Saturday, November 26, 2005  

No execution for............ Larraņaga while Arroyo.. is president

PRESIDENT Macapagal-Arroyo has assured a Spanish delegation that the death penalty imposed on Spanish-Filipino Francisco Juan "Paco" Larra- ņaga will not be carried out "while she is President" and House Speaker Jose de Venecia pledged "measures of grace" for the convicted rapist, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

      In a Nov. 21 report posted on its website, the newspaper said Ms Arroyo gave the assurance to Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono when he called on her at Malacaņang Palace during his official visit to the Philippines on Nov. 19-22.

      "She told me that the death penalty will not be carried out while she is President," the newspaper reported Bono as telling Cadena SER, a Spanish radio network, after his meeting with Ms Arroyo at the Palace.

      "From the same Palace, Jose Bono telephoned the parents of Larraņaga to convey to them the news, which in his opinion was 'very satisfactory'," El Pais reported. "The minister assured them that they should not fear any execution during Arroyo's term, and that she had promised to do everything within her reach to help their son."

      The newspaper, the most widely circulated in Spain, said that Bono allowed a SER cameraman to record his conversation with Larraņaga's parents.

      Larraņaga, the son of former Basque pelotari Manuel Francisco Larraņaga and Filipina Margarita Gonzalez, is one of several scions of affluent Cebu families who were convicted and sentenced to death for the 1997 rape and murder of the sisters Jacqueline, 23, and Marie Joy Chiong, 20, in Cebu City. Defense lawyers charged that the trial was marred by irregularities but the Supreme Court eventually upheld the conviction and upgraded their original sentence of life imprisonment to death by lethal injection.

      Spain and other European governments and institutions, which are averse to the death penalty, have been pressuring the Philippine government to pardon Larraņaga, who is related to the Osmeņa clan of Cebu.

      The newspaper said House Speaker Jose de Venecia and other congressmen had also promised the Spanish visitors that they would intercede on behalf of the condemned mestizo.

      "We raised the case during a meeting with a sizeable group from the Congress and De Venecia said that, within the bounds of parliament, they would support measures of grace for Larraņaga," the newspaper quoted Jaime Blanco, chair of the Spanish Senate's Defense Commission, as saying.

      Before Bono's visit, Spanish parliamentarians had visited Manila to appeal for clemency.

      Besides Larraņaga, the others convicted were Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Cano, Ariel Balansag and the brothers James Anthony and James Andrew Uy. James Andrew, a minor at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life in prison.

      Records of the case show that the Chiong sisters were abducted in the evening of July 16, 1997, while waiting for their father to pick them up at the Ayala Center Cebu. Mary Joy's body was found two days later in a secluded ravine in Carcar town, south of Cebu City. Jacqueline's body was never found.

Appeal to high court
      The seven convicts appealed to the Supreme Court anew to reopen the case for oral arguments by the defense or refer the case to the Court of Appeals, but the high court, in a ruling last July, denied separate motions for reconsideration filed by five of the seven convicts.

      In his motion, Larraņaga claimed he was in Quezon City when the Chiong sisters were abducted and murdered.

      Last July, the victims' mother, Thelma Chiong, appealed to Larraņaga's mother to accept the Supreme Court's ruling and stop moves that could bring back bitter memories. She was apparently referring to efforts by the Larraņagas to enlist Spanish and European groups to put pressure on Philippine authorities.

Accept fate
      "By this time, I hope she (Ms Larraņaga) will learn to accept this ... as I have accepted the fate of my daughters. I hope they will give peace to our family."

      In a bizarre twist to the case, the judge who tried and convicted the seven youths was found dead in a hotel room in Cebu in October 1999. The authorities later ruled that it was a suicide and that no foul play was involved.

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