MANILA, Philippines ? On May 5, 1999, Cebu Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo found seven young men guilty of kidnapping sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong on July 16, 1997, in Cebu City.
He sentenced to two life terms each Francisco Juan ?Paco? Larrañaga, 19, great-grandson of the late President Sergio Osmeña Sr. and scion of the prominent Osmeña clan; Josman Aznar, 24, whose family owns several properties in Cebu, including Southwestern University, Sacred Heart Hospital, and Alta Vista Golf and Country Club; Rowen Adlawan, 21; brothers James Andrew, 17, and James Anthony Uy, 16; and van driver Alberto Caño, 31, and conductor Ariel Balansag, 21.
Ocampo said the prosecution failed to establish that the sisters were raped and killed by their abductors.
In his testimony in August 1998, suspect-turned-state witness Davidson Valiente Rusia recounted the abduction and consequent rape of the Chiong sisters.
He said he was present at most of the episodes of the crimes, and pointed to Aznar and Adlawan as the ones who seized Jacqueline, 22, and Marijoy, 20, while the sisters were waiting for a ride home at Ayala Center Cebu.
Rusia said the sisters were taken in a rented van to a house in Guadalupe, Cebu City, where they were raped in separate rooms by Aznar, Adlawan, Larrañaga and James Andrew Uy.
He said Balansag and Caño then drove the van to Carcar town where Marijoy, her head wrapped in masking tape, was pushed off a cliff. He said Jacqueline was taken back to the city early the next day.
Marijoy?s body was found two days after the abduction. An autopsy conducted on July 20, 1997, 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.
She was found to have died of brain hemorrhage and physical injuries that 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 to this day.
All of the accused denied the charges.
Larrañaga presented witnesses and evidence, including photographs, to prove he was in Quezon City at the time of the crimes.
Years later, his friends continued to proclaim his innocence. In a press conference in November 2004, they claimed that Larrañaga was with them at a culinary school in Quezon City where he was enrolled at 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 Feb. 3, 2004, the Supreme Court imposed the death penalty on the convicts?except for James Anthony Uy, a minor at the time of the crimes.
Instead of merely affirming the sentences handed down by Ocampo, the high court said the seven were guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape.
The case remained on appeal in the high court, and drew calls for a ?fair trial? from foreign groups, including 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.
In February 2005, the Supreme Court denied ?for lack of merit? Larrañaga?s petition to have his case heard at the Court of Appeals.
On Easter Sunday 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commuted all death sentences to life terms, thereby saving the six convicts from lethal injection.
In November 2007, the Senate ratified a prisoners exchange treaty with Spain. The treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons provided for the return home of the convicted citizens of each other?s country.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the treaty?s sponsor, said the ratification would benefit Larrañaga.
In her visit to Spain in December 2007, Ms Arroyo was lauded by King Juan Carlos I for being a ?human rights defender.? He cited her abolition of the death penalty.