Monday, March 1, 2004  

   
BY JANUAR E. YAP                      

        Of Sun.Star
Cebu

      The businessman is out, the crusader is in.

      That might as well be the sign on Miguel del Gallego's office door since the Supreme Court ordered the death of six of seven convicts in the Chiong kidnap-rape-slay case.

      It's no joke, putting to death an innocent man," del Gallego says.

      Del Gallego, 57, has taken unofficial leave from his business and civic activities to take the cudgels for his daughters, who had testified that Francisco "Paco" Larraņaga was with them in Manila at the same time the Chiong sisters were abducted in 1997.

       Since the High Court's decision, raising the penalty from life terms to lethal injection, del Gallego's daughters, now based abroad, circulated their statements and photographs (of them with Paco the night of the incident) online.

      "We have to get to the bottom of this," says del Gallego. He carries with him a thick case with all the documents (newspaper clippings, court records, etc.) arranged chronologically.

      "With the books I read, I might as well be a lawyer," he says. 

Can you tell us how this became a personal crusade for you?
     
Well, maybe so, because my daughters were really with Paco at that time and they have all the proof that they were there. 

      But unfortunately, during that time, some people took it all the way to Malacaņang and made sure that all the suspects will be convicted. We didn't do anything during those days because everything led to the possibility that they will be convicted.

      In fact, I was surprised that they only got two life sentences and not lethal injection. The way it was going, even before the judge had his first hearing, he already convicted all of them. The prosecutors, they didn't have anything, yet they filed a case without bail.

      Remember, (state witness Davidson) Rusia was not there yet when these kids were rounded up and placed in jail. So what was the proof they had then?

      Then, all of a sudden, a guy like Rusia appeared and started confessing things. But I believe Rusia was not really there. If he was there with the group, and assuming that the men in this group really are the guilty parties--I'm talking of the group, not Paco, because Paco was in Manila--why didn't the police keep Rusia in jail so he could ask the other guys where the other body was?

      What they did was to separate him immediately. That's the question I want to ask the police.

      When did you decide to really come out strongly with your crusade?
   
Let's put it this way, I was really sure that the Supreme Court would either release them or give them a fair trial. I don't know how the Supreme Court works, but from what I've gathered lately, you can't introduce new evidence if you're filing a motion for reconsideration. You can't change whatever is in the records of the case.

      If the judge says some evidence can't be included, then it can't. But the Supreme Court changed life imprisonment to lethal injection. That's not a joke anymore. We just can't keep quiet and let an innocent man die. I am talking of Paco alone, but I am beginning to believe that maybe some of them were not really there, too. If you look at the records, they weren't all there.

     How far have you studied records of the case?
     
This is the apartment logbook dated July 16, 1997 where Paco was studying then. There was this entry placed on top, on Paco coming in. The prosecution said this was doctored. They asked why the entry was on top when they normally wrote it above the line.  And why was it 2215 HRS and preceding the other earlier entries.

      But if you have this logbook, you don't have to write that on top because an entry below already proves that Paco was already inside. If you have this logbook and you want to help Paco, you don't need to write that one entry on top, the entries below sufficiently prove that he was inside.

      The guard's explanation was that at the time Paco was leaving, he was talking to somebody. This was the explanation in court.

      Unfortunately, we don't have enough facilities in our country. If this had happened in another country, you could bring the paper to the FBI, for example, and then they would compare the ink and find out if the entries were written on the same day. 

      At what stage are you in your advocacy?
     
People are asking me why I do this. People know me, that I don't lie. Why will I save a convicted

                      
CRUSADE. Businessman Miguel del Gallego presents one of many documents he keeps carrying these days on the Chiong case. "I'm not against the Chiongs," he stresses. I am looking for the truth."  
                                                              
SUN.STAR FOTO/AMPER CAMPAņA

convicted rapist or a murderer? I can't do that. I don't get anything out of it. I am not related to them. I know the Larraņagas, but not really close enough.

      So why would I risk my life, my family, my children, coming out in the open? It's dangerous because there might be someone up there who doctored all of these. There's also the danger of being ridiculed.

      If there's any school or civic organization that will invite me to talk on these, I'll be willing to do so. I've already prepared the documents in chronological order.

      I even have this story before, when one of the investigation's was leading to a retired police who was also involved in drugs. That was then the thrust of the police.

      The National Bureau of Investigation's   (NBI) thrust was that it must've involved young men who were always in malls, getting onto trouble.  The NBI had a list. The police got it and raised it to eight.

      That's why Paco doesn't know Tisoy (Rusia), the Uy brothers and (Ariel) Balansag and (Alan) Caņo. He only knew (Rowen) Adlawan and (Josman) Aznar. They only met each other in jail. They were even joking, "O, ikaw pala and kasama ko."  

      I'm not saying whether anybody is guilty or innocent, I can only talk about Paco because he was with my children. The pictures are there. If we go to court, everything will come out, and who knows, we might know the truth about what really happened to the sisters.

      I'm doing all these until somebody listens.

      Have you been ridiculed because of this?
   
Some radio stations say that I've been paid and things like that. But some are nice enough to listen to my side. They didn't insult me. But some radio stations I no longer bother to call. They really hit me below the belt.

      Have you talked to anyone of influence?
    
I've been talking to people. The ones who are really interested are the foreign entities. The European countries are against the death penalty, and if they find out that the guys have been framed, worse pa. I've been giving information already. Some couldn't believe that President Estrada had a hand in this.  Until I showed them that paper where Erap tells the judge, "Either you give them death or quit."

      We have to find out the truth. It's not only to save Paco, but to save the truth. We have to look for the other girl. (Jacqueline Chiong remains missing and is presumed dead.)

      Remember 25 percent of prisoners in jail are innocent, that's the statistics. Out of the 25 percent, 95 percent of them are poor people. Because if guys like Larraņaga, rich and powerful, can be framed, how much more the poor people who can't even afford a lawyer?

      That makes you naturally against death penalty, right?
    
Yes, with this kind of justice we have here in the Philippines. When I was younger, I thought it was the best for us. But with this situation we now have... as long as our justice system is the way it is now, as long as our prosecutors are ambitious for a higher position, there can never be a fair trial in the Philippines. If we have the police that uses police assets to convict people.

      If the police says you're guilty, you're dead. How can you fight back?

      Have you visited Paco in jail?
      Lately, no. I talked to him before the Supreme Court decision. I'll make it a point if I'll have the chance. I feel bad for the guy. He's been there for already seven years. These kids already have many tattoos. They're practically there for the whole prime of their life.

      Have you talked with the Chiongs?
   
That's another thing I'd like to clarify. I am not against the Chiongs. I'm looking for the truth and this might even help them. If the truth comes out, we might even find the other girl. They're coming out with a threat against any witnesses that will reverse their testimonies.  

      I'm not here to set Paco free, no. We'll look at what really happened. In the end, they will thank me because they will find the truth. So instead of them attacking me on radio, let me do my work. I'm not gonna put them down. I know they have suffered a lot already. I am not here to bring back bad memories. I'm not doing that.

      I just want to find out the truth.

NOTE:   THE ABOVE TEXT IS THE FAITHFUL REPRODUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL
                                 DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                                   
    
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