Monday, October 11, 2004   

Power of one photo 
by Ivan P. Suansing
       Editor in chief
     It took one ordinary photo to change my view of the Chiong case: A file shot of Paco Larraņaga, on the bench among young men on trial, raising his hand with a sense of urgency.

        I had seen that before, but didn't bother to ask: Why, in this world, was he raising his hand?

       Until that time, I had assumed he and the other members of the "Chiong Seven," who had kept a stiff upper lip while the prosecution paraded one witness after the next, were guilty as charged. They had several chances to speak out during "the trial of the decade," but balked at them.

       What had they let themselves in for? If they were innocent, shouldn't they have taken to the dock like fish to water?

       This, however, was a formal trial and it was a decision they couldn't make. This was a chess game played by high-caliber lawyers who made their moves, gratuitous or otherwise, based on how they felt these could benefit their clients.

       Now, why would Paco and Co. refuse to take the witness stand, and keep body and soul together? Even if cross-examination is the spoon in which the castor oil to be put into the unsuspecting witness' mouth is placed, the truth will always stand out.

       I have learned, however, it's not always as simple as that. The men who were convicted of abducting Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong were no saints; they were either spoiled brats or streetwise operators. They could have passed themselves off as members of the church choir who spirited away icons, genuflected before apparitions before poking fun at pubescent angels' dream.

      Notwithstanding that, are they really?

     Looking at the photo more closely now, I was suddenly stumped. It dawned on me that Paco was trying to say something, perhaps against the wishes of his lawyers who were afraid he would just show his vulnerably at the witness stand.

     Waiting to pounce on him and expose his spotty police background were government lawyers, inspired to try harder and outdo themselves by promises of instant promotion.

     On balance, that picture was a powerful shot of man's natural instincts to survive. What could Paco have told the court to save his scalp when proceedings had slacked off?

   It could have been the same thing that his witnesses had said: He was in a bar in Quezon City, enjoying the night away while the Chiong sisters were attacked, brutalized, and humiliated in Cebu City.

    Then, it would have been up to the judge, my friend, the late Martin Ocampo, to make a ruling.

     Without the testimony, however, the judge had to rule on the basis of available evidence. The testimony of star witness Davidson Valiente Rusia, around whom the prosecution had built his case, and narratives of a supporting crew of passers-by that established the legal truth.

     The legal truth? That means, according to law professors, the judicial conclusion that's formed by admissible proof. Cebu Daily News wants the Truth itself. What is it?

   The Supreme Court is hesitant to give the "Chiong Seven' the chance to be heard, but we aren't. We have given the accused the forum they need, free of charge, to say what they failed to say in 1999.

     Courtesy of Miguel del Gallego, the solicitous businessman who spent undeterminable time and energy to put together a one-man army, the side of the young men is being serialized in this paper.

   "The truth is on the march," del Gallego exclaimed, and got on to hot topics that, he said, were missed by Judge Ocampo.

       What about the Chiong family? Nothing more is expected of them, at least until the high court shall have announced the date of execution. They have done their work, can afford to sit back and wait for the executioner to take out the hangman's loose, or, in this case, the lethal injection.

      As a newspaper hopelessly devoted to truth-telling, we don't have that luxury. We can't turn a deaf ear to what people, who are about to die, have to say.

                                  DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                                        

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