Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Kin of Chiong slay........ convict insists he's...... innocent
By Aurea Calica

     The family of Francisco Juan "Paco" Larrañaga, one of six men sentenced to death in the rape-killing of the Chiong sisters in Cebu, insisted yesterday that he is innocent of the crime.

     His mother, Margarita Gonzales Larrañaga, said they were "on the last leg of our quest for justice" as they banked on a favorable Supreme Court ruling on their motion for reconsideration of the lower court’s decision convicting his son.

     Margarita and businessman Miguel Juan del Gallego, however, lamented that the Supreme Court denied their motion to have the body of Marijoy Chiong exhumed and subjected to DNA tests, for their lawyers’ oral arguments to be heard, and for the case to be referred to the Court of Appeals for review.

     "We went to the Supreme Court on appeal, questioning the erroneous findings of the regional trial court of Cebu that caused the unjustified deprivation of my son’s basic right to due process," Margarita said.

     "Sadly, instead of correcting the grave injustice committed by the RTC, the (Supreme Court) affirmed the trial court’s decision and even increased the penalty to death by excusing the otherwise grave constitutional infractions committed by the police, the prosecutors and the trial court and affirming the insufferable standard of ‘physical impossibility’ in a alibi," she added.

     Margarita said his son and their other witnesses, especially those who could testify that Francisco Juan was not in Cebu but in Quezon City when the crime was committed on July 16, 1997, were not given the chance to be heard in court.

      Margarita said the courts should not disregard the many testimonies on her son’s innocence, some of which even came from Spain because his son is a Filipino-Spanish citizen.

      Instead of just 80 years in prison, the Supreme Court imposed the death penalty on Francisco Juan, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Cano, Ariel Balansag and James Andrew Uy.

     Another convict, James Anthony Uy, who was 16 years old when the crime was committed, was sentenced to reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment) for the special complex crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape, and separately meted a 12-17 jail term for simple kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

     In raising the penalty, the Supreme Court said, "At times we may show compassion and mercy but not at the expense of the broader interest of fair play and justice."

       "While we also find it difficult to mete out the penalty of death, especially on young men who could have led productive and promising lives if only they were given enough guidance, however, we can never go against what is laid down in our statute books and established jurisprudence," it added.

      In a companion criminal case, the Supreme Court also found the appellants guilty of simple kidnapping and serious illegal detention of Marijoy’s sister, Jacqueline, and were sentenced to reclusion perpetua. Until now, Jacqueline’s body has not been found.

     "What she and what further crimes were inflicted upon her remain unknown and unsolved up to the present," the Supreme Court said.

     Aside from capital punishment, the appellants were also ordered to indemnify the victims’ heirs P100,000 as civil indemnity, P25,000 as temperate damages, P150,000 as moral damages, and P100,000 as exemplary damages.

     The prosecution centered on the testimony of state witness Davidson Valiente Rusia. His testimony, which was corroborated by 21 other witnesses, recounted the kidnapping and gang-rape of Marijoy and Jacqueline on July 16, 1997.

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