Remembering the Chiong sisters
Twenty-one years ago, on July 16, 1997, two sisters, Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, were abducted by seven men as they were standing at a waiting shed at around 10:30 p.m. along Archbishop Reyes Avenue in Cebu City. Two days later, the body of Marijoy was found at the bottom of a deep ravine in Tan-awan, Carcar City. The body of Jacqueline was never recovered.
Seven men were convicted by the Regional Trial Court, Branch 7, Cebu City, of the crime: Francisco Juan Larrañaga, alias Paco; Josman Aznar; Rowen Adlawan alias Wesley; Alberto Caño alias Allan Pahak; Ariel Balansag; and brothers James Andrew Uy alias “MM” and James Anthony Uy alias “Wang-Wang.”
The decision dated May 5, 1999, found them “guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crimes of kidnapping and serious illegal detention and sentencing each of them to suffer the penalties of ‘two reclusiones perpetua,’ plus damages.”
The conviction was appealed to the Supreme Court.
On Feb. 3, 2004, the Supreme Court rendered its decision. It said, “These cases involve the kidnapping, and illegal detention of a college beauty and her comely and courageous sister. An intriguing tale of ribaldry and gang rape was followed by the murder of the beauty queen. She was thrown off a cliff into a deep forested ravine where she was left to die. Her sister was subjected to heartless indignities, before she was also gang-raped. In the aftermath of the kidnapping and rape, the sister was made to disappear. Where she is, and what further crimes were inflicted upon her, remain unknown and unsolved up to the present.” (People vs Larrañaga, 421 SCRA 530 at 541)
The dispositive portion of the decision reads: “WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 7, Cebu City, in Criminal Cases nos. CBU-45303 and 45304 is AFFIRMED with the following modifications: (1) In Criminal Case no. CBU-45303, the accused ‘are found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the special complex crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape, and are sentenced to suffer the penalty of DEATH by lethal injection.” (This is the case involving Marijoy.)
Note that the Supreme Court not only affirmed the decision of the lower court, but also imposed a higher penalty—death penalty by lethal injection. The Court explained why it imposed the death penalty: “The prosecution was able to prove that Marijoy was pushed to a ravine and died. Both girls were raped by the gang. In committing the crimes, appellants subjected them to dehumanizing acts. Dehumanization means ‘deprivation of human qualities, such as compassion.’ From our review of the evidence presented, we found the following dehumanizing acts committed by appellants: (1) Marijoy and Jacqueline were handcuffed and their mouths mercilessly taped; (2) They were beaten to severe weakness during their detention; (3) Jacqueline was made to dance amidst the rough manners and lewd suggestions of the appellants; (4) She was taunted to run and forcibly dragged to the van; and (5) Until now, Jacqueline remains missing, which aggravates the Chiong family’s pain. All told, considering that the victims were raped, that Marijoy was killed, and that both victims were subjected to dehumanizing acts, the imposition of the death penalty on the appellants is in order.” (People vs Larrañaga, supra, at pages 579-580)
As to the alibis presented by the accused, I suggest we read the records of the case. (People vs Larrañaga, supra, at pages 573-576)
The decision of the Supreme Court was unanimous. The Associate Justices were Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug, Artemio Panganiban, Leonardo Quisumbing, Consuelo Ynares Santiago, Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez, Antonio Carpio, Ma. Alicia Austria Martinez, Renato C. Corona, Conchita Carpio Morales, Romeo Callejo Sr. and Dante Tinga. All concurred.
Chief Justice Hilario Davide took no part, being related by affinity to the victims, while Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna was on official leave.
In 2006, capital punishment was abolished, and the death sentences of the seven convicts who were on death row awaiting execution were commuted to life in prison.
An interesting development took place in 2007. A prisoner exchange treaty was signed between Spain and the Philippines. It was called the Treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Spain. Paco Larrañaga, one of the seven men convicted, was a Spanish citizen. Under the treaty, he could be allowed to serve the remainder of his prison term in Spain, although the Spanish government would be bound by the terms of his conviction. In 2009, Larrañaga left the Philippines for a Spanish prison.
In remembrance of the Chiong sisters, perhaps Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano could check if Larrañaga is still in a Spanish prison.
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