Three convicts in the 1997 rape-slay of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong of Cebu have been granted early release this month, according to documents signed by Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon, CNN Philippines reported Friday.
CNN Philippines said it obtained copies of the release orders of Josman Aznar, Alberto Caño, and Ariel Balansag”• three of the seven suspects in the controversial Chiong sisters’ case who benefitted from the Good Conduct Time Allowance, a provision in the Revised Penal Code which shortens jail time for good behavior.
The release orders, dated Aug. 16, said the three had served 40 years upon retroactive application of Republic Act No. 10592.
CNN quoted documents as saying the three convicts were “certified to have no other legal cause to be further detained” and “shall be released from confinement.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson, in a radio interview earlier in the day, said the release orders for the said convicts had been issued by the BuCor. Faeldon denied signing the documents.
In July 1997, the Chiong sisters were kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Cebu.
Aside from Aznar, Caño, and Balansag, other individuals convicted in the case were Francisco Juan Larrañaga, James Andrew Uy, James Anthony Uy, and Rowen Adlawan.
The “Chiong 7” were sentenced to reclusion perpetua and were initially put on death row but the death penalty was abolished in 2006 through Republic Act No. 9346.
Previously, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra hinted last week that Larrañaga and other inmates can still benefit from the Supreme Court ruling that mandates the retroactive application of the “good conduct time allowance.”
This is even if the Spanish-Filipino is serving his sentence in Spain through the Transfer of Sentence Agreement because of his dual citizenship, after being found guilty for his involvement in the Chiong case that rocked the country 22 years ago.
The convicts, eventually dubbed the “Chiong Seven” by the media, were from prominent families in Cebu City.
Aside from Larrañaga, who is the great-grandson of former President Sergio Osmeña Sr., they are Jozman Aznar, Rowen Wesley Adlawan, Alberto Allan “Pahak” Cano, Ariel Balansag, James Andrew “MM” Uy and James Anthony Uy.
“So, in this case we have agreement with Spain that [Larrañaga] would serve his sentence there, but the substantive law that will govern is still the Philippine law,” Guevarra said in an interview.
“So, in my opinion, he will still benefit [from the increased GCTA] because he was tried, prosecuted and sentenced under Philippine laws,” the Justice chief added.
Guevarra also admitted that Larrañaga’s co-accused also could benefit from the new GCTA rule.
“As long as they are eligible, they will benefit from what is written under the law,” he stressed.
According to the Justice secretary, it does not matter if the inmate is high profile or not, as long as they will qualify, their GCTAs will be computed.
The Manila Standard could not get the reaction of the Chiong family for comment at press time.
Jacqueline and Marijoy were 21 and 19, respectively, when they disappeared outside Ayala Center Cebu in 1997. Two days later, the body of a young woman was found at the bottom of a ravine in Carcar City, which the Chiong family said was that of Marijoy.
In July last year, Larrañaga’s lawyer Sandy Coronel said his family had filed a formal petition seeking clemency from President Rodrigo Duterte, following an online petition started by an anonymous person to free the Spanish-Filipino that garnered over 75,000 signatures.
In an interview over radio dyLA, Larrañaga’s mother, Margarita, admitted that the President’s clemency could help expedite the release of his son from jail in Spain.
But in a subsequent interview with SunStar Cebu, Thelma Chiong, mother of Marijoy and Jacqueline, said it is “impossible” for Larrañaga’s family to secure a presidential pardon considering President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-crime stance.
Mrs. Chiong said the Larrañagas had sought executive clemency from the administrations of former Presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III as well, to no avail.
It was during the term of Arroyo that the 41-year-old convict was given the approval to be transferred to Spain It was also during GMA’s time that capital punishment was repealed, which spared Larrañaga and the rest of the Chiong Seven from death row, SunStar reported last year.
On July 11 last year, a netizen with the username “Case Review” started an online petition on Change.org, urging President Duterte and the Supreme Court to review or reopen the controversial case.
It dovetailed with the opening of a locally produced movie, “Jacqueline Comes Home,” based on the tragic story of the Chiong sisters.
Another documentary film, titled “Give Up Tomorrow” produced in 2011, showed Larrañaga’s side of the story, from the day of his arrest to relocation in Spain.
In the film, Larrañaga shared his frustration after not being given the opportunity to take the witness stand and air his side of the story. He said he was illegally arrested and portrayed as a leader of the gang.
In 2015, Larrañaga was reportedly allowed to work as a part-time chef in Spain, although he would return to his jail cell by evening. Only 19 years old at the time of his arrest, he was a student at a culinary school in Quezon City.
On May 5, 1999, the late Cebu Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo convicted Larrañaga and his six co-accused of kidnapping and illegal detention. He sentenced them to two life terms, instead of death.
The Supreme Court upheld Ocampo’s ruling and imposed the death penalty on Larrañaga, Aznar, Adlawan, Caño and Balansag on Feb. 3, 2004, until the government under Arroyo repealed the death sentence.