Tuesday, October 5, 2004 



Revisiting the Chiong Sisters' Case

      "IT’S been more than seven years since the two sisters Jackielyn and Marijoy Chiong were abducted, raped and murdered in Cebu. The Supreme Court recently upheld the verdict of the Regional Trial Court finding seven young men from Cebu City guilty of the crime. The sentence was upgraded from double life to death.

Before the crime, these men had a reputation for figuring in and instigating trouble. Some of them were spoiled brats from wealthy families. They didn’t do anything during the trial to win the sympathy of the public, but behaved very rudely, according to a reporter who covered the trial.

Testifying against the accused was, on the other hand, a soft-spoken handsome man who had been through many an ordeal in his still young life. Davidson Rusia, the state witness, the least guilty in the group of young men identified by authorities as behind the gruesome crime against the Chiong sisters, turned into an instant matinee idol.

Six years after the end of the trial one man is fighting to have the Supreme Court reopen the case. This man firmly believes in the innocence of one of the convicted men, namely Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrańaga. Miguel del Gallego, a businessman and civic leader from Cebu, embarked on his lonely crusade as another Don Quixote. The windmills he is fighting are nothing less than ever-elusive justice.

Three of del Gallego’s daughters say that they were with Paco and other friends in Quezon City on the night that the Chiong sisters were abducted, raped and murdered in Cebu. They were having a party that night, at a restobar in Quezon City. Obviously, Paco couldn’t have been in Cebu and Quezon City at the same time. Mr. del Gallego’s daughters and the others who spent the night partying with Paco executed affidavits providing Paco an alibi. They thought everything was going to be 

be OK. Paco is on death row today.

     Did the del Gallego’s sisters lie to save a friend? Where they paid by Paco’s family to give false testimony? This is hard to believe. Miguel del Gallego’s daughters are like their father independent-minded and outspoken. And their father’s business has given them a life in material comfort.

     The gruesome fate of Jackie and Marijoy shocked to everybody in Cebu and the strong emotions spilled over to both conduct and coverage of the trial. The idolization of the state witness, who, after all, participated in the crime, left a bad taste in the mouth. I had the opportunity to meet this young man not long ago. Truly, one must sympathize with him. It seems that he was not given the opportunity to grow up in a stable and happy home. He was left to fend for himself most of his life. He ended up in bad company, taking and executing orders by and for those who’d provide for him. It is hard to understand how the Court could give so much weight to the testimony of a person who obviously for most of his life had been doing the wrong things. I don’t take this against Davidson Rusia. I don’t think we could or should judge him because we were never in his situation. Del Gallego’s theory is that Rusia was persuaded or forced to tell his tale in order for authorities to convict somebody for the crime. A prison inmate claimed that Rusia told him that he’d been tortured by the police.

     While I didn’t follow the trial closely and don’t know enough about the facts of the case to pass judgment as to whether or not the convicted men are guilty (del Gallego has identified several inconsistencies and other interesting coincidences in testimonies and evidence), there was always this nagging doubt as to the guilt of Paco. It just didn’t make any sense to me why del Gallego’s daughters and Raymond Garcia, the son of then-Cebu City Mayor Alvin Garcia (and the other young people who were at the party) would lie under oath to cover up for a friend who was accused of abduction, rape and murder. They are find young people, not because they come from prominent families but because they know right from wrong, and because they have the character to stand up for what is right. The late RTC Judge Martin Ocampo didn’t share this view. He didn’t give any credence to the testimonies of Paco’s friends.

Some of us are used to fighting windmills and embarking on hopeless crusades. This is new territory to Miguel del Gallego. But he is determined to restore his daughters’ faith not only in the justice system but in the nation as well, have them believe that justice still reigns in this country, and thus, that this country is good and decent.