Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Campaign to reopen...... Chiong murder case...... launched
By M. Rullan

     An international campaign to support the reopening of the Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga case was launched Tuesday after the Supreme Court denied the defense lawyer's plea to refer his case for review at the Court of Appeals and its motion for oral arguments on the case.

     Larraņaga's lawyers, family and friends, in a press briefing in Makati, insisted that "Paco" was the victim of injustice after he was sentenced to death through lethal injection for the death, with six others, of sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong in 1997 in Cebu.

     The campaign for signatures for support for a fair trial for Paco was supported by the "Unheard 35," are reference to the 35 witnesses who were not allowed by a Cebu Regional Trial Court judge to testify in court, even though they all issued affidavits, at the risk of perjury, supporting Paco's claim that he was with them when the rape-murder of the Chiong sisters took place.

     Larraņaga is being represented by former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoņez, who insists that under Philippine law, his client should be allowed to raise before the appellate court factual shortcomings during the trial of the controversial case.

     Judge Martin Ocampo, who tried the Chiong case, repeatedly refused to allow the testimony of at least 10 defense witnesses, jailed the defense counsel and justified his moves by saying that "the defense can take the matter when it reaches the SC."

     Judge Ocampo later died in an apparent suicide.

     "Today, after seven years in prison, he [Larraņaga] has been moved to death row. This is a great injustice because my son is innocent. He could not have committed the crimes imputed on him because he was in Quezon City continuously before, during and after the commission of the crime in Cebu," Larranaga's mother said.

      Cebu businessman Miguel Juan del Gallego, who mm

has taken up the case, claims that the main witness of the prosecution, Davidson Rusia, had been twice convicted of burglary and perjury in the United States. Rusia claims to have been a friend of Paco.

     After the Larraņaga conviction, Rusia had a falling out with the victim's family, who complained about the latter's alleged repeated demands for money and support from them.

     The other witnesses in the cases are "police assets" who said they were near the crime scene around 3 a.m. but curiously failed to report the matter to their police handlers until three months later, or shortly before the trial.

       Pending before the Supreme Court is a motion for reconsideration in the main case of the Chiongs.

     A number of law groups from Spain and the European Union, acting for Larraņaga---who is technically a Spanish citizen---have asked the Supreme Court to allow a retrial of the case to silence talks of irregularities.

      The High Court, in a 77-page decision in February, affirmed the guilt of all seven accused and raised the original penalty of two life terms to death. Only the youngest convict, James Andrew Uy, 16, was spared from death row, but will be made to serve two life sentences.

     The SC said in the ruling: "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, we can never go against what is laid down in our statute books and established jurisprudence."

     The other accused are Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caņo, Ariel Balansag and James Anthony Uy. They are now on death row.

     The court treated as separate cases the kidnapping and serious illegal detention, with homicide and rape, of Marijoy and the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of Jaqueline.

     Justices Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug, Artemio Panganiban, Leonardo Quisumbing, Consuelo Yņares Santiago, Angelina Gutierrez, Antonio Carpio, Ma. Alicia Martinez, Renato Corona, Conchita Morales, Romeo Callejo Sr. and Dante Tinga voted against the accused.

     Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., whose wife is a relative by affinity of the Chiongs, and Justice Adolfo Azcuna took no part in the deliberation.

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