August, 2005
A TALE OF TWO MOTHERS
 
Their children figured in the most publicized rape and murder case in recent  national history. Both of them are grieving---one for two dead daughters, the 
other for a son on death row  
By Stella F. Arnaldo                                                          


      LETHAL INJECTION awaits Filipino-Spanish citizen Francisco Juan Larraņaga. He sits on death row, convicted of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong on July 16, 1997. His family and friends condemn it as a travesty of justice and have launched an international campaign to set him free.

      "I could not believe it," Paco's mother, Margot, recalls the night of February 3, 2004, when she heard the news of her son's conviction by the Supreme Court. She was busy looking after a granddaughter when the phone rang. "Are you watching television?" a friend asked. "It came out
na, (already) the verdict."

      "Why the death penalty?" she now asks. "All the while I thought they would see the errors of the lower court."

      The next day, she and husband Chuchu took the first flight to Manila. At the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, all they could do was embrace their son, now 27, whom they sensed was trying to put up a brave front. "He was the one trying to be strong for us. At that time,
parang (as if) I was numb. Parang namanhid na. (As if it just got numb.) It cannot be."

      Today, more than a year after Paco's death sentence, Margot remains calm as she talks about her son and how his case has affected her family. There is a quiet dignity about her, in her uphill battle for Paco's release.

      Her strength, she says, comes from knowing that no matter what witnesses may have said---and the court decision---her son is innocent. She insists that Paco was 600 km away, in Quezon City, with friends at a bar, when Jackie and joy were kidnapped. He was still in Quezon City the next day when the Chiongs reported their children missing; he was taking an exam in the culinary school. Paco's classmates and teachers attest to his presence in school, while his friends talk about having been with him at the R&R bar along Katipunan Avenue, even presenting photos of that night out as evidence.

                 
One-year-old Paco in his father's arms, in Spain, where Chuchu Larraņaga used to bring his wife and children when they were younger. Right: Paco, 12. Growing up, he had spats with other kids, then brawls as he got older.

      But the High Tribunal, like the Cebu regional trial court, which had earlier handed out life terms for Paco and the others, went by the testimony of lone star witness Davidson Rusia. Convicted in the United States for theft, Rusia, lanky and good-looking, became a celebrity amid the media circus during the trial in 1998, no matter that he was a reported drug user and satanic cult member. The High Court also noted that RTC Judge Martin Ocampo (who died barely five months after the decision, believed to have been a suicide) gave Paco and company enough time to find legal representation after their lawyers quit, protesting Ocampo's alleged bias against the defense and its witnesses.

      It may be worthy to note that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Hilario Davide Jr., is a Cebuano himself, whose wife is said to be an aunt of Thelma Chiong. While he, too, signed the en banc decision, Davide stated that he had not taken part in the review of the case because of his "affinity" to the victims.

      These days find Margot and the Larraņaga family carrying on with their changed lives. She and her husband continue to run the farm she and her sister inherited from their parents. They divide their time between visiting Paco once every three months, consulting lawyers, attending forums and rallies against the death penalty, and talking with media.

      Her eldest daughter, Mimi, married to the son of Iloilo Rep. Judy Syjuco, now lives in the States, trying perhaps to shelter her own children from the hurt and pain inflicted on her family. Imanol, the quiet middle child, is married to the niece of Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco. He still lives in Cebu, lending his family support.

      Paco's lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to reconsider it's decision and acquit him of the charges, or declare a mistrial and remand the case to the RTC for a retrial. 

      If the High Court rules against the motion for reconsideration and the ruling declared final, Paco's case will be remanded to the regional trial court, which will set the date of his execution.

      If it were not for her faith, Margot says she would have had a nervous breakdown. "I know He's "it us in spite of what's happening now. Everything falls into place. When I feel so depressed and I'm thinking, 'What if the Supreme Court affirms its decision and does not backtrack? And what if they really execute Paco?' I don't know what to do because he's innocent. How can you make an innocent person die for something he didn't do? But then I know God, in His own time, will make things right."

      Margot is no longer a just a businesswoman, running the sugar farm with her husband. She now attends rallies and speaks out with conviction against capital punishment. "Maybe Paco is being made an example of how a person who's innocent can really get the death penalty. So let us remove the death penalty. It's not only Paco. He tells me, 'Mom, you know, I'm not the only one who's innocent in jail. When I talk to my co-inmates here, a lot of them are innocent, a lot of them are poor and cannot afford a lawyer.'

              
Above: Paco, 27, with his parents and Spanish congressman Jorge Moragas Sanchez at the New Bilibid Prison (photo courtesy of Tatat Cardona)

      "And granting there's a person who committed a crime, he shouldn't be given the death penalty. He should be given a second chance to reform. I believe there's Christ in all of us. I'm sure in each of us there is that goodness. Many of them in Bilibid have come religious and turned a new leaf. Don't kill them."

      Margot is the first to admit her son is not a saint.

      While Paco was growing up, he had spats with other kids, then brawls as he got older. Margot says she would call his attention, but her son would always say his group didn't start the fight. He is impulsive and quick to anger. A taxi driver once complained that Paco had broken his windshield. Margot says her son got mad because the driver didn't want to ferry his friend. Paco eventually paid for the damages.

      Margot also tells of the time she was called to the principal's office at Don Bosco Technical School, when Paco was in third year high school. There had been a complaint filed by the parents of a student from UP that Paco had allegedly punched during a soccer game. Paco said he was just trying to protect the smaller guys in his group. "He says, 'Mom they come to me for help. And I cannot ignore it, because I'm sure if it had happened to me, they would also do the same for me,'" Margot narrates.

      Paco had a reputation as a brawler. His friend, Maitina del Gallego-Borromeo, says that if only she and her sisters weren't with Paco in a Quezon City bar on the night of the Chiong sisters' appearance, she'd have thought that Paco had gotten himself involved in the crime. Maitina's father, businessman Jose Miguel del Gallego, is now leading the campaign to set Paco free. Maitina is also with her boyfriend then, Raymond Garcia, son of then Mayor Alvin Garcia, who brought along the disposable camera which took photos of the group's night-out.

'They're brats ... their past just caught up with them,' says a source about Paco and his friend. Both are at New Bilibid Prison for the rape and murder of the Chiong sisters. 'Personally, I'm glad they're in jail. But even I don't think they're killers'

      A source distantly related to Paco through marriage was even more specific, pointing to Paco's brashness and arrogance. "Often they would walk into a place acting as if they owned it." The source is referring to Paco and his friend Josman Aznar, who is also sitting on death row for the same crime. Aznar, son of the founder of Southwestern University, has an even more solid bad reputation and is said to be involved in drugs. (Margot says she never tried to dissuade Paco's friendship with him.)

      "They're brats. Probably their past just caught up with them. Nakarma. Personally, I'm glad they're in jail," the source says, recalling own run-in with Aznar. "But even I don't think they're killers."

      In its initial investigation, the National Bureau of Investigation's regional office in Cebu asked Chiong's parents, Thelma and Dionisio, who the suitors of their children were. Paco's name was never mentioned. Paco was also not on the list of drug addicts said to be frequenting the Ayala Mall, where the Chiong sisters were last seen. The NBI and the police at the time were pursuing the angle it drug addicts were behind the abduction of Jackie and Joy.

      An investigator interviewed for this article said Paco landed on the of suspects only because a complaint of alleged kidnapping against him had been uncovered by the NBI. According to the complaint filed at the University of San Carlos, where Paco was then studying, while riding in a car, he had attempted to snatch an unnamed female student along the school's narrow road. Margot says she was informed of the complaint only when she was getting a clearance for Paco, who was going to transfer to the Center of Culinary Arts in Quezon City. She didn't think it was serious then because she was never called by any school authority about the complaint. Later when the complaint was brought up in court, and she asked Paco about it, he says he was not trying to kidnap the girl. "There were lots of students along the road, so he opened the window and he pushed the girl who was very near the road. 'Uy day, magpaligis ka?' (Hey lady, you want to get runned-over?) Meaning, 'Gusto mo bang masagasaan? (you want to get runned-over?)' " says Margot.

      During her court testimony, however, Thelma Chiong claimed that Paco had courted Marijoy. Thelma said Paco had even threatened Marijoy if she did not split up with her boyfriend, Bonbon Mutia.

      More than a year after the death sentence, the Chiong case has now evolved into the Paco Larraņaga case by virtue of an international campaign involving Spanish legislators and a European civil rights litigants group. The groups are seeking the review of the case and a fair trial for Paco, who is considered a Spanish citizen under Spain's laws.

      Paco's father, Manuel or "Chuchu" to family and friends, hails from Alegia in the Basque region of Spain. He was one of the pioneering pelotaris from Spain who went to Cebu when the Jai-Alai opened there in the '60s. It was there that he met and married Margot, one of two daughters of Milagring Osmeņa Rodriguez, a daughter of the late President Sergio Osmeņa. Together, Chuchu and Margot run a sugar farm about a two-hour drive from Cebu, along with Margot's sister. The two inherited the farm from their parents.

      Despite the social pedigree and the privilege that comes with the name, it is still misleading to think the Larraņagas "rich," as most media have profiled them. At the height of the Chiong 7 trial, there were rumors that the Larraņagas' lawyers were trying to bribe witnesses. Presented with testimonies and documentary evidence of Paco's presence in Quezon City when the crime took place, Judge Martin Ocampo said the suspect could have easily chartered a plane to go to Cebu to do the bad deed and then returned to Manila.

      The Larraņagas live in a modest bungalow in the middle-class subdivision of Sto. Niņo in Banilad. There are no high brick walls to climb over, just a low white wrought iron gate to see through. Inside is a home furnished with mid-priced rattan furniture in the living room, with a 27-inch TV tuned in to the Spanish channel. There are family photos on the wall and, a framed painting of Chuchu's little pueblo in Spain, which the family used to visit regularly, especially when the children were young.

      Through the Larraņagas' hard work, they were able to send their children to good schools and maintain an upper middle-class lifestyle, with yaya, cars and a driver at their beck and call.

      Before he was arrested for the Chiong sisters' rape-slay, Paco was studying to be a chef. It was the first time, Margot says, that Paco really enjoyed going to school. Francisco Jarque, Paco's childhood friend who was also with him the night the Chiong sisters were kidnapped, recalls, "Paco always talked about the culinary school ... that it had good sets of knives ... It was very well equipped." Paco's friends, who knew him to be averse to studying, found it amusing that he could go on and on.

      Most of what the Larraņagas earn from their farm now goes to paying legal fees. They are also paying for a small apartment in Pototan, Muntinlupa, and for a help to take care of Paco's needs. She brings him food and washes his clothes.

      "What we have is not even enough. We're in debt. The family has helped us financially ... my family and Chuchu's family in Spain," says Margot.

      The Osmeņa name may have been more a curse than a blessing to Margot especially during the trial, as Cebu media kept tagging Paco as "an Osmeņa scion." She had to appeal to them to stop bringing politics into the picture.

      Truth to tell, sources say, the high-profile Osmeņa politicians have distanced themselves from the case, if not leaving Margot and her family out in the cold. Informed of the life sentence of his nephew, then Sen. John Osmeņa said, referring to the crime, "
Wala akong paki (I don't care)."  Sen. Sergio Osmeņa III said, referring to the crime, "Wala sa lahi ng mga Osmefia ang tumulong sa ganyan. (The Osmehas don't tolerate crimes like that)." (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 6, 1999) Margot declines to talk about her famous relatives, although her eyes belie the hurt she feels.

      How ironic that Margot's politician relatives chose to turn a blind eye to her son's cause, because when Paco was growing up, many thought he would be another politician in the family. "He was very
masa," (poor people oriented,) says Jarque. There was a time, his mother says, that Paco and his brother Imanol had to stop near a squatters' area because their car broke down. The residents joyfully called out to each other, pointing to him, "Si Paco, si Paco!" (It's Paco, it's Paco!)

      "Many people would say nga (too) that when Paco would be of age, he would probably run for office. In politics he would surely win because he had that gift---very charming and he could speak well. Siguro (For sure) he's the one who would be the politician in the family," says Margot.

      There are times, Margot admits, that she regrets not having let Paco escape to Spain when she had the chance. It arises especially when she visits him in Bilibid every couple of months or so, "And I know he possibly resents that I didn't send him away .... But I didn't want my son to live the life of a fugitive. There was nothing to fear. I know my son is innocent. I wanted him to come home and face the fiscals."

      She says Paco's incarceration has made him mature. Paco, she says, has even become an adviser to his fellow Cebuano inmates belonging to BC 45, or Batang Cebu. Whereas he was quick to anger before, Paco now tells his ka-cosa to calm down. 

      Paco has lost 30 of the 275 pounds he weighed before prison. He goes around in shorts topped by the standard orange uniform of a Bilibid prisoner. His mestizo features still make him stand out among the inmates.

      Paco eagerly anticipates the visits of his parents because father cooks his famous callos, a personal favorite, or his n-o-brings him paksiw na lechon. From Wednesday to Sunday, his brings him cooked food and lots of canned goods to be savored on days when visits are prohibited.

'When Paco was still in maximum security, he was still lively. But now on death row, there's a certain shift in his morale,' says a good friend. The first thing he'd do if and when he gets out is swim in the ocean and drink a nice cold beer.

      On those days, Paco cooks his food from the raw rations he gets from Bilibid. When he is able to get  the right ingredients, he whips up a mean carbonara he shares with other inmates. As friends say, Paco can make himself comfortable no matter how uncomfortable the situation is.

      Those who have visited him notice a certain seriousness in his demeanor. "When he was still in maximum security, he was okay, he was still lively. He would still talk. But now on death row, there's a certain shift in his morale," says Basti Seno, who has known Paco since they were in grade school.

      Jarque concurs. "He's a little bit down. I'm surprised he's very strong. He's really changed. He's not depressed or anything. He still has a lot of hope. mmmmm

    

      THELMA CHIONG is behind the computer when we visit her small office in a building off busy F. Ramos Street in Cebu. She is plump and bespectacled, wearing a black print blouse, with just a watch and simple earrings as jewelry. At once she asks us for identification. She is stern and unsmiling. Satisfied with the media ID we present, she faces us across from her small desk and proceeds to answer our questions. Her voice is low and without emotion, like she has addressed these questions many times.

      By all accounts, Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, her daughters, seemed perfect children. They were kind, quick to help people, prayerful. Jackie was the first in the brood to graduate from college. She was working in an Internet cafe at Ayala Mail and was looking forward to a job at Cebu Plaza. Joy was a Commerce student working part-time in a clothing store. Both daughters helped out in the house and with the family finances.

      In 1997, late evening of July 16, while waiting for a ride home near Ayala Mall, Jackie and Joy were forced into a car by a group of men and later raped. Reports said Jackie was made to dance around, then she ran and tried to escape; the men caught up with her and forced her back into a van. Joy, weak and moaning, was thrown over a cliff, landing in a deep ravine. Her dead body was found a few days later, badly bruised and broken. She had a blindfold, left wrist handcuffed. She was 21.

      Jackie is still missing. Her mother has gone as far as Mindanao to look at an unidentified body. She still hopes to find Jackie, who was 23 when she disappeared.

      "That night, it was raining very hard, they weren't able to go home," Thelma recalls. "I wasn't thinking of anything bad.
Inisip ko lang nasa kapatid ko. (I thought they were at my sister's.) Ang lugar namin, bagong subdivision sa Talamban, walang masyadong jeep, at yung taxi naman ayaw pumasok kasi (our place, a new subdivision in Talamban, there isn't much "public" rides and the taxis don't want to come in because) it usually floods if it rains hard. I would never think that they took a taxi because they don't have money." It dawned on her that her daughters were missing only when Joy's boyfriend, Bonbon Mutia, also a student then, dropped by their home around noon the next day looking for Joy. She wasn't in school, he said. "That was the time I cried and cried. Saan na sila?" (Where are they?) Thelma says. 

      Six men now sit on death row, convicted of rape, murder, kidnapping and illegal detention. The seventh, a minor at the crime was committed, is serving a life term. The case hogged national headlines because the suspects were prominent names. Among them was Francisco Juan "Paco" Larraņaga, now 27,  great-grandson of the late President Sergio Osmeņa. Because he holds dual Filipino-Spanish citizenship, legislators in Spain, convinced of his innocence, have pressed for a fair re-trial. A European civil litigants group has also taken up his case and is asking that it be reviewed.

      Thelma, now 52, is incensed that foreign entities are sticking their noses in local affairs.
'Wala silang magagawa. (They cannot do anything.) We cannot even intervene in other countries, yung mga Pilipino nga lahat namamatay. (like those Pilipinos who were executed.)  Can they intervene in the justice system of the Philippines? Insulto naman yan sa ating (That's an insult to our) justice system."

                  
Joy and Jackie Chiong were 'like twins,' says their mother. The sisters were abducted, raped and murdered on the night of July 16, 1997. Joy's body was found days later, but Jackie's is still missing. Here, a thank-you mass card given by the Chiong family to supporters last year, and as students at Philippine Christian Gospel School.

      One of the earliest theories in the Chiong case was that the killings were drugs-related. Intelligence reports reaching authorities at the time claimed Thelma's husband, Dionisio, 57, had been privy to alleged illicit dealings of his boss. In Cebu newspapers, Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco had tagged the boss as a "drug lord." The allegation was that the Chiong sisters were killed to shut up their father, who was on the verge of spilling the beans on his boss's alleged drug transactions with the authorities.

      The Chiongs dismissed those reports and hastily put out a paid statement in the broadsheets denying the boss's involvement in their daughters' disappearance. To this day, there are some who believe that the boss had financed the Chiongs' case against the accused, enabling the sudden appearance of eyewitnesses who previously had dim recollections of who the sisters were talking to right before they disappeared, and the star witness, Davidson Rusia, a convicted felon in the US.

      All sorts of accusations have been hurled against Thelma-how she allegedly used her Malacaņang connections to railroad the trial and conviction of the Chiong 7, as the seven convicts have come to be known. Her sister, Cheryl Jimenea, was at that time the personal secretary of then President Joseph Estrada. Cheryl was also a friend then-Philippine National Police director Panfilo "Ping" Lacson who sent his own team of probers to handle the case and find Jackie.

      When Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo issued his verdict of life imprisonment for the Chiong 7, Estrada was quoted in newspapers telling the judge to resign if he could not do his job properly.

      Government prosecutors handling the Chiong case got promotions, some insist, because of their role in it. Primo Miro is now deputy ombudsman for the Visayas. Ramon Jose Duyongco is now regional director of the National Bureau of Investigation, the first agency head who was never an NBI agent. Thelma's reputation as a power broker then led a number of officials desiring higher posts to seek her endorsement.

      Thelma vehemently denies any interference by Estrada and Lacson in the case "Hindi naman totoo 'yun. (That is not true.) Although presidente si Erap at sekretarya yung kapatid ko, (he was president and my sister was his secretary,) Erap never lifted a finger to help us. Even si Lacson. In the beginning lang, noong nawala yung mga bata, nandoon si Lacson, pero after that, wala na."(Even Lacson. In the beginning only, when the kids were lost, Lacson was there, but after that, he wasn't there anymore.)

      What she does admit to is that she gives money once in a while to Rusia, who had confessed to raping Jackie. At the trial, was even photographed presenting him with a birthday cake and some gifts. "Maski masakit sa loob ko na kasama siyang nang-rape, nang-kidnap sa mga anak ko, (Even if though it hurts me since he also raped and kidnapped my kids,)  I have to accept he could give justice to my daughters. Para nga sa akin God-given, eh. Binigay ng Diyos yun para bigyang buhay ang kaso.... E my last money, I will give it to him kung pupunta siya dito, kahit minsan abusado na." (For me, he is God-given. God gave him so the case will prosper . . . . Even my last money I will give to him if he comes here, even if sometimes he is already abusing.) 

      She remembers the day the Supreme Court meted out the death sentence on the Chiong 7. She was busy going about her usual routine at home when the phone rang. it was a friend from media calling her about the Supreme Court decision.

          "It was evening. At first I was speechless," Thelma says. Then she cried. Thelma had been waiting for five years for the news. "The first thing I said was, 'Thank the Lord. God gave the justice that Jackie and Joy deserve." Four days later, the Chiong family, with supporters, held a thanksgiving Mass at the Queen City Memorial Garden, where Joy's body is interred. A plaque there marks Jackie's death as July 17, 1997.

      Jackie and Joy were the second and third in the Chiong brood. The eldest is Bruce, after Joy is Dennis, and the youngest is Debbie, who was only nine when her sisters disappeared.

      Thelma says it is hard to pinpoint what set one daughter apart from the other, as they were "like twins." Their favorite color yellow. And like most siblings, the girls would borrow each other's clothes. Their birthdays were also a day apart, Joy on Sept. 8, Jackie on Sept. 9, but celebrations were usually held on the 9th, which  Joy's friends now say she sometimes resented.

      While the sibling rivalry may have been apparent to joy's friends, it was not to Thelma. "
Mabait sila kasi takot sila sa akin," (They are nice because they are afraid of me,) Thelma chuckles. "They were very close to each other. Usually they slept together kasi magkasunod sila. (because they follow each other in birth) Their friends are friends also. Simple ng pagkatao. (They were simple individuals.) Walang malaking ambisyon. (No big ambitions.)

      "Joy just wanted to graduate and help in the home," says Thelma. I depended on Joy for household work,
kasi magaling siya maglinis ng bahay. (because she was good in cleaning the house.) Minsan si Jackie sinasabi kay Joy, 'Ikaw na ang gumawa niyan.' (Sometimes, Jackie will tell Joy, 'you just do that'. Kasi wala kaming maid, pag nagluluto si Jackie at nagse-set ng table, si Joy ang naghuhugas ng plato. (Because we didn't have maids, if Jackie will do the cooking, Joy will wash the dishes.)  Next day, they exchange chores. Malalama mo talaga kung si Jackie ang naghugas ng plato kasi hindi maayos ang kusina. (You will really know if Jackie did the dishes, because the kitchen will not be in order.) Si Joy kung maghugas ng plato, maayos ang kusina," (When Joy does the dishes, the kitchen is in order.) Thelma laughs at the memory.

      Jackie had a sense of humor. No matter how serious the situation, she could crack a joke and get a big laugh out of it. She would often take digs at her mother, a Christian, by shouting "Praise the Lord!" especially when Thelma did a good deed. She shone when she was in college at the San Jose Recoletos. She became very active in school, and was in the student council. Joy, who was outgoing when she was younger, became less active in college perhaps because she had to work as well.

      Seeing Joy in her daily attire of T-shirt and jeans, her face free from any makeup, one would never think she was a campus beauty queen. Thelma says Joy knew she didn't like her joining the beauty contests, yet she did so at the prodding of classmates and teachers. She won beauty contests throughout high school and college, eventually becoming Miss University of San Carlos.

      There was a spiritual side to them, too. They went to Sunday mass and prayed the rosary. They were obviously loved by family and friends.

      Joy's friends say she had a kind heart and patiently listened to their problems. She rarely shared her own problems, feeling that their issues were bigger than hers. She always had good advice for them, and even gave one a Bible to read.

      Joy's diary from late 1995 to early 1996 shows how she constantly worried about money, not having enough to save, and having to work just so she could buy what she needed in school. And yet, despite earning so little, she managed to give money to her mama and gifts to her siblings.

      Her friends describe her as perfect "wife material." At the time of her death, she was going steady with Mutia, an engineering student, who was always around to fetch her from work or visit her home. In her diary, Joy always noted their monthly anniversary, and wrote how much she was in love with him. She would miss him whenever he would go home to Leyte for vacations and counted the days until they would see each other again. She would end her daily entry with "Goodnight, Bon."

      Her friends say Mutia has never quite recovered from his loss, even as he has gone on to marry back home in Leyte. They say he continues to blame himself for her death, as it was the only night he didn't bring her home. Thelma says she also feels apologetic to Bonbon's parents because he never finished his own studies.

      Thelma and the rest of her family continue to cope with the loss of Jackie and Joy. While the tears have stopped flowing, it still isn't easy. She says the house is now quiet, unlike before when it was full of laughter and the kids would even chase each other. "Tahimik sila (They're quiet) (the children). Kung di mo sila kausapin, di sila sasagot." (If you don't speak to them, they wouldn't answer.)

      Because of what happened to her daughters, Thelma has become a staunch advocate of the death penalty. She claims she has forgiven her daughters' killers but she wants to see them get what she feels they deserve. "Forgiving and justice are two different words, with different meanings," she says.

      So determined was she to get justice for her daughters that she was at the New Bilibid Prison the day Paco and company were moved there. "I was there as early as 8 am.
Gusto ko, talagang makita ang tapang nila, eh. At very mayabang. So gusto kong makita kung paano sila pumasok sa Muntinlupa," (I really loved to see how brave they were and how very presumptuous. That's why I wanted to see how they felt when they entered Muntinlupa jail) she hisses.

      These days Thelma is busy running the Crusade Against Violence (CAV) chapter in Cebu. She also serves as national vice president of the organization. She says no matter what the police claims, the crime rate is going up in Cebu and there are many victims of violence, from summary killings and frat wars to drug-related murders. CAV Cebu is handling the equally controversial case of Alona Bacolod-Ecleo, who is believed to have been killed by her husband Ruben, a cult leader. He is out on a Pl-million bail. After the Chiong case, the Ecleo parricide case is the most complex and litigious Cebu has encountered.

      Thelma is aware that Margot Larraņaga has been campaigning hard to get her son Paco out of jail. She says when she was young, she looked up to Margot, who was a few years ahead of her at the Imaculacda Concepcion, "because she was a model student." Margot, she adds, even became her teacher in Social Graces. Separately, both women are anticipating the Supreme Court's decision on Paco's motion for reconsideration. Thelma hopes the High Court denies the motion.

      Asked what she would say to Margot if they ever get a chance to talk, Thelma says, "I will say, 'If I was able to accept the truth that your son killed my daughters, then you also have to accept that justice has been served.' This is the justice that the Lord gave to me. I didn't tell the RTC court to give him a life sentence. We went through due process. I didn't tell the Supreme Court en banc to upgrade his sentence to death penalty. She should learn to accept that also.
Mas masakit nga sa akin, eh. Hanggang ngayon, pwede pa niya maembrace yung anak nya. Ang akin, (It is even more painful for me. Up to now she still can embrace his son. Mine is)  six feet under the ground." 

      

He's the type who doesn't want people feel sorry for him. He's a tough guy. If you go visit him, he won't you about his problems. He'll listen to what's happening outside rather than make us listen to what's happening inside."

      Paco, they say, talks about when he will get out. The first thing he'd do is swim in the ocean and drink nice cold beer. Paco's friends have gone on with their own lives, gotten married; work in their family businesses, a few have their own careers. In an interview with Cebu Daily News last October, Paco couldn't but think of how, at this point in his life, he should have already been "saving up for a ring to propose to a girlfriend, if she can my wife and mother of my children."

      Margot says she talks to Paco about praying some more a quotes Biblical passages to ease his anxieties. Paco is adamant. "Mom, I do pray!" But he doesn't like talking about serious stuff, especially when he knows it will just make his parents sad.

      Margot feels her son's pain and knows he's frustrated. "I know when he's alone, before going to sleep, he thinks about the death sentence ... He talks to God, he prays, 'God, if I really have a mission here, please tell me now. What is it you want me to do?"' But only the silence of his prison cell answers him.

 

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