Sunday, February 22, 2004 

No protection for witness?
BY Karlon N. Rama                      

       Sun.Star Staff Reporter

      WITH the case of the Chiong Seven finding its way back into the limelight, where is Davidson Valiente Rusia?

      The testimony of the bespectacled prosecution witness, who has since dropped from public view, was instrumental in the seven’s 1999 conviction and the recent Supreme Court decision that sent six of them to death row.

      Thelma Chiong, mother of victims Jacqueline and Marijoy, said Rusia went to her office late last month, but they were unable to talk because she was out. Chiong heads the Crusade Against Violence.

      She said Rusia has not returned nor attempted to reach her. She also has no way of reaching Rusia who, she disclosed, keeps moving from one place to another.

      In an interview last night, Chiong admitted being worried about Rusia. She believes Rusia “went back to his old habits.” She did not elaborate.

      Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) 7 chief investigator Enrique Lacerna, in a separate interview, said the police unit does not know Rusia’s whereabouts, even if Rusia was their ward at the height of the Chiong trial.

Crusade
      “We don’t know where he is or what he is doing. He hasn’t communicated with us,” Lacerna said, adding that CIDG doesn’t even know if Rusia’s allowance from the witness protection program is still being given.

      Now, as the family and friends of Juan Francisco “Paco” Larrañaga launch their crusade to save the Osmeña scion from lethal injection, Rusia may have to face the public again.

      Rusia was the only prosecution witness who categorically identified Larrañaga as being among the culprits in the case.

      Business leader Miguel Juan del Gallego, whose two daughters testified in Larrañaga’s defense, has refused reelection as chairman of a top social development foundation, so he can lead the fight to get Larrañaga off death row.

     He said a witness admitted to him once that he wasn’t really sure if Larrañaga was the same mestizo who was with the six other convicts, when they abducted the Chiong sisters on the night of July 16, 1997 and brought them to a safehouse in Guadalupe, Cebu City, then to Carcar town.

      He quoted the witness as admitting that it was people from the CIDG who assured him that they got the right guy.

No doubt
     
In reaction, Thelma Chiong said Rusia’s statement was recorded in court and that an evaluation of his testimony would show that he identified Larrañaga as among her daughters’ tormentors.

      She lashed out at del Gallego for “disturbing the spirit of the past,” saying he too will have his day.

      “He (Rusia) identified all the accused positively. He mentioned all their names in court. Why do we doubt his statement? Is it because Mr. del Gallego happens to be rich? Is it because Mr. del Gallego has a high standing in the community?” Chiong said.

      She also threatened to file perjury charges against anybody who will force witnesses, such as Rusia, to reverse their testimonies.

      Rusia was discharged as an accused in the Chiong case in 1999 and was considered a free man months before Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo handed down his verdict last May 5, 1999.

      Ivan, a cousin and a close friend who was interviewed a few days after the conviction, had said Rusia went into hiding after learning that the promulgation of the decision was fast approaching.

      While he was placed under the witness protection program of the Department of Justice, then Regional State Prosecutor Hernando Masangkay wrote him off the protected list for still unverified reasons.

      But sometime in the middle of 2001, after a year in hiding, Rusia showed up at the CIDG 7 Bohol field office under Insp. Ben Elpusan. Elpusan said Rusia stayed there for a few months and served as an errand boy.

      A self-confessed drug user who spent most of his teenage life in the US, Rusia joined a charismatic organization while in Bohol and was reportedly active in church for a time.

NOTE:   THE ABOVE TEXT IS THE FAITHFUL REPRODUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL
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