Monday,  October 11, 2004    
by Suzzane B. Salva

     Manila -- A glimmer of hope was what Margarita Larraņaga, mother of Francisco Juan "Paco," saw yesterday after a lady legislator assured her that a House committee would work for the abolition of the death penalty.

       At a gathering of nearly 200 anti-death penalty advocates in Malate, Manila, Rep. Etta Rosales told Mrs. Larraņaga her son's case would be cited in her campaign.

       "This is a very concrete case," Rosales said. "We will try to get a review of the case because it is easier to put a face in the person who is wrongly accused."

     "It would be very good, it would be very interesting," the congresswoman said.

       After the Supreme Court handed down the death penalty against the Chiong Seven last Fe. 3, Mrs. Larraņaga joined the cause to erase the severest form of criminal punishment.

        She is now a member of the Samahan ng mga Pamilya ng mga Nasa Death Row, Inc. composed of families whose relatives are in the death chamber.

    Twelve justices of the high court not only affirmed the decision of the late judge Martin Ocampo, who convicted seven men for the kidnapping of sister's Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, it also upgraded their sentence from life to death.

        Because of minority, James Anthony Uy was meted out t a life sentence.

    After hearing Mrs. Larraņaga's accounts, Rosales said the case of her son could be cited as a concrete example in their fight to abolish the death penalty.

      Larraņaga told the lady legislator of her family's frustrations of awaiting the SC review and anticipating the death verdict.

        Rep. Rosales promised to take action. "I can bring and present the Larraņaga's case in the committee (of human rights). I can bring the legislators against the death penalty to Bilibid prison and talk to him (Paco)," she said.

    "If I can get a situationer about your case, we can even present it to the committee as a particular example," she told Larraņaga.

        "It would be difficult, but if we make a lot of noise, and information  campaign, then we would have a chance," Rosales added.

     Mrs. Larraņaga, who was already fighting back tears while listening to Rep. Rosales, smiled.

      Rosales asked Paco's mother to send her a mmm

copy of the court decision, assuring Larraņaga she would talk to lawyers from the law firm of Haide Yorac.

      "We will try to find out about this," Rosales said, when asked if they could still get a reversal of the SC' en banc decision.

      "The death penalty is a long process," Rep. Rosales said, adding it meant convincing congressmen to pass the law repealing the penalty.

        "To be able to pass the law, you have to be able to get the support of the congressmen. Hopefully, the Cebuano solons can help me also," she said.

        Mrs. Larraņaga said she believed Paco was placed in his present position for a purpose. "Maybe it's because we have to really fight against the death penalty and Paco i made an instrument to prove that there really are people who get convicted, and are given the death penalty," she said.

    In an earlier interview inside her rented apartment in Muntinglupa near the New Bilibid Prison, Mrs. Larraņaga said she had taken an active stand against the death penalty when the late judge Ocampo convicted her son.

        "I am against the death penalty, but up to that point lang. But now, we are thinking that we have a mission, and that is to lobby against it. she said.

        Aside from Larraņaga, close to 200 supporters and relatives of people on the death row signed a covenant during yesterday's celebration of the World Day Against Death Penalty.

        "If people commit a crime, we don't kill them. We give them a chance to reform," she said.
        More than five years after their conviction by the trial court, the "Chiong Seven" remain optimistic of their chance.

        "We are innocent," said Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga, 26, in his first public interview last Saturday since he and six other men were shipped to Manila in May 1999.

         All wailed when news of the SC decision, promulgated last Feb. 3, broke out. "Naunsa naman nga na death naman hinuoon (What happened, we instead got the death penalty)," Larraņaga said.

        "I don't want to show mom that naguol ko. I want to show them a strong front but I felt so bad," he said.

        Larraņaga recalled the exact words his father told him in Spanish: "How can they do this? You wasted seven years of your life and now they want to kill you?"

        Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag, Alberto Caņo and James Anthony Uy, who is the youngest in the group, consented to face CDN.

      James Anthony's elder brother, James Andrew, now a Born Again preacher, was attending a service during the interview. The seventh member of the group, Rowen Adlawan, was spending time with his wife.

        When his parents left, Larraņaga said he cried in silence.

        He recalled one incident in court when he raised his hand and told the late judge Martin Ocampo that he wanted to take the stand. "If wal lang mi gi lambud ato (If we were not handcuffed), I would have gone to the witness stand and testified."

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