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The enduring agony of the Chiong case

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 9/8/2019 MARIT STINUS-CABUGON
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(Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.)

THE fiasco concerning the early release of some persons convicted of heinous crimes has again put the spotlight on the Chiong case. Esquire magazine, in a 2018 article by Nicai de Guzman entitled “Twenty Years Later, the Chiong Sisters’ Murder is Still Shrouded in Mystery,” calls the case an “enduring mystery.” While there is no doubt in the minds of the family of Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong as to who were responsible for the sisters’ abduction and murder, neither is there doubt on the side of the families and friends of the seven men convicted of the crime that they are innocent. The mystery that endures is somewhere in between the two sides, manifested in the doubt that lingers in the minds of some of us.

This doubt is colored with guilt for not being in unconditional solidarity with the family of the victims, guilt of not supporting wholeheartedly the cause of the family and friends of the seven convicted men. Cebu is a place where everybody knows everybody, directly or indirectly.

Twenty-two years have passed since the night the sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong were snatched from the Ayala Center Cebu never to be seen alive again. One body was found, claimed to be that of Marijoy but even this is contested. The case against the seven young men was built on the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness, Davidson Rusia, and other witnesses, some of whom later turned out to be police assets.

Rusia claimed to have participated in the abduction and witnessed the rape and murder of the two young women. He became some sort of overnight sensation, if not ‘matinee idol,’ in Cebu during the trial. He was good-looking and well-mannered. He spoke English fluently having lived in the US. He was praised for coming clean by speaking the truth. But did Rusia indeed speak the truth? Was he tortured not into confession, but into telling the story that the police wanted to hear?

Having met Rusia personally, it still puzzles me that a case like the Chiong case, involving abduction, rape and murder, was built almost entirely on the testimony of one young man who had survived in the Philippines — without parents or other relatives — by joining gangs (that’s what he told me): Do what the leader tells you to do and he will take care of you.

If the seven convicted men didn’t do it, then who did? Many Cebuanos believe that controversial businessman Peter Lim might know something. The father of the victims worked for Mr. Lim at the time of the crime. Thus, when no less than President Rodrigo Duterte showed interest in Mr. Lim’s business activities, openly accusing Mr. Lim of what Cebuanos would only whisper about, some of us thought this was the opportunity to also shed new light on the Chiong case. This didn’t happen.

Like the parents of the other men who were convicted, Marlene and Rick Uy believe in their sons’ — James Andrew and James Anthony — innocence. They spent everything they had on their sons’ defense. “Who will compensate the days and years lost for my sons’ lives being there inside?” Marlene Uy lamented in a text message. While some Cebuanos may have doubts whether the Uy brothers, Paco Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag, Alberto Caño and Rowen Adlawan were really guilty of abducting, raping and murdering the Chiong sisters, this has not been sufficient to galvanize support for an investigation into the case.

There may be some sympathy for Aznar, Balansag and Caño who were released by virtue of the good conduct time allowance provisions, but few are speaking up. One is lawyer Edgar Gica, the counsel of Aznar. While insisting that his client is innocent, Gica told Sun Star Cebu that in the eyes of the law, since Aznar and the others have served their sentences, justice has been served. “Why should the public be looking for him? Why should anybody be looking for them? They have served their sentence. They have gone home and have a right to be left alone” (Sun Star Cebu, Sept. 6, 2019). James Andrew and James Anthony Uy who were 17 and 16 years old, respectively, on July 16 1997, were eligible to apply for parole years ago. No less than Persida Acosta, the head of the Public Attorney’s Office, personally promised to help. That was years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Uy are lucky compared to Mr. and Mrs. Chiong. James Andrew and James Anthony, though they have spent half of their lives in prison, are alive. Thelma and Dionisio Chiong never saw their daughters again after July 16 1997. What is enduring about the Chiong case, 22 years after the crime was committed, is the agony and pain of the parents and siblings. We are nowhere near closure.

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