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