Cebu scions get death for Chiong murders

- Aurea Calica -
Instead of just 80 years in prison, the Supreme Court (SC) imposed yesterday the death penalty on six scions of prominent families in Cebu for the 1997 kidnapping, rape and killing of college beauty queen Marijoy Chiong and her sister Jacqueline.

The six are Francisco Juan "Paco" Larranaga, Jozman Aznar, Rowen Wesley Adlawan, Alberto Allan "Pahak" Cano, Ariel Balansag and James Andrew "MM" Uy.

Another appelant, James Anthony Uy, who was 16 years old or a minor at the time the crimes were committed, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the special complex crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape. He was sentenced to 12 to 17 years for simple kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

After a so-called "trial of the century," the six were convicted of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape by the Cebu City Regional Trial Court on May 5, 1999. They were sentenced to two life imprisonments or a total of 40 years each.

In raising the penalty, the SC said: "At times we may show compassion and mercy but not at the expense of the broader interest of fair play and justice."

"While we also find it difficult to mete out the penalty of death especially on young men who could have led productive and promising lives if only they were given enough guidance, however, we can never go against what is laid down in our statute books and established jurisprudence," the SC said.

In a companion criminal case, the tribunal also found the appellants guilty of the simple kidnapping and serious illegal detention of Marijoy’s sister, Jacqueline, and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jacqueline’s body has not been found to date. "What she and what further crimes were inflicted upon her remain unknown and unsolved up to the present," the SC said.

Aside from getting the death penalty, the appellants were also ordered to indemnify the heirs of the victims in each case in the amounts of P100,000 as civil indemnity; P25,000 as temperate damages; P150,000 as moral damages, and P100,000 as exemplary damages.

The prosecution’s evidence centered on the testimony of state witness Davidson Valiente Rusia. His testimony, which was corroborated by 21 other witnesses, narrated the kidnapping and gang-rape of Marijoy and her sister Jacqueline on July 16, 1997.

Both girls were subjected to dehumanizing acts committed by the appellants. Marijoy was eventually murdered.

On May 8, 1997 or 10 months later, Rusia admitted before the police his participation in the abduction of the sisters. He testified before the trial court how the crimes were committed and identified all the appellants as perpetrators.

He also declared that his "conduit" to Larranaga was Adlawan whom he met together with brothers James Anthony and James Andrew Uy five months prior to the crime.

Rusia said he had known Aznar since 1991 and had met Cano and Balansag only in the evening of July 16, 1997.

Rusia recalled that on July 15, 1997, he met Adlawan at the Ayala Mall thinking that there would be a group party. At 10:30 p.m., they boarded a white car with Aznar. Upon reaching Archbishop Reyes Avenue in the same city, they grabbed Marijoy and Jacqueline at the waiting shed and forced the girls to ride in the car.

The girls were brought to the safehouse of the "Jozman Aznar Group" in Guadalupe, Cebu City. Thereafter, they were brought to Tan-awan, where the appellants drank and had a pot session. The appellants took their turns in raping the victims, after which Marijoy was mercilessly pushed into a 150-meter deep ravine.

The SC found unreliable the appellants’ defense of alibi — that "much abused sanctuary of felons." It observed that "appellants attempted to establish their defense of alibi through the testimonies of relatives and friends who obviously wanted them exculpated of the crimes charged."

The SC said the appellants’ rights to be assisted by counsel at every stage of the proceedings, to confront and cross-examine the prosecution witnesses and produce evidence on their behalf and to an impartial trial were not violated.

"In the present case, there is no showing of violation of due process which justifies the reversal or setting aside of the trial court’s findings," the Court said.

Justices Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug, Artemio Panganiban, Leonardo Quisumbing, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Antonio Carpio, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Romeo Callejo Sr. and Dante Tinga voted against the appellants.

Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Justice Adolfo Azcuna did not participate in the 77-page per curiam decision.

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