Saturday, February 12, 2005 

'Running priest' joins..... campaign to save Paco

  • Fr. Robert Reyes calls for reopening of the abduction and serious illegal detention case against Paco Larraņaga, as well as exhumation of the body found in Carcar, Cebu

  • Thelma Chiong, mother of victims Marijoy and Jacqueline, finds priest's involvement laughable, urges him to check his information

    By Grecar Nilles
          Sun.Star Staff Reporter

      THE priest Roberto P. Reyes, who runs to raise awareness about important issues, led friends and relatives of Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga yesterday in calling for the reopening of the abduction and serious illegal detention case against him.

      Reyes, who is convinced that Larraņaga is innocent, also challenged the Chiong family to allow the exhumation of the body found in Carcar, Cebu, which was believed to be that of Marijoy Chiong.

      "There is a reason to run and protest against a blighted and weak justice system. There are scores of innocent men and women behind bars, thanks to the courts. Thanks to the courts, many of the guilty are free," he said in a statement.

      He also called on Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal to fulfill his promise to help Larraņaga and six other men convicted of kidnapping, molesting and killing sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong last July 16, 1997.

      "Truth never ages, I also call on the soul of late Judge Martin Ocampo to help us. I ask you (Ocampo) to visit each associate justice and Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., to prick their conscience. Judge Ocampo could have been a better judge by correcting himself and telling the world that the guilty are still out there," Reyes said.

      The late Ocampo, then a Regional Trial Court judge, found Larraņaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Ariel Balansag, Alberto Caņo, and brothers James Anthony and James Andrew Uy guilty and sentenced them to two counts of life imprisonment.

'Wrong info'
      The High Tribunal affirmed Ocampo's judgment, but increased the penalty from life terms to death for six of the seven convicts.

    Only James Andrew, who was a minor at the time of the case, was saved from the death chamber.

     Thelma Chiong, mother of Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong, described Reyes' taking up Larraņaga's cause as "katawanan" (ridiculous).

      She said Reyes may have been given wrong information about the case, prompting him to run for Larraņaga and the other Chiong convicts.

      "He is not from Cebu and it would be impossible for him to know the whole story. The question is, was his running in good faith? Who will run for the victims and their loved ones? It's a never-ending pain for us. God save the soul of the priest," Chiong said. 

      She also said it would be better for Reyes to run for the Larraņaga family to accept their fate and to face the truth.

      "We will oppose all moves to reopen the case. We will also oppose the exhumation of the body. But for the record, it was not us who were against the exhumation. The court ruled that there's no  basis for the exhumation because the case was for kidnapping mm

'TRUTH NEVER AGES', thus says Fr. Robert Reyes (right, top photo) who with businessman Miguel del Gallego leads relatives and friends of the Larraņaga family (below), including former Cebu City mayor Alvin Garcia and wife Ninette, in the run for Paco's cause.          (SUNS.STAR FOTO/ARNI ACLAO) 

and serious illegal detention, not for murder, homicide or rape," Chiong said.

For proof
      Reyes believed Larraņaga is innocent based on three points:

      #After studying the documents of the case, he found that several witnesses for the defense were barred from testifying;

      #Testimonies of Larraņaga's witnesses were not admitted because they were his friends; and

      #The prosecution's prime witness, Davidson Rusia, is not a credible person and that he was tortured into admitting a crime they did not do.

      Although they do not have yet new evidence that will merit the reopening of the case, businessman Miguel del Gallego said he is verifying some information given to him.

      Reyes proposed that the case be reopened starting with the exhumation of the corpse and a DNA test on the bones, checked against the victims' parents.

      "I am asking the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse its decision affirming the conviction of the seven accused. If you have reversed yourself in the mining issue, why won't you consider the case of your kababayan?" Reyes said, referring to Davide. "it is not about favoritism but I am asking them to be favorable to the truth. It's Lent, and I'm asking the SC justices to listen to their conscience."

7 witnesses
      Reyes joined friends and family of Larraņaga who held a rally at the Palace of Justice in Cebu City. Also in the rally were seven witnesses for Larraņaga and friends and relatives of the other six accused.

      In a manifesto, the seven witnesses urged the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to help them find justice for Larraņaga.

      "We have always believed that our justice system would protect the innocent and punish the guilty. However, we are dismayed by the decision of the SC precisely doing the opposite by affirming the judgment of the lower courts. We cannot fathom how an innocent man can be meted the penalty of death for a crime he did not commit," the manifesto read.

      Raymond Alvin Garcia, Ma. Christina del Gallego Borromeo, Jheanessa Ann Fonacier, Maharlika Esperanza Schulze, Francisco Carlos Jarque Jr., Paolo Manguerra and Sebastian Eribeto Seno testified that Larraņaga was with them in a bar in Quezon City at the time the sisters were abducted in Cebu.

      "It is about time for us to come out in the open and tell the truth.  We were told by friends not to speak out because ours is an unpopular stand, but truth has to come out," Garcia said.


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