By RITCHE T. SALGADO
CEBU CITY – For more than a decade now, Thelma Chiong has always made it a point to visit her daughters on their birthdays. This year, however, the visit was extraordinarily painful because a few days earlier, Mrs. Chiong had received word that one of her daughters’ rapists and murderers was going to be repatriated to Spain, a free man for all intents and purposes.
Grim and grieving, Mrs. Chiong visited the grave of her daughter, Marijoy, and the marker for her still missing daughter, Jacqueline, in time for their birthdays, Sept. 8 and 9, respectively. “This celebration is more painful than anything else,” she lamented. “Every year we celebrate their birthdays and we don’t usually get this kind of news, or, if ever, it does not coincide with their birthdays.”
Much of Mrs. Chiong’s grief is caused by Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, of the powerful Osmeña clan of Cebu who was one of those convicted of raping and killing the sisters. Larrañaga is expected to be the first beneficiary of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement (TSPA) between the Philippines and Spain, after a resolution endorsing the said treaty was signed and approved in the Senate in 2007.
Mrs. Thelma Chiong (Photo by Ritche T. Salgado / bulatlat.com)
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who sponsored the resolution, singled out Larrañaga even before the resolution was approved, saying that he “will be the most celebrated beneficiary of the treaty.”
Larrañaga, who is alleged to be a Spanish citizen, is now waiting for communication from Spanish authorities on his impending transfer to their penal system.
The Basque-based Euskal Irrati Telebista, however, quoted Spanish minister for foreign affairs Miguel Angel Morantinos in a press conference with Philippine foreign affairs secretary Alberto Romulo last March 25 that the matter of the transfer had already been finalized and that it was up to the Larrañagas when the transfer would be implemented.
“Why is this happening? Why now?” Mrs. Chiong said in an interview last week with Bulatlat. “Until when would they make me suffer?”
“I was so shocked and sad, I did not know how to react,” Mrs. Chiong related when she received the news. “I did not know how to express myself, whether I should cry or I should laugh. I just didn’t know what to do.”
She said that the day after she got word of it, she asked her husband to go with her to church and to the grave of their daughters to talk with them on what to do. “I told my daughters that I did what I could to give them justice, and we did get the justice that we were looking for, but why should the government take this justice away from us?” she said.
“Way back in November 2007, I tried to lobby against the treaty being pushed by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago,” Mrs. Chiong said.
Santiago, who was then the chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee, sponsored the resolution for the ratification of the treaty. At that time, the Arroyo government was actively campaigning before the members of the United Nations General Assembly to push Santiago’s nomination for a seat in the International Court of Justice.
Santiago said the treaty was prioritized “in time for the President’s state visit” to Spain. “We normally do that as a matter of courtesy to another branch of government… So if we concurred with the treaty, we would have in effect reciprocated whatever treaty the Spanish government would have ratified that would favor Filipinos,” she said.