THE Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the validity of the preliminary inquiry conducted by the University of the Philippines-Student Disciplinary Tribunal (UP-SDT) against 13 of its students believed to be involved in the fatal hazing of Cris Anthony Mendez in 2007.
In a 16-page decision penned by Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando, the Court’s Second Division denied the petition filed by Ariel Paolo Ante assailing the decision issued by the Court of Appeals on October 6, 2015 and its resolution dated September 27, 2016, which reversed and set aside the order issued by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 83 nullifying the proceedings of the UP-SDT against him and his co-respondents.
The UP-SDT proceedings stemmed from the administrative charges filed against 13 UP students and members of the Sigma Rho fraternity who allegedly participate in the initiation rites that led to the death of Mendez, a student of the National College of Public Administration and Governance.
In particular, the formal charges accused them of leaving Mendez in the hospital and failing to give information to the authorities and comply with the directives of UP’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs to provide information on the circumstances surrounding Mendez’s death.
Ante argued in his petition that the preliminary inquiry was in violation of Section 1, Rule III of the Rules Governing Fraternities, which requires that the preliminary inquiry be conducted “by any member of the Tribunal.”
The SC noted that parties argue over the correct interpretation of the phrase “by any member of the SDT.”
Ante pointed out that the preliminary inquiry was done by the University Prosecutor and not by the SDT as required under the Rules Governing Fraternities.
On the other hand, the UP-SDT argued that the phrase should be construed as “through the means, act, agency or instrumentality” of any member of the SDT, thus, making the preliminary inquiry compliant with the provision, therefore, valid.
“The term ‘inquiry,’ which means ‘to request for information’ in its ordinary sense, necessarily implies that SDT took part in the conduct of such. This alone, satisfies the requirement that the preliminary inquiry be conducted ‘by a member of the SDT,’” the SC said.
“Moreover, we agree with the CA that it would be bordering absurdity if the statement be interpreted to mean that SDT ‘merely served as observers of the University Prosecutor, with themselves physically present thereat but meaning nothing at all.’ Thus, contrary to Ante’s assertion, to split hairs between the phrases ‘by the Student Disciplinary Tribunal’ and ‘before the Student Disciplinary Tribunal’ is actually a trifling matter,” the Court added.
The SC also did not give credence to Ante’s claim that his right to due process was violated when UP-SDT found prima facie case against him, even though what is required by the school regulations is merely determination of the sufficiency of a report or complaint.
The SC held that Ante’s claim of due process violation is “premature” since formal proceedings on the case have yet to start.
“SDT is in fact asking Ante to participate—the very essence of due process—but the latter so stubbornly refuses to do so and instead resorts to procedural devices meant to avoid the proceedings,” the SC noted.
“As to the argument that the finding of a prima facie case against him amounts to prejudgment, we find the same lacking in merit. Neither does it shift the burden of proof to him, nor violate the presumption of innocence in his favor,” it added.