MANILA, Philippines - Case closed?as far as the police and the courts are concerned. But for a woman who has lived a mother?s worst nightmare, mercy is not spoken in the same breath as justice.
Two daughters raped and murdered?one body still unrecovered. Thelma Chiong still rages: ?Don?t talk to me about justice being tempered with mercy. Bakit, naawa ba sila sa mga anak ko (did they have mercy on my daughters), whom they subjected to dehumanizing, brutal and sadistic acts? Jackie is missing until now. Now tell me the meaning of mercy.?
Eight have been convicted and sentenced for the crimes?all of them young men, most from landed and affluent families in Cebu. The most damning testimony against them was delivered on August 12, 1998 by suspect-turned-state witness, Davidson Valiente Rusia, 23, who recounted the abduction and consequent rape and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong.
The narrative begins in the Ayala Center Cebu on July 16, 1997 and ends at the top of a cliff in Carcar town, and involves Rusia?s former friends: Francisco Juan ?Paco? Larrañaga, 19, great-grandson of the late President Sergio Osmeña Sr. and kin to the prominent Osmeña clan; Josman Aznar, 24, whose family owns several properties in Cebu, including the Southwestern University, Sacred Heart Hospital, the Alta Vista Golf and Country Club; Rowen Adlawan, 21; van driver Alberto Caño, 31; van conductor Ariel Balansag, 21; and brothers James Andrew, 17, and James Anthony Uy, 16.
Rusia admitted he was present at most of the episodes of the crime, pointing to Aznar and Adlawan as the ones who seized Jacqueline, 22, and Marijoy, 20, while the sisters were waiting for a ride home at the Ayala Center Cebu.
It was her day off, but Jacqueline, who worked at the Global Village Cyber Cafe, an Internet and computer services store, had gone to the office for her salary. An officemate, Sheila Singson, recalled seeing Larrañaga, who she said was an ?admirer? of Marijoy, approach the sisters at the west end of the mall around 7:20 p.m. Annalie Konahap, another officemate, also saw Larrañaga and Aznar with the sisters at the same spot around 9:05 p.m., and noted that Jacqueline seemed ?uneasy? talking to Aznar. A security guard, who correctly identified the two after being shown more than 100 photographs, corroborated Konahap?s testimony.
The sisters were abducted about an hour later. A rent-a-car driver testified that he saw Aznar dragging Jacqueline into a white van parked along Archbishop Reyes Avenue around 11 p.m. Rusia told the court that the Chiongs were brought to a house in Guadalupe, Cebu City, where they were taken to separate rooms and raped by Aznar, Adlawan, Larrañaga, and the elder Uy. Balansag and Caño, he continued, then drove the rented van to Carcar, 40.3 kilometers away, and the sisters were again gang-raped, this time inside the vehicle, parked along the roadside in Sitio Tan-awan. Marijoy, her head wrapped in masking tape, was then pushed off a cliff while Jacqueline was allegedly brought back to the city early the next day.
Marijoy?s decomposing body was found two days after the abduction. Nestor Sator, then head of the Philippine National Police medico-legal office in Central Visayas, conducted the autopsy on Marijoy?s body on July 20, 1997 at a funeral parlor in Carcar. Evidence gathered indicated that she was raped by more than one man and, based on ?vital tissues reaction? noted during the autopsy, pushed off the cliff alive. Marijoy died of brain hemorrhage and physical injuries, which included multiple fractures in the skull, left clavicle and ribs; a dislocated right knee; lacerated wounds on the forehead and hand; contusions on the forehead and abdomen; and abrasions in various parts of the body. Jacqueline has not been found.
All of the accused denied the charges. Larrañaga denied he was courting Marijoy and presented witnesses and evidence, including photographs, to prove he was in Quezon City at that time of the crimes. His friends, even years later, continued to proclaim his innocence. In a press conference in November 2004, they claimed ?Paco? was with them at a culinary school, where he was pursuing a diploma around the time the crime was committed. Larrañaga himself, in a letter he sent to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in August 2005, made the same claim.
On May 5, 1999, Cebu Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo found the seven guilty of kidnapping and illegal detention, and sentenced them to two life terms, instead of death. In refusing to impose the death penalty, Ocampo said the prosecution had failed to establish the fact that the sisters were killed by their abductors. Questions on the identity of the corpse remained unanswered, and it was possible the body belonged to another woman. The crime of rape, he added, was also not proven.
The guilty verdict was met with thunderous applause and tears. Aznar cried like a boy on the shoulder of his mother, while the Uy brothers wept in the arms of theirs. Hundreds of onlookers jeered, many yelling, ?You should rot in jail!? as the seven were led out of the court.
Both sides appealed the decision to the Supreme Court?the prosecution demanding the death penalty, the defense asking that the seven be acquitted. On February 3, 2004, the high court, instead of merely affirming the sentences handed down by Ocampo, imposed the death penalty on the convicts, except for James Anthony, who was spared because he was a minor at the time of the crime. (His brother, James Andrew, later asked the court for reconsideration since he was also only a minor?17 years 262 days old?when the crimes were committed.)
But the case remained on appeal in the High Court, and attracted calls for a ?fair trial? from foreign groups, among them the Madrid Bar Association, Basque Bar, Barcelona Bar, a rights watchdog group from the European Union, and the European Parliament. Larrañaga, who is half-Spanish, also found allies in the Spanish Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation, consisting of legislators from Spain?s ruling and opposition blocs.
President Arroyo commuted all death sentences to life terms on Easter Sunday, 2006, thereby saving six of the seven Chiong case convicts from lethal injection. In an interview in May that year, Thelma Chiong, now national vice-president of the anti-crime advocacy and support group Crusade Against Violence, could hardly suppress her rage: ?Is she (Ms Arroyo) saying that the highest court of the land doesn?t know what it?s doing? Aba, bobo pala, dapat i-abolish na (If it?s so idiotic, it should be abolished).? Eliza Victoria, Inquirer Research