MANILA -- The Supreme Court has ordered the release of Aegis Juris fraternity leader Arvin Balag, who has been detained at the Senate for contempt in the legislative inquiry on the hazing death of University of Santo Tomas (UST) law freshman Horacio "Atio" Castillo III.
“Order in the interim the immediate release of petitioner Arvin Balag on the basis of his prayer set forth in his motion to resolve petition pending the resolution of the instant petition by the Court,” read the two-page order signed by Felipa B. Anama, Clerk of Court, dated Dec. 12 but was released to media on Friday.
Balag has been detained in the Senate since Oct. 18 after being cited in contempt for refusing to answer questions regarding his leadership and membership in the UST-based fraternity, during the probe into Castillo’s death.
In a petition filed last Oct. 25, the fratman sought a temporary restraining order against his detention and an order for his release.
He argued that the contempt order violated the constitutional right of persons appearing in legislative probes, as well as the right to fair trial, and that the investigation was not in aid of legislation but "in aid of prosecution".
Balag also claimed he was denied equal protection of the law, claiming that other resource persons who refused to answer "incriminating questions" of senators were not cited in contempt.
Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson on Friday confirmed Balag’s release from Senate custody.
“We opted in the meantime to respect and comply with the SC resolution ordering the interim release of Balag even before its final ruling on the main case,” Lacson, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, said in a text message.
He, however, said that Balag’s release does not mean that the Senate is ready to give up the “rights of the legislature” since it is a co-equal branch of the government.
He said the Senate will tackle Balag’s issue at the proper time as a collegial body.
The senator, meanwhile, said that allowing Balag’s release was also done “in the spirit of Christmas”.
“We did so, all in the spirit of Christmas, not to mention our desire to avoid a constitutional crisis during the holiday season,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Castillo family hoped that Balag would stay longer in Senate detention.
“We were hoping na sana tumagal pa siya sa Senate detention pero meron tayong sinusunod na batas (he would stay longer in Senate detention but we have laws to follow),” said Atio’s father and namesake, Horacio II.
Atio’s father also said the fight continues to secure justice for the UST law student’s death.
“Hindi kami titigil. Lahat sila lalabanan namin (We will not stop, we will fight them),” Horacio II said in apparent reference to those involved in his son’s death.
Balag is among the respondents facing criminal charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ) for Castillo's death on September 17.
He has denied criminal liabilities and asked the DOJ to dismiss the charges, arguing there is no evidence that Castillo went through physical or psychological injury as a prerequisite for admission to Aegis Juris.
Castillo died after attending the "welcoming rites" of the fraternity. (With report from Azer N. Parrocha/PNA)