MANILA – Bureau of Corrections Director General Nicanor Faeldon confirmed Monday the release of 3 persons convicted for the 1997 murder of the Chiong sisters in Cebu.
In a Senate inquiry about the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law, Sen. Panfilo Lacson asked Faeldon if he signed release orders for convicts Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag, and Alberto Caño.
Faeldon replied: "I cannot remember ordering the release of — because I really do not distinguish that cases, these PDLs (persons deprived of liberty)."
Lacson then presented a copy of release orders signed for Faeldon by BuCor official Maria Fe Marquez.
"Have they been released?" Lacson asked.
"Yes, your honor," Faeldon replied.
A copy of 3 orders obtained by ABS-CBN News Tuesday last week showed a memorandum dated August 16, 2019 directing the superintendent of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) to release Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño after they were found to have “served 40 years upon retroactive application of RA No. 10592 and was certified to have no other legal cause to be further detained.”
The same orders required the NBP superintendent to submit to Faeldon a report of compliance within 5 days from actual date of release.
According to Lacson, the release orders were signed by Corrections Technical Chief Supt. Maria Fe Marquez, the Director of the Directorate for Reformation and the Head of the Management, Screening & Evaluation Committee.
Marquez confirmed her signature during the Senate hearing.
Aznar, who belongs to a prominent family in Cebu; Balansag, a conductor; and Caño, a van driver, were among the 7 convicted in May 1999 for the kidnapping of sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong on July 16, 1997 in Cebu City.
Among those convicted with the three were Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, the great-grandson of the late President Sergio Osmeña, Sr.; Rowen Adlawan, and minors James Andrew Uy and his brother James Anthony Uy.
The Chiong sisters were only 22 and 20 when they were kidnapped at a mall in Cebu.
According to suspect-turned-state witness Davidson Rustia, Aznar, Adlawan, Larrañaga, and Uy took turns raping the sisters.
Balansag and Caño allegedly drove Marijoy to Carcar town in central Cebu where her head was wrapped in masking tape before she was pushed off a 150-meter deep ravine.
Marijoy was found 2 days later. An autopsy report showed she was raped by more than 1 man, was still alive when she was pushed off the cliff, and died due to brain hemorrhage and multiple physical injuries.
To this day, Jacqueline has yet to be found.
On appeal, the Supreme Court in 2004 raised the penalty for Larrañaga, Aznar, Adlawan, Caño and Balansag from 2 counts of reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years in prison for each count) to:
- death penalty for the special complex crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape; and
- reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years imprisonment) for the crime of simple kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
The Uy brothers, who were found to be minors at the time of the crime, were sentenced to:
- reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years imprisonment) for the special complex crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape; and
- 12 to 17 years for the crime of simple kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
All 7 of them were ordered to pay the heirs of the Chiong sisters, in each case:
- P100,000 as civil indemnity;
- P25,000 as temperate damages;
- P150,000 as moral damages; and
- P100,000 as exemplary damages.
In July 2005, the high court affirmed the convictions.
The death penalty however was suspended on June 24, 2006 after RA 9346 prohibited its imposition.
But in 2007, a Spanish foreign minister convinced the Philippine government to allow Larrañaga, a Spanish citizen, to serve his sentence in Spain under a treaty the Philippines signed with Spain only in November 2007. Larrañaga left for Spain in October 2009.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
During the Senate hearing, Lacson described the Chiong sisters rape-slay as a gruesome case similar to the Sarmenta-Gomez case.
He brought up the Chiong sisters case after Faeldon denied signing Sanchez’s release papers.
Lacson had showed him a document bearing his signature but Faeldon said it was only a memorandum.
“I signed that document, the memorandum of release but that is not the release order because after my office endorsed to several other office, and finally, it will go to the superintendent who issues the final release order of the PDL (person deprived of liberty),” he said.
“That order sir was recalled by me…We stopped the process of the release,” he added, saying he needed to review the grant of good conduct time allowance to Sanchez.
But Lacson pointed out that the supposed release order of Sanchez was similarly worded to the documents that were the bases for the release of the Chiong sisters convicts.
“E di pareho rin. 'Yung unang release order kay Sanchez, napreempt lang because of the public uproar. But in this case, this one got away because this was dated 4 days before the supposed release order signed by you in favor of Antonio Sanchez,” Lacson said.
“So what makes the difference between the release order signed for you by Maria Fe Marquez and the release order signed by you by Antonio Sanchez?,” he asked.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said during the same hearing that since he was appointed to the DOJ in April 2018, he had not received any request for approval for the release of any convict on the basis of good conduct time allowance, despite a 2015 DOJ department order requiring the DOJ’s approval for release for those sentenced to life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua.
Department Order 953 issued on November 25, 2015 was signed by then Justice Secretary and now Supreme Court Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
It states: "The said authority of the Director-General of the Bureau of Corrections to release of (sic) national prisoners shall not apply to prisoners/inmates sentenced to Life Imprisonment or Reclusion Perpetua or high risk inmates, whose release due to expired sentences, shall only be implemented upon prior approval of the Secretary of Justice."
(Editor's note: Both Uy brothers are minors, not just one as stated in an earlier version of this story. We regret the error)