Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mother of 2 women....... raped and killed vows... to fight on
By Jhunnex Napallacan

CEBU CITY -- The mother of two young women who were raped and killed in 1997 is back in the battle.

      After expressing on Tuesday an uncharacteristic acceptance of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision to commute death sentences to life terms, Thelma Chiong yesterday said she would fight it all the way.

      She wrote a letter assailing the President for commuting the sentence of death row inmates, including five of the seven men convicted of the rape-murder of her daughters Jacqueline and Marijoy.

      In an emotional radio interview conducted after she sent the letter to Ms Arroyo, Chiong said she initially took the news of the commutation calmly because it was Holy Week.

      But when the thought sank in that her daughters' "rapists and murderers" might be set free, she said, she got very angry and hurt.

      "I now realize why our country's justice system is called the criminal justice system. That's because justice [here] is only for the criminals ... We are a criminal-friendly country," she said.

      In the letter, Chiong said her "two lovely daughters were kidnapped, handicapped with masking tape around their faces, raped and thrown [into] a 150-meter ravine."

      "And Jacqueline has yet to be found until now," she wrote.

      She also wrote that while suffering the trauma of loss, her family went through the process of seeking justice despite limited financial resources.

      "Madame President, what would I say to my children and to the members of the Crusade Against Violence and the [other] victims of crime?" Chiong wrote.

      "Is this what you call justice? Because we have a law that calls for the death penalty [for heinous crimes], you should be the best example to implement the law. Do you think that commu-

ting the sentence of those affirmed by the Supreme Court as death convicts will be in [everyone's] best interest? Why should we please those who have been sentenced to death?" she wrote.  

      Chiong said that although she sent the letter by overnight courier, she planned to present a copy to Ms Arroyo when the latter visits Cebu for the Battle of Mactan celebration on April 27.

      On Tuesday, Chiong said she could accept the commutation provided the convicts would not be granted pardon or parole.

      But yesterday, she said she could not contain her rage when she learned how the President had been congratulated for her move.

      Ms Arroyo's announcement has been welcomed by the Catholic bishops and by the government of Spain, of which one of the seven convicts of the rape-murder, Francisco "Paco" Larraņaga, is a citizen.

      Larraņaga carries dual citizenship because his father, Manuel Francisco Larraņaga, is a Spanish citizen. His mother is Margarita Osmeņa Gonzalez, granddaughter of former President Sergio Osmeņa Sr.

      Paco and his family have insisted on his innocence, saying they had witnesses attesting that he was in Quezon City when the Chiong sisters were abducted in Cebu City on July 16, 1997.

      The Larraņagas had sought and received support from the Spanish government and from the European Union in the course of appealing for a review of Paco's sentence.

        In the interview, Chiong said the Catholic Church had taken the side of the convicts.

      "There are so many victims of crime who cry during Christmas. Did these priests and nuns ever think of us? The government has taken us for granted, and now it will commute the sentence of those who victimized our daughters? Where can we find justice? Who will stand up for us?" Chiong said, weeping.

      Asked to comment, Monsignor Achilles Dakay, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said Chiong had sought help from and was assisted by Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal during the rape-murder trial.

      Dakay denied that the Church had neglected Chiong. He said the Church had welcomed the announced commutation in line with its pro-life position.

                           DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.        
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