Saturday, April 9, 2005                 
Spanish solons to JDV, Drilon: Paco innocent
Inquirer News Service

      MANILA-- SPANISH lawmakers attending the Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly have turned to their Filipino counterparts for help in a bid to save a compatriot, a dual citizen convicted in the "Chiong Sisters" rape-slay case.

      In a press conference arranged yesterday by the Spanish envoy to Manila, Spain's eight-member IPU delegation insisted on the innocence of Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga, a Spanish-Filipino sent to the death row for the gruesome crime that shocked Cebu City in 1997.

      Larraņaga was one of the seven young men sentenced to life imprisonment by the Cebu Regional Trial Court for the rape and murder of sisters Jacqueline, 23, and Marie Joy Chiong, 20. In February 2004, the Supreme Court upgraded the penalty to death.

      In letters to Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose De Venecia, the visiting lawmakers cited both Larraņaga's defense and what they saw as procedural lapses in the trial. 

      "With our utmost respect for the legislation and the judicial system of the  Philippines,  we deem it appropriate to submit the attached document mmmmmmm

[containing]  factual and  procedural  details  which may have undermined [Larraņaga's] legal guarantees and that casts doubts on the evidence of his guilt," the letter read.

      "We are convinced that if Your Excellency reads the documents presented, you will reach the same conclusion as the Spanish delegation: It is essential to protect the principles that guarantee the rule of law."

       Still on appeal at the Supreme Court, the case has drawn calls for a "fair trial" from Spanish legal circles, a rights watchdog group from the European Union and the European Parliament, the latter writing directly to President Macapagal-Arroyo.   

      The Madrid Bar Association, Basque Bar and Barcelona Bar had each submitted an Amicus Curiae brief to the Supreme Court, but the high tribunal refused to accept them.

      The Spanish IPU delegation revived key arguments from Larraņaga's defense: That he was in Quezon City when the crime happened in Cebu as attested to by 35 witnesses; and that the prosecution's star witness lacked credibility and wove an inconsistent tale in court.

      The letter was signed by Congressmen Teresa Cunillera Mestres, Juan Moscoso del Prado Hernandez, Jorge Moragas Sanchez and Jordi Jane Guasch; Senators Clemente Sanz Blanco, Maria Antonia Martinez Garcia, Carles Bonet Reves and Inaki Anasagasti Olabega.

      They visited and had an "emotional" meeting with Larraņaga, 27, at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa on Thursday, the group told the press conference.

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