Chiong rapist on the loose
Public outrage over the aborted release of former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez has resulted in the opening of a can of worms, possibly as bad as anything we have come across in the entire bureaucracy.
According to various news reports, some 22,000 convicts have been released from prison by way of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law that cuts prison time for exemplary behavior. Of this number, 1,914 were guilty of heinous crimes. Heinous crimes include treason, murder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, among others. It also appears from the testimony of a witness that quite often, money changes hands in the computation by prison officials of time earned for good behavior resulting in a money-making machine that outperforms many business organizations. For now, no one is going to touch the Sanchez release case with a 10-foot pole, and it is very likely he is going to spend a lot more time in the penitentiary.
But I still have some questions that were not resolved during the Senate hearings.
1) Who authorized Sanchez to wear smart-looking clothes instead of the usual prison attire?
2) How many inmates shared the room with Sanchez, or was he alone in an air-conditioned cell with three pillows on his bed and a personal TV set? Again, who gave permission for these unusual privileges for a man convicted of a heinous crime? These may seem to be minor issues, but if we follow the trail of corruption that led to the preferential treatment accorded some prisoners, it could easily lead to bigger fish.
3) Should not the government be interested in determining why, after so many years, the decision of the court imposing more than P12 million in damages against Sanchez has not been complied with? Why should the government leave it up to the victims’ families to pursue the claim? They have suffered enough. It must be the government that should take immediate action to enforce the court ruling on their behalf.
Possibly even more horrendous than the Sarmenta-Gomez murders was the case of two sisters, Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong. In July 1997, just a few years after the Sarmenta-Gomez killings, the two sisters were abducted by seven men in Cebu City. Marijoy was later found dead at the bottom of a deep ravine in Carcar City, while the body of Jacqueline was never recovered. Less than two years later, in May 1999, the Regional Trial Court Branch 7, Cebu City, convicted seven men of the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention involving the Chiong sisters. They were : Francisco Juan Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caño, Ariel Balansag, and brothers James Andrew and James Anthony Uy. All seven were sentenced to two life imprisonment terms each, plus substantial damages.
In February 2004, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, not only affirmed the RTC decision, but imposed a higher penalty — death by lethal injection in the case involving Marijoy. The Supreme Court explained its death penalty modification saying “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.”
In 2006, capital punishment was abolished, and the death sentence of the seven 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 Republic of the Philippines and the Kingdom of Spain. 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. I may be wrong, but Larrañaga is possibly the only beneficiary of this particular treaty. One can imagine the tremendous and powerful influence applied on the government here and abroad to bring about this special arrangement for a convict.
Last month, three of the seven convicts were released on the basis of the GCTA law. They were Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño. President Duterte has ordered them to surrender in 15 days or be hunted down as fugitives. In keeping with this sentiment, the President should also direct Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to determine if Larrañaga is still in a Spanish prison.
Update: As of last Friday, two of the Chiong killers have surrendered.
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