Wednesday, December 29, 2004 
Cebu's 'mistrial' ...........
of the century


The Department  of Justice said the Supreme Court has refused to accept the international amicus curae ("friends of the court") briefs presented on behalf of death row convict and Spanish-Filipino citizen Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga, saying that it did not need the cooperation of the international barristers.

     This was the message relayed to Spanish Consul General Emilio de Miguel who submitted the briefs in May, and in July 2004 to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which then turned them over to the DOJ for transmittal to the Supreme Court.

      (According to a legal source, the Supreme Court does not accept unsolicited opinions.)

      On February 3, 2004, the Supreme Court sentenced to death by lethal injection Paco and six others accused of the kidnapping and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong on July 16, 1997 in Cebu. 

       Former ambassador Sedfrey Ordoņez, Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo and Sandra Olaso-Coronel, lawyers in the appeal of Paco, claim he is the victim of a mistrial. They have asked the Supreme Court for a retrial for their client who languishes on death row.

        International organizations including the Fair Trials Abroad Trust, a European Union Non-Governmental Organization, and the Madrid, Basque and Barcelona Bar Associations, have thrown their full support behind Paco, each presenting an amicus curie brief in support of Paco's petitions to the Supreme Court, highlighting how by international standards, Paco was indeed denied his basic rights as an accused. Patrick Cox, who was European Parliament president at that time, also wrote a letter to President Arroyo, appealing for a fair trial for Larraņaga.

        Spanish NGOs and the Spanish media have fully supported Paco, including the Spanish president of Amnesty International. This in turn led Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos, Senate President Javier Rojo and Secretary of International Cooperation Leire Pajin to likewise publicly support Paco. Spanish Senate President Javier Rojo attended President Arroyo's inauguration in Cebu and spoke to her regarding the issue.

        More than 35 witnesses comprising of Paco's teachers and classmates at the Center for Culinary Arts in Quezon City declared under penalty of perjury that he was in Metro Manila when the crime was said to have taken place in Cebu. However, the trial Court considered irrelevant the testimonies of the witnesses allowed to testify concerning Paco's whereabouts. 

        During his trial in the Cebu Regional Trial Court Branch 7, defense lawyers sought to present  M..MMM 

evidence that on the evening of the crime,  Paco, 19 at that time,  was at a party with friends at the R & R Restaurant along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, and stayed there until early morning the following day.  After the party, Paco returned to his Quezon City  condominium at 2:45 a.m. the following day, as evidenced by the security guard's logbook. Many other witnesses, classmates and companions at the R & R restaurant were not allowed to testify.  

     Chief Rowena Bautista, a teacher at the CCA, attested in court that she had seen Paco with a classmate in school at about 6:30 p.m. on July 16. He attended his second round of mid-term exams on July 17 commencing at 8 a.m. These were scheduled exams, for which he has records to prove he took and passed. Paco did not leave for Cebu until late afternoon of July 17, 1997.

        Airline and airport personnel came to court with their flight manifests, showing that Paco did not take any flight on July 16, 1997 nor was he on board any chartered aircraft that landed in or departed Cebu during the relevant dates, except the 5:00 p.m. Pal flight on July 17, 1997 from Manila to Cebu.   

        However, Cebu Judge Martin Ocampo disregarded the defense witnesses' testimonies as well as other documentary pieces of evidences supporting Paco's claim. Instead, Judge Ocampo placed Paco's lawyer in jail for contempt, and forced a new lawyer from the Cebu City Public Attorney's Office to represent Paco despite lack of consultation and preparation and over the express desire of the accused to be represented by counsel of choice.

        "To make matters worse, despite Paco's consistent offering to testify in his own defense, standing up and raising his arm to volunteer to testify during trial, he was disallowed and denied the chance by the trial court.  The Court did even want to hear what he had to say," his mother, Mrs. Margarita Larraņaga said in a statement.

        On May 5, 1999, Judge Ocampo ruled two terms of life imprisonment each for Larraņaga and six others. The court also ordered the accused to indemnify the heirs of their victims, jointly and severally, in the amount of P200,000 in actual damages and P5,000,000 by way of moral and exemplary damages.

        The court favored the testimony of state witness Davidson Rusia who admitted that he raped Jacqueline. A convicted felon and sentenced to prison twice in the United States for other crimes, Rusia claimed that he was with Paco in Ayala Center, Cebu early in the evening of July 16, the very evening Larraņaga was at R & R Restaurant in Quezon City with his friends. Rusia was not known to Paco, and that Rusia only surfaced as a state witness 10 months after the event.

        "In convicting my son at age 21, Judge Ocampo disregarded all established and Constitutionally grounded rights accorded to any accused-- his right to effective counsel, his right to testify for himself and adduce evidence in his behalf, his right to an impartial judge, and his right to be presumed innocent," Paco's mother said.

                                  DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                                        

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