MANILA, Philippines?Malacañang Sunday said the Philippines was ?obliged? to transfer custody of convicted rapist Francisco Juan ?Paco? Larrañaga to Spain by virtue of a prisoners-exchange treaty between the two countries.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s chief legal counsel, Raul Gonzalez, said the Philippines risked being branded a ?rogue country? if it did not adhere to the treaty and refused the transfer.
Gonzalez also said there was a ?slim? chance that a Philippine court would issue an injunction in case the family of Larrañaga?s victims petitioned against the transfer.
He ruled out the possibility that the President would reverse Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera?s approval of Larrañaga?s transfer to a prison facility in Spain.
?I see no possibility of that unless there is abuse on the part of the Department of Justice,? Gonzalez said in a phone interview. ?I don?t think the President will violate the treaty.?
?A valid treaty?
Gonzalez was referring to the RP-Spain Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement, under which Larrañaga was expected to be allowed to serve out in Spain the remainder of his life sentence.
Larrañaga, now 32, is a great-grandson of late former President Sergio Osmeña and is a Spanish citizen. He was convicted in the abduction, rape, and killing of the sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong in Cebu in 1997.
Gonzalez said the treaty also called for Spain to transfer to a Philippine penal facility a Filipino convict on its soil.
?There is a valid treaty that exists in both countries,? he said. ?There is an obligation on our part to exchange prisoners.?
Gonzalez said the government could not just ignore the agreement in response to complaints on individual cases.
?It would make the Philippines a rogue country,? he said. ?We will all look like fools when we sign and ratify a treaty and not recognize it later on.?
Gonzalez said the government could always renegotiate or even abrogate the treaty, but not ignore its provisions while it was ?valid and in existence.?
?The treaty was ratified by the Senate,? he said. ?(Critics) should not raise new questions on matters debated on and settled already.?
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada was not surprised at the news of Larrañaga?s impending transfer to a Spanish jail.
Estrada Sunday said he precisely abstained during the vote for the ratification of the treaty in the Senate because of the possibility that Larrañaga would stand to benefit from it.
?I knew for a fact that the one who will benefit from the treaty is the one convicted in the Chiong murders,? Estrada said in a phone interview.
?True enough, it happened,? he added.
Estrada said that when the treaty was up for ratification in the Senate, an aunt of the slain Chiong sisters had approached him to express the family?s apprehension over the implications of the proposed treaty.
He said the aunt, Cheryl Jimenea, worked as a secretary for his father, former President Joseph Estrada. Cheryl is the sister of Thelma Chiong, the victims? mother, he said.
Estrada was doubtful whether Larrañaga?s transfer to Spain could be stopped.
?That is already legal because we ratified the treaty. What can we do about it?? he said.
One was spared
In 1999, the Cebu Regional Trial Court found Larrañaga and six other young men guilty of kidnapping and meted out two life sentences on each of them. It said the prosecution failed to establish that the sisters were raped and killed by their abductors.
On review, the Supreme Court in 2004 found the seven guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape, and imposed the death penalty on six of them. The high court spared one of them from death because he was only 16 when the crime was committed in 1997.
In 2006, Ms Arroyo commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment and asked Congress to abolish capital punishment. Two months later, the Senate approved a bill scrapping the death penalty, saying it was cruel, anti-poor and failed to deter heinous crimes.
An autopsy on Marijoy showed her skull and ribs were fractured. To this day, Jacqueline has not been found. With Inquirer Research