Saturday, February 21, 2004

Businessman 'won't let 
innocent' Paco Larraņaga die, pleads
to Chiongs
Biz leader gives up top spot
of foundation to help Paco 

BY Cherry Ann T. Lim

        CEBU -- Business leader Miguel Juan del Gallego declined Friday his nomination for another term as chairman of a non-profit foundation, saying he needed to devote his time and energy to saving an innocent man from lethal injection.

      "I can't let an innocent man die," del Gallego said, referring to Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga, during the 16th Visayas Annual Membership Meeting of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).

      Del Gallego was supposed to make a presentation of the members of the foundation's Visayas executive committee, which he chairs. Instead, he used the time to explain that he could not see himself helping so many poor people, when there was someone who had spent "seven years in jail for a crime he could not have committed.

      "Del Gallego said "not one, not two, but three daughters" of his were with Larraņaga in Manila the night the Chiong sisters were abducted and killed.

      In an emotional speech, he said, "I truly believe in Paco's innocence. And I truly empathize with the Chiong family for their loss. But I cannot and I will not let an innocent man die. In time, the Chiongs will appreciate I am doing."

      For her part, Thelma Chiong told Sun.Star she remained confident in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses.

       Chiong said she was "very hurt" by the development and that she had personally checked the records and saw there was no doubt that Larraņaga was among those who tormented her daughters Marijoy and Jacqueline.

      "I personally do not want to imprison anyone who was not guilty of raping and killing my daughters," she said in a phone interview last night.

      "Nationwide, no one has objected to the death penalty for the Chiong Seven," she added. Since her daughters' tragedy, Chiong has been active in the Crusade Against Violence.

      After all these years, Chiong said, the families of the convicts should accept "that the consequence of crime is a penalty.

      "Del Gallego, for his part, said he recently talked with one of the prosecution witnesses, who told him that he never categorically pointed to Larraņaga as one of the suspects.

      The police, "under pressure to produce results," could have inadvertently taken some "shortcuts" in the case, the businessman said.

      Earlier Friday, he told his PBSP colleagues, "Please pray that nothing untoward will happen to any member of my family in our search for truth and justice."

      Three daughters of del Gallego--Marianne, Mona Lisa and Ma. Christina--had said that Larraņaga was in Manila on July 16, 1997, attending a party with friends in a Quezon City bistro.

      Except for Mona Lisa, the sisters were presented in court by the defense.

(CORRECTION: Only one sister, Maitina,  was allowed to testify; Mona Lisa, in fact, was already in the witness stand when the judge dismissed her even before she could testify. The other sister, Marianne was never allowed to take the stand...The webmaster.)

      The del Gallego sisters later invited Thelma Chiong to an informal meeting "between a mother and daughters" to convince her that their friend had nothing to do with the abduction.

Chiong declined
      In 1999, Judge Martin Ocampo convicted Larraņaga and six others for the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of the Chiong sisters. The six others are Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Ariel Balansag, Alberto Caņo, James Anthony Uy and his brother James Andrew.

      The Supreme Court affirmed the guilty verdict last Feb. 2.

      More than that, however, it also convicted the "Chiong seven" of rape and homicide in Marijoy's case, and raised the penalty to death.

      "I expected the Supreme Court to set Paco free or order a new trial," del Gallego told Sun.Star in a phone interview last night.

      In a recent e-mail, his daughters Marianne and Mona Lisa called "for the truth to be heard.

      "New evidence is required for any of the Chiong Seven to get a fresh trial. With IDA

                DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                    

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