Wednesday,  August 2, 2006

2 of Chiong convicts ‘can apply for parole’
By Karlon N. Rama Sun.Star Staff Reporter

     Not one but two of the seven Chiong case convicts can apply for parole and secure their release from prison.

     This is because the Supreme Court, in a resolution promulgated in January this year, ruled that James Andrew Uy, like his younger brother James Anthony, was a minor when they took part in the abduction and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong.

     The Jan. 31, 2006 ruling was not part of the records endorsed by the Office of the Court Administrator to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) and, as a result, was not mentioned in Regional Trial Court Judge Simeon Dumdum’s July 31 order sentencing the seven convicts.

     But, Dumdum said, James Andrew, through his lawyer, can file a pleading and ask that he to be given the same sentence as his brother.

     Dumdum has sentenced six of the convicts—Francisco Juan Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Aberto Caño, Ariel Balansag and James Andrew— to reclusion perpetua, which has a validity of 20 to 40 years of imprisonment.

     According to the Supreme Court ruling in the People vs. Baguio case, they will have to serve at least 30 years of the sentence before becoming eligible for pardon.

     On the other hand, James Anthony, who was found to be a minor at the time of the crime on July 16, 1997, was given the lower penalty of reclusion temporal and, under the newly enacted Republic Act 9344, the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006, can apply for immediate parole.

     Judge Dumdum issued the order following the abolition of the death penalty, after President Arroyo signed the law on this last June 24.

     Eric Carin, the Uy family’s legal counsel, did not   

comment when interviewed via mobile phone. He said the parties have yet to be given their copies of Dumdum’s sentence.

     The option of immediate parole for the Uy brothers highlights what some sectors say are the “deficiencies” of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006.

     “This (law) clearly wasn’t thought out thoroughly when drafted,” said a lawyer who asked not to be named.

More mature
     “The age of discernment was raised when we know that kids today are a lot more mature and aware than kids of yesteryears,” the lawyer said.

     Likewise, the implementing rules and regulations to back up the law are still being drafted but judges are already required to take it into consideration when they hand down sentences.

     Section 68 of the statute reads: “Children who have been convicted and serving sentence at the time of the effectively of this act and who are below the age of 18 years at the time of the commission of the offense for which they were convicted and are serving sentences shall benefit from the retroactive application of this act. They shall be immediately released if they are so qualified under this act and other applicable law.”

Right, not privilege
     “It takes the discretion away from judges,” Dumdum said, adding that the law makes release on probation “a matter of right and no longer a privilege.”

     Section 3(a) of Presidential Decrees 968 as amended, the law that created the Parole and Probation Office, defines probation as a privilege granted by the court; it cannot be availed of as a matter of right by a person convicted of a crime.

     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.

     However, the enforcement of the ruling was put off until President Arroyo signed the law abolishing the death penalty last June 24, forcing a reduction of the sentences.


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