that acquitted Kapunan.
Judge Cicero Jurado, Jr. of the Manila RTC Br. 11 also ordered Kapunan to pay P500,000 in attorney’s fees.
The case stemmed from an interview of Kapunan on ANC in October 2017.
Divina claimed Kapunan, who represents the Castillo family, maliciously accused him of having recruited Castillo to join the Aegis Juris Fraternity, of meeting with members of the fraternity after the alleged hazing happened, and of coddling fraternity members who took part in the initiation rites.
Kapunan also used the term “obstructionist to justice” in referring to Divina.
In March 2019, the Department of Justice (DOH) dismissed the libel and cyber libel complaints filed by Divina against Kapunan, but indicted her for slander.
In January this year, the Manila MeTC Br 17 acquitted Kapunan.
Jurado, of the Manila RTC Br 11, said that while an acquittal is final and may not be appealed because of the constitutional rule against double jeopardy, it can be set aside in a petition for certiorari on the ground that the court acted with grave abuse of discretion.
Evaluating Manila MeTC’s decision, Jurado said the lower court’s decision was “erroneous and obviously tainted with discrepancy” and disregarded the prosecution’s evidence.
“It is apparent that [Kapunan’s] statement is annoying and vexatio[u]s to petitioner Divina. The term ‘obstructionist’ is upsetting to him. But the court a quo considered the same to be unsubstantiated by proof beyond reasonable doubt,” Jurado said.
“In effect, as correctly pointed out by petitioner, the lower court simply parroted private respondent’s and her witnesses’ testimonies. Then it went into a sweeping ruling that there was no unjust vexation,” he explained.
Jurado said it was not shown in the Manila MeTC’s ruling that Divina recruited Atio, that the Atio family communicated with Divina regarding their son joining the fraternity, nor that he coddled frat members, pointing out that the Justice department dismissed the case filed by the Atio family against Divina.
“[T]he ruling of the lower court contravenes jurisprudence and the very definition of unjust vexation,” he said.
Atio Castillo was killed during initiation rites of the Aegis Juris fraternity on September 17, 2017.
Ten UST students are facing a hazing charge under Republic Act 8049, which carries a penalty of up to 40 years in prison if the hazing resulted in death.
In January this year, a Manila court denied their bail plea after it found sufficient evidence that all of them took part in hitting and punching Atio, among other acts, and that he died due to “severe blunt traumatic injuries” on “both upper limbs.”
In June 2019, another Manila court found one Aegis Juris fraternity member guilty of obstruction of justice after he lied about having found the law freshman’s body on a sidewalk.
John Paul Solano, who brought Atio’s body to a hospital, was sentenced to up to 4 years, 2 months and 1 day in prison./Stacy Ang