Monday, February 14, 2005 

BY GRECAR NILLES                      

       Sun.Star Staff Reporter

      Fr. Roberto Reyes is known for running to raise awareness on important issues that affect the lives of majority of Filipinos.

      Last Friday, however, Reyes astonished the Cebuano community when he led relatives and friends of Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga in calling for the reopening of the latter's kidnapping and serious illegal detention case.

      His take on the case may not be popular, but Fr. Reyes said there is a huge need to correct and revise the justice system.

      Reyes, who heads the Coalition Against Death Penalty, clarified they are not protecting or coddling criminals. They believe that the taking the life of a person is not a deterrent to crimes and there are a lot of innocent men languishing in jail, while the guilty roam freely.

      In Larraņaga's case, however, Reyes is convinced the seven men imposed with the death penalty for abducting and illegally detaining sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in 1997 are innocent.

      When he turns 50 on Feb. 24, Reyes will do a 100-kilometer bike-run from Manila to Sagada, and from Sagada to Baguio to raise awareness about ecology. 

How long have you been running to advance your causes? What were the other issues that you got involved in?
This is my 10th year. I have been running since 1975 but, during that time, I only run for fitness sake. It was only in 1995 that I decided to use running to deliver a message. And it was a very effective medium of communication.

      As to the issues, halos lahat na. The first issue was the meeting of leaders in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative (Apec) in 1995. I run from Subic to Manila against Apec. The other issues are environmental concerns, justice, gender, urban poor, international debt, American intervention, among other things.

How does the church view your running?
      Mixed. May natutuwa at may nagagalit. Those who were happy were grateful that I have advanced and supported their cause. May nagagalit because there are instances na nasasagasaan ang kanilang kaibigan. There was even an instance that I spoke against a benefactor of one bishop. The benefactor then told the bishop, and then the bishop called my attention.

Have you been reprimanded or sanctioned for running to advance a particular cause? How did you take it?
      Being reprimanded is not new to me. In fact, I have been reprimanded by my superiors, including (retired Manila archbishop Jaime) Cardinal Sin. I have also been sanctioned, but I cannot divulge in what form. But the sanction was not for doing mmmmmm

anything wrong.

      I take the reprimands and sanctions positively. They are my fathers and I listen to them. I also see it as a forum where I can also talk to them about a particular issue and explain to them my stand. I am happy that some bishops, after knowing that I am deeply involved in social issues, are already consulting me on some issues.

What prompted you to run for Paco? How did you know about the case? Did someone approach you to help them?
      I have read and studied the case and I found out that he was not given due process. A lot of witnesses were barred from testifying. They were not given the opportunity to defend themselves.

      Not one from their families approached me. I've come across about the case inside the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa City. Lagi kasi akong pumupunta sa death row because of our coalition. I am the chairman of the Coalition against Death Penalty. It was in October last year that I started studying the case and I really believe that they were not given the opportunity to clear their names. 

Some people see your running for those in death row, particularly in the case of the Chiong 7 convicts, as protecting criminals. What's your comments on this? What is the objective of the coalition?
      For the record, I am not running to protect or coddle criminals. I am running to correct a flawed justice system. I just believe that Paco and the other six men were not given due process. I am
convinced that he was in Quezon City when the incident happened.

      Primarily, our advocacy is for the abolition of the death penalty. But we also help death convicts whom we think are innocent or are just fall guys. A lot of those languishing in jail are fall guys. The fall guy phenomenon should be stopped. The police is guilty of short-cutting, corrupting and perverting our judicial system by picking the wrong person to answer a crime.

      But we do agree that those who have sinned should be punished, but not through death.

What made you say that Paco is innocent?
      One, I studied the documents of the case and I found out that there were witnesses who were not allowed to testify in his behalf. Two, the testimonies of Paco's witnesses were not admitted just because they are his friends.
Hindi naman siguro tama yon. Just because they are friends, does that mean they are not telling the truth? Third, the prosecution's prime witness, Davidson Rusia, was not a credible man. There are people who can testify that he went in and out of jail and was tortured in order to admit to a crime they did not do.

You have called on the church to campaign for Paco?
      I am just asking the church not to be quiet in this case. The church in Cebu should not be silent on this issue. (Cebu Archbishop Ricardo) Cardinal Vidal promised to help. So, I am asking Cardinal Vidal to keep his promise. I am not ordering Cardinal Vidal, but for the sake of truth and justice, it is the moral duty of the church to help.

                                 DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                                   
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