Thursday, November 19, 1998 

      AN 18-YEAR OLD former Ateneo de Manila coed yesterday testified in court she was with Francisco Juan Larraņaga in a bar in Quezon City when the Chiong sisters were abducted on July 16, 1997.

     Lourdes Pacita Montalvan said she, Larraņaga and a couple of friends went to R & R bat at Katipunan Road in Quezon City at about 10:00 p.m. that day.

     "I was never far from Paco (Larraņaga," Montalvan said, adding they shared the same table. 

     She said she left the bar at about midnight. Larraņaga, who she described as a "friend" was left behind with his other friends, the witness said.

     Montalvan, a native of Bukidnon, studied at the Ateneo de Manila University last year. She rented a unit in the same condominium in Loyola Heights, Quezon City where Larraņaga used to stay.

     She rented Unit 501 of the Loyola Heights Condominium in Quezon City. Larraņaga occupied Unit 601.

     She said she first met Larraņaga "in the middle of June 1997 through a common friend Anton Pages."

     After their meeting, she said, she would usually see Larraņaga "four times in a day" in various parts of the condominium.

     She also used to go to his room. Asked by the court how many times she did that, she said, "I lost count." Sometimes, she said, she went to Larraņaga's room alone at night.

      The revelation sent the judge wondering aloud.

      "Is that proper behavior for a school girl?" Judge Martin Ocampo asked.

     Defense lawyer Sisinio Andales stood up and reminded the judge not to ascribe malice in the testimony.

     "I was just wondering," Ocampo said.

     In her testimony, Montalvan said, she visited Larraņaga in his room on July 16, 1997 at 7 p.m. In the room, she said, she met Larraņaga's friends "Richard and Charmaine."

     The witness said she stayed there until 9:30 p.m. She returned to her unit "to fix supper" after they had decided to go out later in the night. 

     At around 10 p.m., she said, a certain Jheanessa Ann Fonacier picked her and Larraņaga up. They then picked up another friend, Maharlika Schulze, and proceeded to the "R&R" bar along Katipunan Road, Quezon City.

     Montalvan said she shared the same table with Larraņaga until she, Fonacier and Schulze decided to leave the bar at around midnight.

     "There were more than 10 friends of Paco in the bar with us," she told the court.

     Asked by Larraņaga's lawyer Teodoro Villarmia why the group dined out, Montalvan said, "Paco was leaving for Cebu the next day and another friend arrived."

     Larraņaga, she said, was scheduled to take the last Manila-Cebu flight of Philippine Airlines on July 17, 1997 as he still had to take his exam in a culinary arts school.

      Montalvan took the witness stand in place of Margarita Larraņaga, mother of the accused, at the request of the defense panel.

      The witness had to go back to Cagayan de Oro where she is presently studying. From Ateneo de Manila, she transferred to Xavier University where she is a second-year Philosophy student. She moved to the Cagayan de Oro school after she was placed on probation by Ateneo officials for low grades.

      Prosecutors immediately got the chance to cross-examine, and it was Prosecutor Teresita Galanida who grilled the witness for over two hours.                 

     For most part, Montalvan remained confident under pressure, and seemed comfortable explaining alleged inconsistencies in her testimony.

      She said she offered to testify on her own "because Paco (Larraņaga) was really in Manila on July 16, 1997," the date the Chiong sisters were ravaged in Cebu.

      Larraņaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, brother James Anthony and James Andrew Uy, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caņo are accused of abducting and killing Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong, and killing Marijoy. 

      On cross-examination, Galanida probed deeply, hoping to find weaknesses in the witness' testimony and catch her off-balanced.

     The prosecutor hammered on Montalvan's claim she first knew that Larraņaga was involved in the Chiong case on Sept. 15, 1997.

     The accused reportedly came to her room to tell her about the crime.

     "The information (against the Chiong suspects) was filed on Sept. 16, does that mean Paco already knew he was one of the accused," asked Galanida. 

     The witness said Larraņaga knew he was implicated in the crime when some men went to the Center for Culinary Arts, Manila and tried to arrest him.

     Galanida also kept on pounding on apparent disparities between Montalvan's affidavit, which she executed on Oct. 2, 1997, and her open court testimony yesterday.

     In her testimony, she said she met "Richard" and "Charmaine" in Larraņaga's when she went there. There was no mention of "Charmaine" in her affidavit.

     Montalvan could not give a clear, coherent answer when asked why she failed to mention the presence of the woman in Larraņaga's room.

    As Galanida pressured the witness, defense lawyers gave Galanida a tough time by interposing objections to most of her questions.

    At one point, she banged documents on the prosecutors' table in exasperation and complained to Judge Ocampo. "This is already harassment," she wailed. 

    "Then do not ask kilometric questions to the witnesses... you throw simple and concise questions," defense lawyer Sisinio Andales lectured the lady prosecutor.

     "Do not teach me how to propound questions. I know how to construct questions on cross-examination," Galanida snapped back.

      Defense counsel Eric Carin said they were just giving Galanida a dose of her own medicine.

      Meanwhile, Teodoro Villarmia's odd courtroom tactics earned the ire of the judge. 

     Villarmia was repeatedly warned not to answer for the witnesses. The lawyer would first make the objection and then somehow manage to coach the witness.

     "I'll hold you in contempt paņero and I'll send you to jail. Don't answer for the witness," judge Ocampo warned him for what could have been the last time.

      Villarmia knew the judge was not joking. He promised not to do it again.

NOTE:  1.  RED COLOR OURS FOR EMPHASIS.                                                                                

              GO BACK TO                   GO TO THE         
             HOME                NEXT ISSUE