UST law dean won't resign amid senators' call for him to step down

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) — University of Santo Tomas (UST) law dean Nilo Divina on Thursday refused calls for him to give up his post over the hazing death of fraternity neophyte Horacio "Atio" Castillo III.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines, Divina said it would be an "injustice" to UST law students if resigned. 

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: I will not step down. It's a matter between me and UST, between me and the students. I cannot abandon my students. I cannot abandon the plans I've laid out for them to pass the bar examination. I am committed to the institution and to my students... It would be an injustice to them if I resign at this point," he stressed. 

In their joint report, two senate committees said Divina should resign because of his involvement in Atio's death at the hands of Aegis Juris Fraternity members. Divina is a member of the fraternity but is on leave.

Related: Senate panels conclude Atio died of hazing, seek disbarment of UST law dean  

The report also concluded that Atio died on September 17 last year, during initiation rites led by Aegis Juris president Arvin Balag, fraternity members Oliver John Onofre, Axel Hipe, Marc Anthony Ventura, Zachary Abulencia, and Daniel Ragos, among others.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, vice chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on Wednesday said Balag led the "barbaric and inhumane" hazing that killed Atio. He noted that the muscle trauma that Atio sustained caused the young man's immediate death from cardiac failure.

The Senate report said Divina's position in the university clearly posed a threat to witnesses who might want to speak up about the case.  It further said that turning in his resignation was the least the dean could to "make up for the injustice done to the Castillo family."

But Divina said the fear of interference had no basis.

"You cannot control the students. If they want me out, they will express it. I have the support of the students, the alumni, faculty, and the management," he pointed out. 

Lacson said Divina committed acts that showed bias for the fraternity before and after Atio's death.

Lacson noted that photos of Divina with Aegis Juris members belie the dean's claim that he cut ties with the fraternity when he assumed his post at UST. The senator also found it unacceptable for someone as powerful as Divina to be clueless about Atio's death, considering his ties to the fraternity.

The Senate committees accused him of perjury for saying he's been on leave from the Aegis Juris Fraternity since he became dean as pictures show him present at the group's anniversary celebration.

Divina said, "Show me pictures for example that I fraternized with them: attending bar operations, attending meetings and socials after that. To be active means to attend bar operations, attend meetings, but if you're invited as a dean to attend a function of an organization. It's disrespectful not to attend."

Divina ready to defend himself against disbarment charges

The report also recommended to the Supreme Court the disbarment of Divina and 17 other lawyers from Aegis Juris for failing to report Atio's death despite being aware of the incident.

"It should not apply to me obviously, because I had no prior knowledge of  the hazing incident and I have been very cooperative with the authorities," Davina said. "But if, for whatever reason, the complaint for disbarment is filed against me, I have to defend myself. I'm optimistic that I will be vindicated because I did not do anything wrong, illegal, or unethical," he said. 

Divina is also facing a disbarment case before the Supreme Court for his alleged involvement in the so-called unexplained wealth of former poll chief Andres Bautista. He is also facing murder and obstruction of justice charges at the justice department in relation to the Atio case.

He remains unfazed.

"I have a clear conscience. God is our witness, so I am not bothered by the disbarment complaints... I'm innocent and the truth is on my side," the law dean said.

He also pointed out that the injustice done to Atio would not be rectified by an injustice to him.

"I regret what happened to Atio. It's very painful, especially since it happened during my time as dean of the faculty of civil law. I feel their pain, I feel their sense of loss. I'll do everything so that justice will be served. But let us not commit an injustice against a person who is innocent. We cannot rectify a wrong by committing another mistake. I think it is an injustice against me and my family, my students, to be accused of something I did not do," he argued. 

CNN Philippines senior digital producer Lara Tan contributed to this report.