Wednesday, February 18, 2004

      "DO not let them kill me for I have done nothing wrong."

       The appeal came from Juan Francisco "Paco" Larraņaga whose recorded message was played yesterday at the end of a Mass for the "Chiong 7," seven men found guilty for the deaths of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in 1997.

        Six of the men, including Larraņaga, were sentenced to die by lethal injection by the Supreme Court.

        "In this fight for justice, I have no voice, I need you to be my voice. My hands are shackled, I need you to be my hands. Don't let them kill me for I have done nothing wrong, this has been an uphill battle, help me give them a good fight," Larraņaga said.

        Many of those who listened to the taped message, including Paco's mother Margarita and Cebu City First Lady Margarita 'Margot' Osmeņa were teary eyed.

        The Mass attended by the Larraņaga's and the relatives of the other convicts, was held in a chapel on the second floor of the Cebu Catholic Television Network (CCTV) building at 6 p.m.

        The recorded message started off with Paco sounding jolly: "Hi everyone, this is Paco," he said, "I wish I could be with you now sus kung puede pa lang unta (I can wish) unfortunately I can only be there in spirit."

       "I would like to say in front of God and all of you that I am innocent. I do not know the Chiong sisters and I have nothing to do with them," he said.

      "I swore to you that I was in Manila on July 16, 1997. And yet here I am jailed for seven years and now sentenced to die for a crime I did not do," he said, this time in serious tone.

        "God has answered my prayers in different ways, he gave me strength to bear this and put hope into my heart that miracles would still happen," he said.

     Before the tape was played, Paco's mother, Margarita expressed her thanks to those who joined the Mass. "Join us in praying for the enlightenment  of our justices," she said.

        While she refused to comment on the case, Mrs. Larraņaga said she was asking the public to pray for her son and she said her lawyers are working on a motion for reconsideration.

        Father Victor Labao of the Jesuit Prison Service, who used to be the chaplain of New Bilibid, in Muntinglupa, celebrated the Mass.

      "I do not know Paco and his friends. I know their names but not in person. My wish is that our step is towards resolution of crisis and this should start with a step of faith," he said during his 30-minute homily.

        Fr. Labao, who said he has a brother behind bars, said in his experience "the people who are closest to God are those inside the jail, people who are not religious."

        Joining him was Fr. Vince Gornes, another Jesuit priest.

        "We continue to beg the Lord for his intervention in our lives, that of Paco and friends but most specially us so that we will hear what God wants us to hear, see what God wants us to see and do what God wants us to do," Gornes said.

        "People will stop looking for answers to several questions when they start believing that God is with them," he said.  (Suzzane B. Salva).


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