Tuesday, August 23, 2005  



Revisiting the Chiong Murders

      On July 21 the Supreme  Court dismissed with finality the motion for reconsideration filed by the defense of the seven accused in the July 1997 kidnapping, rape and murder of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong. The accused were earlier convicted to life imprisonment by Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo, but the Supreme Court modified the sentences later to death.  

      Eight years after, the crime is far from forgotten. The parents of Marijoy and Jacqueline have become involved in anticrime and women’s rights advocacy. Relatives and friends of the convicts have embarked on a crusade against death penalty; some of them, believing in the innocence of Paco Larrañaga, have continued to fight for a reopening of the case. As I’ve mentioned before, I know some of the young people who claim that they were in Manila with Paco on the night that the crime was committed in Cebu (the father of one of them is a close friend). I met with Davidson “David” Rusia, the star witness of the prosecution, in early 2003.  

      The Supreme Court justices have spoken with finality. The case is closed. The six of the seven are on death row, the seventh might escape death if he can prove that he was a minor when the crime was committed. The seven were convicted primarily on the testimony of their coaccused-turned-state witness, David Rusia. David became a matinee idol during the trial, a la Chavit Singson or Sandra Cam, the bad person-turned-instant hero by confessing to all his sins and those of his friends. Why we so much love self-confessed sinners, I don’t understand. Anyhow, David—in my own personal impression based on two brief meetings with him—is a damaged young man. He was left to his own device since he was young, and readily admitted that he had committed bad things—such as beating up people he hardly knew—if the leader of his group or the person who took care of him told him to do so. He came across as someone who would say what he believed the listener would like to hear. I was with a parent of one of Paco’s friends, and this person later asked me to execute an affidavit regarding a statement made by 

by David during this informal meeting, a statement that implied that Paco and the others were framed. However, I refused to execute an affidavit because I felt that David had simply tried to say something that would confirm the opinion of my companion.  

        I’m not judging David. He was just trying to survive in a society that unfortunately has abandoned many young people and left them to fend for themselves. Like everyone else, David simple wanted “to live a normal and peaceful life,” as he wrote in a note to me. By the way, one defense witness actually claimed that David had been subjected to torture, but this allegation was never proven.  

      The Supreme Court, in its dismissal of the motion for reconsideration, chose not to consider the findings of Prof. Jerome Bailen of the University of Philippines’ Anthropology Department and his forensic team. Bailen, who was invited by the defense, details the failure of the police to fully appreciate the physical evidence found on the crime scene and on the dead body itself. According to Bailen and his team, the characteristics of the maggots found on the cadaver would have helped in establishing the exact time of death. Also, in Bailen’s findings, there is doubt as to whether the body found was that of Marijoy’s. The parents reportedly never actually saw the body. The only positive identification of the body was done through a single thumb mark. Retired police officer Reynaldo Marcelo, the fingerprint expert in Bailen’s team, questioned this finding and instead recommended that the body be exhumed and subjected to DNA test. The Supreme Court reasoned that since nobody else claimed the body and no other young woman was reported missing at that time, the body must have been that of Marijoy. 

      Jacqueline’s body has never been found.  

      Evidence is the buzzword these days. But what constitutes evidence? And what does it take for evidence to be strong? We have all heard of police planting evidence to have a strong case against a suspect or sometimes just to harass an innocent person. Torture of suspects in police custody to extract confessions still occurs. But besides the planting and fabrication of evidence, and failure to preserve physical evidence, including the crime scene, there is also the problem of lack of systematic, scientific and objective appreciation of the evidence. The findings of Bailen and his team, while not conclusive, suggest that the integrity of some vital physical evidence in the kidnapping, rape and murder of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong had been compromised even before the case reached court.