Tuesday, August 1, 2006

SC reduces death sentence of 6 Chiong accused
By Karlon N. Rama Sun.Star Staff Reporter

   The death sentence on Francisco Juan Larrañaga and five of his six co-accused in the Chiong abduction and murder case is now downgraded to reclusion perpetua (20 to 40 years).

     Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Simeon Dumdum, presiding over the same branch of court that sent all seven accused to death row in May 1999, handed down the new sentence yesterday.
     “The court hereby orders the commitment of the aforementioned convicts who are detained at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila so that they may be considered remitted there for purposes of serving their sentence,” Dumdum said in the order.

     And per the Supreme Court’s ruling in the People vs. Baguio case, Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caño, Ariel Balansag and James Andrew Uy, will be imprisoned for at least 30 years before becoming eligible for parole.

     James Anthony Uy, who was a minor at the time of the crime on July 16, 1997, may apply for immediate probation in accordance with Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.

     Section 42 of the law, which prohibits the filing of criminal charges against a minor unless he is above 15 years old, states: “The court, after it shall have convicted and sentenced a child in conflict with the law... places the child on probation in lieu of service of his sentence, taking into account the best interest of the child.”

     However, a High Court ruling last Jan. 31, 2006 found merit in James Andrew’s motion for reconsideration stating he was 17 years old, a minor, when the crime was committed. So instead of death, the sentence imposed on James Andrew reclusion perpetua (20 to 40 years) for Marijoy’s case and reclusion temporal (12 to 17 years) for Jacqueline’s case.

Dumdum, in the same order, also granted the Chiong family’s July 24, 2006 motion and issued a writ of a ... 

execution that enforces the trial court’s award of P750,000 to them as indemnification.

     Thelma Chiong, in a separate interview, said the family will object to any application for probation that the Uy family might file in James Anthony’s behalf.

     She said while juvenile justice law says the court may place a convict under probation if a minor, another provision says this does not include those convicted for heinous offenses.

     Chiong nevertheless welcomed the issuance of the writ of execution for the civil claims.

     “The case is already finished. And they have been convicted twice for it—once in the local court and then the Supreme Court (SC),” she said in Cebuano.

     The High Tribunal, in a 77-page decision handed down last Feb. 3, 2004, affirmed the guilt of all seven accused and raised to death the original penalty of two life terms imposed by then RTC judge Martin Ocampo.

     “At times we may show compassion and mercy but not at the expense of the broader interest of fair play and justice,” the SC said in the ruling.

     “While we also find it difficult to mete out the penalty of death, especially on young men who could have led productive and promising lives if only they were given enough guidance, we can never go against what is laid down in our statute books and established jurisprudence,” it added.

     Justices Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug, Leonardo Quisumbing, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Gutierrez, Antonio Carpio, Ma. Alicia Martinez, Renato Corona, Conchita Morales, Romeo Callejo Sr., Dante Tinga and incumbent Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban voted against the accused.

     Then chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., whose wife is a relative by affinity of the Chiongs, and Justice Adolfo Azcuna took no part in the deliberation.

     The Larrañaga family tried to fight off the conviction by seeking the assistance of the Spanish government.

     And while the High Tribunal did not budge, the enforcement of the ruling was put off until President Arroyo, last June, signed the law abolishing the death penalty.


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