Sunday, July 23, 2005

By Suzzane Salva-Alueta and Inquirer News Service
       Cebu Daily News

      THE CONVICTS' parents are devastated, but not willing to give up.

      The victims' mother is appealing to them to accept the verdict of the "court of last resort," so her family can finally rest after eight years of emotional pain and trauma.

      The Supreme Court has affirmed the death penalty for five of the seven men who were accused of kidnapping the Chiong sisters in 1997.

      In its 21-page decision, the Supreme Court en banc denied the separate motions for reconsideration filed by convicts Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caņo and Ariel Balansag.

      The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the motion of the sixth death convict, James Andrew "MM" Uy, who asked the court to reverse his conviction, claiming he was a minor, 17 years and 262 days old, when the crime was committed.

      The SC ordered the Solicitor General to secure from the Local Civil Registrar of Cotabato City (James Andrew's birthplace) and the National Statistics Office a clear and legible copy of James Andrew's birth certificate.

      In the case of James Andrew' younger brother, James Anthony alias "Wangwang," who was "clearly a minor" when the Chiong sisters were abducted, the Supreme Court affirmed its earlier decision to impose a life term.

      "It's already final. I don't think they can still file an appeal," Supreme Court spokesperson Ismael Khan said when interviewed over radio dyLA here yesterday.

      "But they can still go to the Office of the President," he said.

      In deference to the Catholic Church, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered a moratorium on the death penalty.

      Thelma Chiong, mothers of victims Jacqueline and Mary Joy who were kidnapped on July 17, 1997, said the high tribunal's decision was "an answer to our prayers."

      Chiong noted that the decision happened just a few days after they had celebrated the 8th anniversary of her daughters' abduction last Sunday at the Queen City Memorial Garden, where Maryjoy was buried.

      The body of Jacqueline was never found.

      Chiong plans to offer a thanksgiving Mass next weekend at the cemetery with her family and friends.

      She appealed to Paco's mother, Mrs. Margarita Larraņaga, to accept the decision and "stop making some moves that could only bring back bitter memories to the Chiong family."

      Chiong was referring to the Larraņaga family's act of enlisting the help of Spain's legal groups in asking the Philippine Supreme Court for a retrial of the case.

      Paco carries dual citizenship, Filipino and Spanish, because his father is a Spaniard.

      "By this time, I hope she will learn to accept this, as what I have done when I accepted the fate of my daughters," she said.

      "I hope they will give peace to our family and that they will no longer give pain to us by doubting the decision of the court," Chiong said.

      But the families of the convicts believe all is not lost.

      "This is a battle that we have lost, but the war is not yet over," Larraņaga said when sought for her reaction to the Supreme Court decision.

      "Maski unsa pa ila e estorya, ("No matter what they say) it doesn't change the fact that my son is innocent," Larraņaga said.

      The SC decision came a day after she celebrated her 60th birthday with Paco at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinplupa on July 20.

      Mrs. Larraņaga, who had been lobbying for the abolition of the death penalty, said the decision "is very painful."

       "Paco is devastated. We were hoping he would get a favorable decision,"

      "We went to see him today. He was sad but he did not show any emotions, He did not cry. He knew it was 

it was an uphill battle," she said.

      Mrs. Larraņaga said they were not giving up the fight, adding she would pray for the enlightenment of witnesses. "Ma angelan diay ang mga (The witnesses I hope might turn in to angels.) witnesses and they will tell the truth as to what happened," she said.

      "In God's time there is a purpose for all of these. The truth is on our side. I still believe that there is something here in store for us," she said.

     Commenting on Mrs. Chiong's call for her to accept the verdict, Mrs. Larraņaga said it would be impossible for her to do that.

      "I know my son is innocent no matter what they say," she said. "He was not in Cebu, maski unsay decision." (whatever the decision is).

      "But I admit it is emotionally draining. After eight years, we expected a favorable decision."

      Aznar's mother, Jodi shared the same sentiment. She learned about the decision dawn of Friday.

      "I am not giving up hope, but I am leaving everything to God," she said.

      Like Mrs. Larraņaga, Mrs. Aznar suspected that the SC justices did not read the pleadings they have filed.

      "They decided the case without reading the documents. Now I know that it's useless to go to court. Wala may hustisya, wala na tay kasaligan (There's no justice, we can't depend on anyone)," she said.

      She lamented how the justices could easily hand down the death penalty. "Grabi ang ilang gibuhat (What they did is terrible."

      Enrique Uy, for his part, insisted that "everybody is innocent."

      "We want justice for the Chiongs as much as we want justice ourselves. My sons have suffered too much. I pray to God in heaven to look at this particular case," he said.

      He said before the case and up to the present, his two sons have been active with Church activities.

      "We are close to God and this is not drama. The Chiongs knew that my sons are not involved. I know the truth will come out," he said.

      He has maintained that his sons were at home on the evening of July 16, 1997, celebrating his birthday.

      "It was memorable because aside from my birthday, we were expecting the sister of my wife to give birth to her first child," he said.

      Cebu Daily News tried calling Adlawan's mother, Maria Elena Soledad but the calls were not returned.

      Businessman Miguel del Gallego, who launched a personal crusade to save Paco and the other convicts, said the SC decision made him reflect.

      "The highest court of the land, the last bastion of our democracy, has just given their seal of approval to our policemen to continue framing up innocent men for crimes they couldn't have committed just to satisfy the public outcry for blood every time a heinous crime is committed," he emailed CDN.

      According to del Gallego, the fight "is not anymore a fight for Paco and his co-accused, but also a fight against the weakness and corrupt practices of our criminal justice system."

      "We cannot and we should not allow these things to continue," he said.

      "As for us who know that Paco and his co-accused are all innocent, we are not giving up the fight. We swear that we will continue our quest until all of them will finally be free," he said.

       The "Chiong 7" appealed the decision of the late trial court judge Martin Ocampo, which was promulgated on May 5, 1999, two years after Mary Joy's body was found in a ravine in Tanawan, Carcar town, 40 km south of Cebu City.

      The Supreme Court amended the decision of the lower court, upgrading the sentence from life imprisonment to death.

      Judge Ocampo convicted the accused based on the testimony of Davidson Valiente Rusia, their alleged gang mate who was discharged from the case after turning state witness.

      Rusia's testimony against Larraņaga, Aznar, Adlawan, the Uy brothers, Balansag and Caņo clinched a guilty verdict.

      He told Judge Ocampo that the Chiong sisters were abducted by the accused at the Ayala Business Park, brought to a house in Guadalupe, Cebu City, then to an isolated spot in Tan-awan, Carcar where they were raped.

      After the abuse, Mary Joy Chiong was pushed, while still alive, into a deep ravine in Tan-awan, Rusia told the court.

      Jacqueline, whose fate Rusia claimed he did not know, remains missing.

      Rusia admitted to raping Jacqueline, but said he did not actually see the other men rape her and Mary Joy.

                                  DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                                        

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