Sunday, July 17, 2005 
 

CHIONG CASE
From personal tragedies
to public crusades

by Suzzane Salva-Alueta
            CHIEF OF REPORTERS

Last of two parts
     
Businessman Juan Miguel del Gallego has given up many things to launch a personal crusade to prove the Supreme Court, the court of last resort, wrong. 

      He relinquished his post as president of the local chapter of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) to devote his time for Paco Larraņaga's redemption, acquittal and freedom.

      He launched a website, www.framedinthephilippines.com, where he assiduously compiles the latest media updates on the continuing saga of the "Chiong 7," seven young men convicted of kidnapping sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong on July 16, 1997. 

      He has contributed numerous articles to, and shared his insights on the case with various media organizations, pointing out "lapses" in the police investigation, the prosecution stage and during the actual trial. 

      Why? 

      Three of his daughters confirm Paco's story. 

      Only one of them, Martina del Gallego-Borromeo, ever got the chance to speak from the witness stand, as the late Judge Martin Ocampo, cut the other two off on the ground of redundancy. 

      The judge later on trashed the testimony of Martina and Paco's other friends. 

      "Had I known they were lying, do you think I would have allowed my daughters  to testify? I would tell them not to testify, it would be crazy," he says. 

      Del Gallego shows no sign of regret for doing what he is doing. When people suggest he's wasting his time, he gives them a piece of his mind. 

      I always love PBSP but I do not regret leaving it. I have been with the group for 10 years, and know PBSPs goal is to improve the lives of the Filipino people. I am now saving the lives of some Filipino people," he says. 

      The decision to create the website, on the other hand, was reached because of what he felt was an urgent need to reach out to the world and tell Paco's ordeal. 

      "Before, we did not have any access to the press. We had to find ways for people to hear our side," he tells Cebu Daily News.

      The website contains transcripts of stenographic notes (TSN) of the trial, affidavits of all prosecution and defense witnesses and publications related to  the Chiong case.

      So far, Del Gallego says 110,440 people have visited the website since it appeared on the Net in January 2005. "On average, that means 282 individuals a day are reading about the case," he says. 

      A website counter indicates the country of the users. Del Gallego says surfers from Australia initially topped the list of visitors, but recent figures show more visitors from the United States. 

      Coming in third are countries making up the European Union, except Spain, Paco's other country, which is treated separately.

      Spain is fourth, followed by the Philippines.  

      According to results of his sleuthing, del Gallego theorized that sisters Mary Joy and Jacqueline Chiong were indeed kidnapped "but by somebody else."  

      "The police framed them, and I am not scared of saying that," he said.  

FALL GUYS?      
      Supt. Pablo Labra Il, who heads the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (CIIB) of the Cebu City police office, vehemently denies that his men collared only fall guys.
 

      "Dili tinuod nga fall guys ang mga gidakop (It's not true that we arrested fall guys)," Labra says.  

      "Remember some of these guys are not ordinary guys, they are sons of well-to-do families," he says, referring to Paco Larraņaga and Josman Aznar, a scion of a prominent Cebu clan that owns a university, an inter-island shipping company, a real estate firm, a beach resort, a golf course and other businesses.

      "Sila gyud ang nigawas sa imbestigasyon so didto na focus nila  (Their names surfaced during our investigation, so the focus was on them)," he says.

      Labra recalls that the arrest of Paco and his group was undertaken by several police units. They include the CIIB, the Criminal Investigation And Detection Group (CIDG), the Cebu City police vice-control section, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Division (RIID).

      Although admitting that police were under pressure to come up with results, Labra said the arrest of the Chiong suspects was based on accounts of witnesses. 

      Labra, who was a senior inspector assigned to the CIIB  in 1997, said police were extra careful because our actions could be easily misinterpreted." 

      If we will go slow on the case, people would claim that it was because the suspects belonged to well off families," he says. 

      "But if we fast-track the investigation they would say that we are doing it because of pressure. But on our part, amo gitrabaho kay angay man gyud trabajoon (we just did our job)." 

      The Chiong case was Labra's first major case and acid test. And he thinks he passed it with flying colors, and learned a lot from it.

      "I worked with veteran investigators. I learned to handle big cases. After that more big cases came in, but I had more confidence," he says.

      Labra's men arrested Davidson Rusia, the young man with a shady past who became the government's star witness.

      Rusia was the only prosecution witness who both identified Paco and company and claimed to have actual knowledge of the crime, around whose testimony the prosecution build its case. 

      He told the court he was with Paco's group early evening of July 16, 1997 when they forced the Chiong sisters into two cars at Ayala Center, brought them to a safe house in barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City where they were first molested, motored to Fuente Osmeņa and later on to N. Bacalso Avenue to hire a van that they could drive to Carcar.

      In that town, 40.4 km southeast of Cebu City, Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong were ravaged and killed, according to Rusia.

      Labra denies that Rusia was tortured to spill the beans on his friends.

      He said he was around when Rusia was interrogated at the CIIB office after his arrest. "Nothing was done to him. There was no torture," Labra says. 

      He considers the Chiong sisters' case the most senseless crime ever committed in Cebu.


KEY PLAYERS  in  a  continuing drama,  Mike del
Gallego, Supt. Paul Labra and Eric Carin.  Above:
 Suzzane Salva in an exclusive interview with the 
  Chiong 7 in their prison cell in Muntinlupa.  
      
        

      "Wala pay nakatupong sa kaso in term of ang kalisod sa biktima nga naagian, pinakagrabi nga kaso (Nothing has come dose in terms of the victims' ordeal)," he says.

      The case is not a closed book yet as police are still searching for Jacqueline, he says. "We are not, losing hope of finding her."

      While admitting that all policemen who worked on the Chiong case were promoted "this was because of our hard work and not because of any other consideration."

      " We did not ask for it," Labra quips. "Maybe at that time, the PNP head recognized our efforts and approved our promotions."

      "We worked hard for two years on the case."

BENEFICIARIES
      With bated breath, lawyer Eric S. Carin, who represents the Uy brothers, is waiting for the outcome of Paco's bid to re-open the case, knowing  it will also benefit his clients and the other convicts.

      "Paco here is one of the principal accused. If the Supreme Court will reconsider his case, then there is no reason for the SC not to say that it will likewise reconsider the cases of the other accused," he says. 

      The lawyer, who considers the Chiong case his first major, sensational case, believes a retrial "the least thing that the SC can do to erase all, doubts." 

      He believes that a closer examination of the body found below a ravine in Tan-awan, Carcar would be a key to solving the puzzle. He thinks the corpse is not that of Marijoy. 

      The SC, however, has junked Carin's motion asking for the exhumation of the body buried at the Queen City Memorial Garden, and to subject it to DNA testing. 

      He says the Supreme Court should give the convicts enough time to prove their innocence. "What is time, compared to the lives of innocent men?" he asks. 

      "The SC ruled that they would be put to death. Time is not material in this case when we consider seven lives. Before we decide to take the lives of seven people, I think it would be better to hear them out first," he stresses. 

      What did he learn from the case? 

      "My attitude toward work changed a lot. It brought a lot of discipline in me because I have to devote most of my personal time to that case," Carin says. 

      He remembers the adverse publicity and tremendous pressure that he and the other defense lawyers had to deal with. 

      "The accused were painted by others as spoiled brats who committed a dastardly crime against two young, innocent ladies," he says. 

NO PROMISES
         
Thelma Chiong says that while many people who had a hand in the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the Chiong 7 were promoted, she had nothing to do with it. 

      She denies her sister, Cheryl, who worked as a secretary to deposed President Joseph Estrada, made sure that the prosecutors and the police officers who solved the case and prosecuted the convicts would be amply rewarded. Former Cebu City Prosecutor Primo Miro was appointed to head the Office of the Visayas Ombudsman; Fiscal Teresita Galanida to Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge; fiscal Ramon Duyungco to regional director of the National Bureau of Investigation; fiscal Leonardo Carreon to Municipal Trial Court Judge.

      "They made it through their work, their efforts because gi process mana ilang application sa Presidential Management Office," she points out. 

      "Wala nato sila tikasi (We did not cheat) everything went through a process. They are there in their present post because of their achievement," she insists. 

      "It was after the promulgation of the decision, when we said we would help them process their promotion, and I did that," she admits. 

      If she had a hand in the promotion of the prosecutors, Prosecutor Galanida would have been assigned to an RTC sala in Cebu City.

      Galanida, who played the role of the top prosecutor during the trial, was assigned to far-away Dumaguete City, Thelma points out.  

OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS
      Their experience has driven both mothers in opposite directions.

      Thelma now works full time for the Crusade against Violence (CAV), where she is the national vice chairperson. She holds office on Ramos St.

      Along with other victims of crime and violence, she conducts a "court watch," closely monitoring sensational cases, like that of slain Pagadian journalist Edgar Damalerio.

      From tending to her family, Margarita on the other hand, now takes active part in forums, symposiums and other activities against the death penalty.

      She is a member of the Samahan ng mga Pamilya ng mga Nasa Death Row, Inc., an organization of families whose relatives are in the death chamber.

      Saying she respects Margarita's move to lobby for the abolition of the death penalty, Thelma says Paco's mother should focus on something else, like helping inmates cope with life in prison.

      "We have a law on the death penalty and I want that implemented," she says with the steely resolve of a mother who had gone through the worst. 

      "Considering the crimes they committed against my daughters, they deserve no less than the death penalty."

SKEPTICAL
     Her experience, says Margarita, has thought her to be more circumspect when "criminal suspects" are arrested. 

      "When I see in the newspaper or TV authorities parading a suspect, I now ask: Tinuod ba kaya na nga siya gyud nagbuhat ana (Did he reaaly commit it?) she says.

      This attitude was different from how she used to react before Paco's arrest, prosecution and conviction. 

      "Sauna moingon ko mirisi og hatagan siya og punishment (Before I would say it's good that the suspect would be punished)," she quips.

      My belief in the justice system has been shattered," she declares.

      "I thought the truth would set Paco free. From Day 1, we have been telling the truth, yet the Cebuanos, the prosecutors and the judge never believed us," Margarita says. 

      "How come this is happening?" 

NOTE:   THE ABOVE TEXT IS THE FAITHFUL REPRODUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL
                                  DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                                        

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