Sunday, March 23, 2005 

SC rules: death for 5 of.. Chiong 7
Only President can save them
By Grecar Nilles
Sun.Star Staff Reporter

>"Final" decision comes more than eight years after sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong were abducted and killed.
>In rejecting motion for reconsideration, the SC said no new matters were raised and were "mere rehash" of the arguments already "considered", weighed, and resolved" by the SC
>Maximum penalty of death affirmed on Juan Francisco "Paco" Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caño and Ariel Balansag
>SC orders Office of Solicitor General to check if James Andrew Uy was a minor at the time of the incident  

      MORE than eight years after sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong were abducted and killed, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld with finality the death penalty of five of the seven convicts in the case.

      In a “per curiam” resolution promulgated last Thursday, the SC en banc affirmed their earlier ruling imposing the maximum penalty of death on Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caño and Ariel Balansag.

      In the same ruling, the High Tribunal directed the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to verify the claim of James Andrew Uy that he was still a minor at the time of the incident.

      James Andrew was earlier meted the death penalty, but the SC deferred the ruling on his status after the OSG shall have checked on his claim.

      His younger brother, James Anthony, was sentenced to life imprisonment after the court found out that he was still a minor last July 16, 1997 when the Chiong sisters were reportedly kidnapped, sexually molested and killed.

      The seven accused earlier filed a motion for reconsideration on the SC’s ruling last Feb. 3, 2004 affirming their conviction and raising their penalty to death.

      They argued that the court erred in giving credence to Rusia, in rejecting appellants’ alibi, in holding that the trial court did not violate their right to due process when it excluded the testimony of defense witness, and in holding that the body found in Tan-awan, Carcar was that of Marijoy.

      But in denying the four motions for reconsideration submitted by the seven accused, the SC said that their arguments did not “demand new judicial determination” and were “mere rehash” of the arguments that were already “considered, weighed, and resolved” by the SC.

      SC spokesman Ismael Khan, in a phone interview yesterday, said the President alone can prevent the execution of the five accused, since she has the power to pardon.

      SC Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., whose wife is related to the Chiongs, and Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna, who was once a lawyer of one of the parties, did not take part in the review.

      Legally, there is no more option left for the accused, since a second motion for reconsideration is not allowed.

      While the Chiong family and the Crusade Against Violence rejoiced over the decision, the Larrañagas, and the other accused were “totally devastated” when they heard of the SC resolution.

      “In the beginning, we were told that this is going to be an uphill battle. We may have lost the battle, but definitely the war is not over yet. We would not want to consider this a closed thing. We do not want to lose hope,” Paco’s mother, Margarita Larrañaga, said.

     Since this case involves lives of young people, Margarita was expecting and hoping that the SC would have carefully studied and reviewed the documents, facts and circumstances regarding the case.

      Margarita added that all the accused were so sad when she visited them at the National Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa yesterday morning.

      On the other end, spouses Dionisio and Thelma Chiong said they were doubly happy with the recent SC resolution and immediately went to church to thank God.

      Thelma said when they receive their official copy of the resolution, they will immediately file a motion for execution of the decision so that the execution by lethal injection of the five accused can be scheduled.

      “I have accepted the fact that my daughters were kidnapped, molested and killed. I hope they too can accept that it was the penalty for the crime done to our daughters,” Thelma said.

                                      No reason
      But Margarita said they cannot admit something their son did not do.

      She also said that she was expecting the SC could have taken note that the prosecution’s star witness, Davidson Rusia, was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and that Paco was prevented from testifying to clear his name.

      However, the SC, in the same resolution, said they could not find any reason why they should not admit Rusia’s testimony.

      “We reiterate our pronouncement in our decision that what makes Rusia’s testimony worthy of belief is its striking compatibility with the physical evidence. Physical evidence is one of the highest degrees of proof. It speaks more eloquently than all witnesses put together,” the ruling read.

      The High Tribunal said the details Rusia supplied in court about the incident are of “such nature and quality that only a witness who actually saw the commission of the crimes could furnish.”

      While the accused admit that only the President can stop their execution, Margarita said it is not yet one of their options because asking for clemency would mean admitting to the crime.

      “But my son is innocent. We cannot admit to something my son did not do,” Margarita said.

      In the ruling, the SC said that Paco, who claimed he was in Quezon City at the time of the incident, failed to convince the court that it was impossible for him to be at the crime scene at the time of the incident.

      The SC also noted that the defense witnesses corroborating their alibi were their relatives, friends or classmates, while the prosecution’s witnesses were not in any way related to the victims.

      “Taking the individual testimonies of the witnesses in relation to that of Rusia, we are convinced that Larrañaga was indeed in Cebu City at the time of the commission of the crimes and was one of the principal perpetrators thereof,” the SC said in its decision.

      Lawyer Eric Carin, who is representing the Uy brothers, said the SC should give more leeway to the accused since this involves lives.

      Carin is confident, though, that James Andrew would be spared from the lethal injection since the documents he submitted proving James Andrew to be a minor at the time of the incident were “not fabricated.”

      “In resolving the instant motions, we have embarked on this painstaking task of evaluating every piece and species of evidence presented before the trial court in response to appellants’ plea for the reversal of their conviction,” the SC resolution read.

      “But even the element of reasonable doubt so seriously sought by appellants’ is an ignis fatuus (a foolish, idiotic fire) which has eluded any intelligent ratiocination of their submissions. Verily, our conscience can rest easy on our affirmance of the verdict of the trial court, in light of appellants’ clear culpability which demands retribution,” it added.

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