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True crime. Casually done.

The Chiong Sisters: The Most Insane Miscarriage of Justice

Written by Kevin Jennings

            I can’t speak for the rest of the world, though I suspect the sentiment is quite similar, but here in America, Amazon is seen as an evil corporation that uses dirty tactics to crush small business and savagely mistreats its employees, forcing warehouse workers to relieve themselves in empty boxes while they’re at work because there’s simply no time for them to take a bathroom break. Despite this, we all still use Amazon, because what’s the alternative, going to the mall? The mall sucks, and their strict policy of requiring pants doesn’t vibe with my modern shopping sensibilities. With the convenience and ease of online shopping, malls becoming a relic of the past may very well be in our foreseeable future.

            This narrative was quite a bit different in the 1990s, however. Online shopping barely existed, and the general public was still a bit leery of it. Back then, malls were the place to be. The variety of stores meant you could do all your shopping in one stop. Teens would go there just to hang out or for employment. The elderly would come by every morning to get their daily exercise. These days malls may be becoming a relic of a bygone era, they were once bustling hubs of commerce and socialization.

            While for most people the worst thing that could happen at the mall was that Wetzel’s Pretzels ran out of your favourite dipping sauce, sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong were not so lucky. Their last trip to the mall was the last time anyone would see either of them alive…maybe.

The Kidnapping

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            Marijoy, 21, and Jacqueline, 23, were born to parents Dionisio and Thelma Chiong. They grew up on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Dionisio worked for a trucking company, and the girls had part time jobs working at the mall.

            On the night of July 16, 1997, Marijoy and Jacqueline had finished their shifts at the Ayala Mall. They were outside the mall in a waiting shed waiting for their ride to arrive. When they were late to return home from work, Thelma would send her two sons to retrieve them, thinking that the girls must have had trouble getting a ride because it was such a rainy and stormy night. When the boys arrived at the mall, the girls were already gone, but they were never to return home.

            According to signed witness statements, a white car had pulled up to the waiting shed at 10:00 pm and two men forced the girls inside. There was a red car trailing this one with five more men in it.  The white car drove about fourteen meters before Jacqueline jumped out of it. She was chased down and forced back into the car. Once inside, she was elbowed in the chest and Marijoy was punched in the stomach. The respective blows caused both girls to faint, at which point they were handcuffed to one another and packing tape was placed over their mouths. Simon, I know that I promised you this episode wasn’t going to be too brutal, so I guess for the next few minutes you should let your mind zone out or just think happy thoughts.

            The cars left the mall and headed to a safe house in Guadalupe, Cebu City. The girls were brought inside to separate rooms, but after about 15 minutes the girls and their seven captors returned to their vehicles. Marijoy and Jacqueline were again handcuffed together, and they headed to a bus terminal where they were able to rent a van and abandon the red car. They then proceeded south, stopping to get some barbeque and Tanduay rum, before arriving at Tan-awan, south of Cebu City.

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            The group parked their van and white car near a ravine, and proceeded to enjoy their barbeque and rum, as well as smoke some weed. Growing up in the 1980s, I was always warned that marijuana was a gateway drug, but no one warned me it was a gateway to murder. Then again, marijuana use is punishable by life in prison in the Philippines under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972, so perhaps they were of the same mindset as a murderer who continues killing on the basis that the penalty is the same for a hundred murders as it is for one, so why not?

            The gang of seven men, now out of their minds on rum and “dangerous drugs”, pulled Jacqueline out of the car and instructed her to dance as they encircled her. She was pushed from one end of the circle to the other as the men ripped her clothes. While this was happening, one of the men left the circle and went inside the van that still had Marijoy inside. He returned fifteen minute later asking “who wants next?” One by one, all seven men took turns inside the van raping Marijoy.

            She was then carried out of the van and Jacqueline was forced back inside. There was only time for three of the men to have their way with her. When the third man returned, Marijoy was unceremoniously pushed into the 150 meter deep ravine. The impact from the fall would have killed her instantly. Jacqueline was thrown to the ground, and as she tried to get up and run to the road, the gang taunted her, following her in the van. A passing tricycle, the most common form of motorized transportation in the Philippines due to costing less than $2,000, was seen coming down the road, so Jacqueline was pulled inside and beaten unconscious. What happened to her afterwards is unaccounted for…maybe.

The tricycle driver, thinking that the passengers in the van were throwing garbage off the cliff, wrote down the license plate number. A woman named Ani who lived nearby also signed an affidavit stating that she saw the suspicious white car parked by the ravine.

Two days later, the decomposing body of a young woman was found at the bottom of the ravine. She had been beaten, blindfolded, handcuffed, and gang raped. Dionisio and Thelma identified that, as long as there were absolutely no follow up questions, the body was that of their daughter Marijoy.

The Chiong 7

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/07/19/1834951/online-petition-urges-duterte-sc-reopen-chiong-sisters-case

            Francisco Juan Larrañaga, nicknamed “Paco”, was a 19 year old  dual citizen of Spain and the Philippines. He came from a privileged family, and was studying at the Center for Culinary Arts in Quezon City, some 300 miles away from the island of Cebu. Two months after the murders, he was approached on campus by armed men in plain clothes claiming to be police officers. He called his sister, Mimi, who heroically rushed to the scene and dispatched of the officers, on the condition that Paco would go to Cebu the next day to be questioned.

            When he arrived in Cebu, Paco was arrested along with six other men, who would go on to be known as the Chiong 7. The other six men arrested were Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan aka “Wesley”, Alberto Cao aka “Allan Pahak”, Ariel Balansag, James Anthony Uy aka “Wangwang” (lul), and James Andrew Uy aka “MM”. Almost all of these men came from well off families, and all had records on the juvenile registry for minor altercations.

            Paco’s record included one not-so-minor altercation, which was one of the reasons he was singled out. Paco was accused of attempting to abduct a first year high school student from the University of San Carlos Girls High School the year prior. Note that this is all allegedly as there was no arrest or charges brought forth on the matter, but there was a letter dated September 25, 1996 from the parents of the girl to the Student Affairs Office of the high school.

            The public couldn’t have been happier with the arrests. These were all seen as thugs from privileged families, the types of people who are generally regarded as acting and in fact being above the law. Especially in the case of Paco, who was seen as the leader of the gang and from the most privileged family, the idea that justice could actually be served was tantalizing to the people of Cebu, and they anxiously awaited the trial in the hopes that the Chiong 7 would not simply buy their way out of trouble, as wealthy people are always believed to do.

The Eighth Man and the Trial of the Century

            The people of the Philippines saw this as the trial of the century, anxiously awaiting to see if justice could win out over wealth and privilege. The trail of the Chiong 7 centered primarily on two people. The first was Paco. Paco was seen as the leader of the gang, and the one who supposedly had the strongest alibi for the crime. The prosecution felt that if they could prove his guilt, then the other convictions would be trivial. Likewise, the defense felt that if they could defend Paco’s innocence, the prosecution’s case would fall apart.

            The other centerpiece of the trial was co-defendant Davidson Valiente Rusia. He turned himself in as the eighth member of Paco’s gang, and agreed to testify against the other members. He was the prosecution’s star witness. Rusia said he was told to meet the group at the mall at 10 pm for a “big happening.” He assumed this meant they were just going to party or something, but went on to explicitly detail the abductions that began at the mall and ended with murder at the ravine.  His testimony lasted for days, but Paco’s lawyers only questioned him on cross-examination for 30 minutes. Eventually, unable to find any reasonable defense, Paco’s lawyers quit the case and he was assigned lawyers from the Public Offenders office. Unsurprisingly, they did not fare any better.

            Rusia’s version of events were recreated a short film that aired on national television. After watching the actors who played Rowen and Ariel high-five each other after pushing Marijoy off the cliff, the nation knew these men were guilty and wanted to see them executed.

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            On May 5, 1999, after three months of deliberation, Cebu Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo finally wrote his decision. He declared that all eight defendants were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Rusia had been granted blanket immunity for his role as star witness, while the other seven men were all sentenced to two life sentences. The mandatory penalty for murder at the time was the death penalty, but Ocampo ruled that because he was not sure the body found in the ravine was Marijoy Chiong that they could not say for certain a murder took place. The men were instead convicted of two counts of kidnapping and illegal detention.

            Dionisio and Thelma were furious, deeming that anything less than death was unsuitable justice. Also, did the fucking judge just say that might not even be Marijoy’s body and there might not have been a murder? Is that not somehow important?

Context Clues

            Jesus Christ, where do we even begin with this complete and total shitshow. Well, to understand everything that happened, there’s some important context to this trial that I’ve omitted thus far. I mentioned that the accused were predominantly from privileged families, and that is true. The public wanted proof that even the wealthy were not above the law as is often perceived to be the case. Yes, I know Simon, that’s perceived to be the case because it absolutely is the case. However, the one thing that can see justice, or some perverted semblance of it, done against a privileged family is an even more privileged family.

By all accounts, the Chiongs were not particularly wealthy; their daughters were working part time at a mall after all. However, they had connections. Thelma’s sister was the personal secretary to Joseph Estrada, who became President Joseph Estrada near the beginning of the trial; he was inaugurated on June 30, 1998. Also, there’s the trucking company that Dionisio worked for. He had actually been the manager of the entire trucking company before leaving. That trucking company was owned by Peter Lim, a notorious alleged drug lord that was put on red notice by Interpol in March of 2019 and is the subject of an international manhunt. A fun fact that is completely unrelated to the story at hand and definitely couldn’t have any bearing on anything is that Dionisio was set to testify against his former boss before the Congressional Committee on Dangerous Drugs at the time his daughters went missing. Also unrelated is that he backed out of testifying almost immediately after the disappearance.

This is especially important for a few reasons. The first is Paco’s attempted arrest on campus. While he was terrified and confused, his sister Mimi was a fucking legend. When she arrived on scene after Paco’s phone call, she immediately noticed that the men all had expired police IDs and did not have any sort of warrant for Paco, so she basically told the multiple armed men to fuck right off, even if Paco did agree to return to Cebu the next day. These men were later identified as thugs under the employee of the alleged drug lord.

Based on the timing of the girls’ disappearance and the reputation of Peter Lim, there is a lot of speculation that the Chiong 7 were targeted because their families had somehow upset Lim. One of the major details supporting this theory is that only two of the members of the supposed gang had ever met each other before the trial, and none of them had ever met star witness and co-conspirator Rusia. That is, if you choose to take the word of a group of now convicted felons. Paco also claimed to have never met Marijoy or Jacqueline before either, though their mother claimed that he had been dating and harassing Marijoy. But who are you going to believe, a convicted murderer or a grieving mother? Don’t answer yet, because now that the stage is more properly set, it’s time to reexamine the trial.

The Mistrial of the Century

            As a quick side note, the Philippines does not have jury trials, all criminal matters are decided by a judge. Just wanted to clear that up for our US and UK listeners who may have found themselves wondering about a lack of jury. Still, a murder conviction must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. That statement is true in the Philippines as well. What are some things that might constitute reasonable doubt? Well for starters, how about an alibi?

            We’re going to blow through most of these pretty quickly, because as I previously stated the trial was really all about Paco, but it’s still important to note that the other men did have alibis. On the night of July 16th, the two Yu brothers were celebrating their father’s 50th birthday. All of the party guests placed them at the event until at least 11:30 pm, 90 minutes after the abduction of the Chiong sisters. They did not leave their home until 7 am the next day to go to school. That’s just testimony of friends and family though, so maybe not the most ironclad alibi.

            Alberto and Ariel were seen at an auto mechanic with Alberto’s wife and another couple at 7:30 pm. The group returned to pick up the car the next morning, so there were witnesses to their whereabouts, they did not have their car, and there was no mention of a “big happening” or party made.

            Josman and some friends had dinner at his house that night, then went to BAI Disco. They met up with some other friends, got increasingly drunk, then went to a second bar. Josman did not arrive home until his friend dropped him off at 3 am. I cannot find any information on Rowen’s alibi, so either he didn’t have one or it was just more friends and family. Regardless, it all came down to Paco.

            Paco’s case was presented first as he was believed to have the strongest alibi. That alibi was that he wasn’t even on the island of Cebu on the night of the 16th, which is a pretty bold claim to make and would require some serious proof. Proof that he absolutely had.

            Attendance records showed that Paco was in attendance at his classes at the Center for Culinary Arts in Quezon City, and that he took his midterms on campus the following day.

He and his friends hung out at the R&R Bar in Katipunan. There were photographs taken that night that showed Paco in the bar, but the judge felt the photos were tampered with because Paco was not looking directly at the camera and his chair seemed to be a different colour than the others. Remember that this was the late 90s, so these weren’t easily Photoshopped digital pictures, they came from a roll of film.

The logbook from Paco’s condominium recorded him arriving home at 10:15 pm, which the security guard attested to. The judge felt his entry had been added in after the fact as it was written in the uppermost portion of the book, sandwiched between two entries recorded at 10:05 pm. There is no photograph of this logbook available, so the term “sandwiched” could mean two different things. Either it could be small print inserted in between two entries, or it could be a normal entry and either he or the person after him was off by 10 minutes when they wrote down the time. If it’s the former then that part is a little peculiar, but I don’t know that it’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” levels of peculiar.

There is also the matter of sworn affidavits from witnesses, all testifying that Paco was in Quezon the night of the murder. In total there were 45 sworn statements from classmates, friends, and teachers attesting to Paco’s whereabouts on the night in question. The judge ruled that these statements had no merit, and when the defense began calling the witnesses to the stand the judge cut off their testimony on account of their being too many witnesses. He also refused to allow Paco to take the stand to defend himself.

Speaking of witnesses, how about that Rusia guy? It’s pretty convenient that 10 months after the crime he voluntarily gave himself up to police to testify against his seven friends in exchange for blanket immunity, despite never having been implicated in the crimes at all. Isn’t it funny how the world works sometimes? But who actually was Davidson Rusia?

The media was determined to spread the narrative of the Chiong 7 being drug addicted gang members and felons. The eighth man, Rusia, was a drug addicted gang member and felon. Rusia had served two prison sentences in the United States. His confession had not come entirely out of the goodness of his own heart either, and I’m not just talking about the offer of blanket immunity.

In a story that was corroborated by other prison inmates who witnessed the events, the police had gently and repeatedly coaxed a confession out of Rusia with their fists. Their lit cigarettes delicately caressed his back and their loaded guns were aimed lovingly at his face. Rusia was given the full VIP treatment and showered with this sort of affection from the police until he freely decided of his own volition that he had to do the right thing and confess to his horrible crimes.

During the trial, I mentioned that the prosecution questioned Rusia for days but Paco’s team of defense lawyers only cross-examined him for 30 minutes. What I left out was that Judge Ocampo only allowed them to cross-examine him for 30 minutes. Rusia gave a very detailed account of the events that happened starting at the mall and ending at the ravine, but in his story, Jacqueline left the ravine with them. He never said anything about what happened to her after, and the prosecution didn’t ask.

On cross-examination when Rusia was asked what happened to Jacqueline, he “fainted”. But witness or not, the show must go on! Judge Ocampo had the proceedings continue, and he answered the questions on behalf of the unconscious witness. To say this was an unorthodox decision would be putting it lightly, but Judge Ocampo was apparently a pretty unorthodox kind of guy.

The entire trial was a carnival. It was disorganized, and people shouted and spoke out of turn. Judge Ocampo either didn’t have the energy or the will to keep any semblance of order in his courtroom. I’m going to guess he didn’t have the energy, as he was seen occasionally catching a quick nap during the proceedings. Much like a witness fainting, the judge sleeping was not cause enough to pause the trial, so hopefully nothing important was presented while he was in dreamland.

So we’ve talked about the Chiong 7’s alibis, one of the things that can be used to establish reasonable doubt. What about the evidence in the trial? Surely there must have been a preponderance of evidence tying the accused to the crime, right? Actually, there was none. Aside from Rusia’s account of events, there wasn’t actually any physical evidence to tie any of the men allegedly involved to the crime. There was Marijoy’s body, but we’ll get to that in a moment. As the entire prosecution hinged on Rusia’s testimony, there’s one other thing we need to mention about his story.

There were witness statements to corroborate Rusia’s story of what happened that night. We mentioned one witness earlier, Ani, who signed a statement saying she heard noise and saw the white car parked by the ravine. The thing with that statement though is that she claims it is a complete and total lie.

Ani’s account of that night was that she heard some noise or traffic outside, but she thought absolutely nothing of it. The following day was a market day, so it was common for people to drive by or transport their livestock. After being interviewed by police several times, they presented her with an affidavit to sign. The document that they presented the poor and uneducated woman was in English, which she couldn’t read. Uneducated but not stupid, she demanded that the officers translate the letter before she signed it. The police were honest men, so they agreed to translate the letter for her. But only after she signed it. They did tell her what the statement actually said, but when she argued with them about it being a lie they unsurprisingly weren’t interested; they got what they came for, so off they went.

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It would come out after the trial that most of the witness statements were from people who did not understand what they were signing, as the Cebuano speaking witnesses were all handed statements written in English to sign. There was also several statements testifying that seven men had abducted the Chiong sisters, and the addition of the eighth man as a star witness did not seem to raise any doubt surrounding the veracity of those statements. Speaking of the police interviewing witnesses, they did not interview a single one of the defense’s witnesses to try to corroborate any of the accused men’s alibi’s. They had men in custody, and it’s only their job to make arrests, not to make the correct arrests.

Finally, let’s talk about Marijoy’s body…maybe. A body was found at the bottom of the ravine, that part is not up for debate. But was the body actually Marijoy? Her parents identified the body as hers, and that was the end of it. Some fingerprints were taken that allegedly matched the prints on her voter ID card, according to Inspector Edgardo Lenizo, an inspector for the same police force that allegedly beat a confession out of Rusia. I mean coaxed. They gently coaxed him into doing the right thing. Getting fingerprints from a decomposing body is difficult, and there was a lot of doubt about the authenticity of his claims. Thelma refused to allow any other forensic testing done on the body, so the identity of the girl was entirely the word of the parents. Normally I would say a parent’s verification is a pretty solid way to identify a body, but normally the person in question didn’t go missing after one of those parents agreed to testify against an alleged drug lord in a case surrounded by more questions than answers.

The post mortem examination did reveal one other crucial piece of evidence. There was a stain on the deceased girl’s underwear which testing showed matched Paco’s DNA, and only Paco’s DNA. I hate to remind you, Simon, but Marijoy was allegedly raped by seven men, and Paco was neither the first now the last in the order Rusia gave. With seven guys, it’s definitely possibly that one of them is sterile. Four of them? There’s an outside chance. But six? I’d like to see that happen.

The sample that was tested did show Paco’s sperm, but there was only one sperm cell, and none from anyone else. How can the prosecution claim that the girl was repeatedly raped yet there is only a single sperm cell as evidence? Also of note is that the forensic “expert” who tested the sample admitted he was not wearing gloves at the time. Most people I know who expect to come into contact with another man’s semen don’t wear gloves, but they’re also just fans of the medium, not forensic scientists. From a scientist, I’d expect a little more care to be taken.

All of the supposed forensic evidence, of which there was honestly very little, was handled extremely poorly. DNA samples handled without gloves, dubious fingerprinting, and all of the girls clothing had just been shoved together into a single plastic bag. The defense, quite reasonably, wanted all of the forensics to be tested again due to all the questions and doubt surrounding the handling of evidence.

Judge Ocampo denied this request, ruling that proof of the deceased girl’s identity was irrelevant. I mentioned earlier that the defense lawyers quit the case because they were unable to provide any sort of reasonable defense, and they did. Now you know they were unable to provide a defense not because the accused men were so extraordinarily guilty, but because exculpatory evidence like an airtight alibi was thrown out by the judge, while questions of who this girl they found in the ravine actually was and if the Chiong sisters were even raped or murdered at all were ignored as irrelevant.

When the lawyers announced they would withdraw from the case on the basis that Judge Ocampo was not running a fair trial, he became furious. How dare these six high paid lawyers call into question the integrity of a judge whose decision making and nap schedule were questionable at best? Utterly incensed, Judge Ocampo threw the lawyers in jail for contempt of court and assigned lawyers from the Public Offender’s office. Yes, in the Philippines they call it the Public Offender’s office not the Public Defender’s office, despite also having the alleged stance of innocent until proven guilty. Oh, and these new public lawyers better hurry up and get to court, because they were expected to continue with the trial the very same day.

Ultimately, when it was time for the ruling, Judge Ocampo determined that it could not be proven that Paco wasn’t in Cebu the night the Chiong sisters disappeared, a statement that was only made true by the judge throwing out all the proof that Paco wasn’t in Cebu that night. There were four flights to Cebu on the night in question that Paco could have theoreticaly taken if he wasn’t busy being photographed at a bar, and even though there is no record from the airlines of him on any of those flights and representatives from the airlines testified that no one saw him, that wasn’t good enough. The fact that there was evidence Paco flew to Cebu the night after the murder, indicating that there would also have been evidence if he had flown there the night before, was deemed irrelevant.

The Aftermath

            Following a job well down, all of the prosecutors and police involved in this case were given promotions. Neat.

You may be wondering how Judge Ocampo could live with himself after running such a sham of a trial. Well good news, he couldn’t. On October 7, 1999, 5 months after the end of the trial, hotel staff found Martin Ocampo dead in his room at the Water Front Hotel. There was a suicide note beside him, and his wrists and ankles had all been slashed, along with a gunshot wound to his temple.

            Immediately the National Bureau of Investigation opened a probe into this event as neither they nor the police believed this was a suicide. There was doubt as to whether the handwriting was really his, and the method seems more than a bit excessive for a suicide attempt. Why go through the trouble of slitting your wrists and ankles to then just shoot yourself afterwards? Ocampo had also been receiving countless death threats from citizens angry over the verdict in the case of the Chiong 7. How could this judge have sentenced these 7 men to life in prison, when clearly they deserved the death penalty? The general public was outraged at such a lenient sentence. Eventually, the death was officially ruled a suicide.

            President Estrada, family friend of Thelma Chiong, echoed the public sentiment, stating that “His death is a big loss, although I would say that his decision, since it was rape with murder, it should have been a death sentence.” It’s important to remember that at this point in time, the public was not yet aware of just what a ridiculous joke the trial had been. It’s also important to note that President Estrada would resign little more than a year after this event following charges of gross corruption. Upon leaving office, he would be tried in court and sentenced to permanent imprisonment. Despite the name, it is not so much permanent as it is exactly 40 years, but unlike life imprisonment, there is no chance of parole or pardon until at least 30 years have been served.

            While given blanket immunity in this case, Rusia was still in prison, the place he had given his completely voluntary confession, for other unrelated crimes. Thelma Chiong referred to him in the press as a “gift from God” given that his testimony was the prosecution’s entire case. She was seen visiting him multiple times in prison and even brought him a cake on his birthday. I understand how important his testimony was, but maybe don’t bring a birthday cake to someone who claimed in open court to have raped your daughter? I’m not a mental health professional and I can’t speak to how normal a reaction something like this might be, so I asked one of my friends who is! Their response was, and I quote, “Fuck to the no.” Thelma, you are sus AF.

            Leading up to the trial, Paco had considered fleeing the country. As a dual citizen of Spain, it would have been extremely easy for his family to pack up and go, but they all felt it was best if he stayed to clear his name at trial. Oops. Given this disgusting miscarriage of justice, there was only one logical step the family could take next.

The Appeal

            No one was happy with the outcome of the trial, and everyone involved appealed the decision. The convicted men naturally appealed on the grounds that their constitutional rights had been violated give the unfair nature of the trial and that none of them were allowed to speak in their own defense.

            It took five long years of waiting, but finally the Supreme Court made its ruling, and on February 3, 2004, the appeal was won. Six of the seven men would be sentenced to death, the other would remain in prison on two life sentences because he was a minor at the time the crimes were committed. Oh, when I said the appeal was won, I meant the Chiong’s appeal to upgrade the absurdly lenient sentence. The Supreme Court rejected the appeals of the convicted men.

            By this point Rusia had recanted his testimony, saying that the police had tortured him to confess, showing the bruises they inflicted upon him. The Supreme Court ruled that they could not throw his testimony out because there were other witnesses that corroborated parts of his story, even if those witness statements were signed by people who did not understand anything that was written on the English documents they signed. Also, by this point it was known that the witnesses who testified in court for to further corroborate Rusia’s story were paid for their testimony, but I’m sure that’s as immaterial as all of the other evidence in this case.

            The court’s decision read: “These cases involve the kidnapping, and illegal detention of a college beauty and her comely and courageous sister. An intriguing tale of ribaldry and gang rape was followed by the murder of the beauty queen.” I understand that judicial decisions are frequently overly editorialized, but typically they focus on the character of the parties involved and the significance of the evidence, not on how hot the victims were.

            It’s time for another fun fact that is unrelated to this case and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with anything: one of Thelma’s relatives was Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide. It sure is a small world. He allegedly took no part in this decision, a statement that I absolutely believe considering how dutifully and above board everything else in this investigation and trial was handled.

Give Up Tomorrow

            After the initial trial, the general public was out for blood. They felt the convicted men needed to be executed and that Judge Ocampo failed to do his job by only giving them life in prison. Shockingly, when the new verdict was released in 2004, the country was flooded by a massive wave of support for the young men.

            More and more information had come out about the case, the trial, and the incomprehensibly massive amount of corruption in the legal system. Paco’s family plead their case to Spain and Amnesty International. Activists collected signatures on Paco’s behalf and brought a petition signed by nearly 300,000 Spanish citizens to the Philippines embassy in Spain.

            In a last ditch effort, Paco’s lawyers (real ones, not the ones from the Public Offenders office) submitted his case to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The UN commission called for his release and the Spanish government request clemency. President Gloria Arroyo, not a family friend of the Chiong’s or person who was convicted on corruption charges, promised that Paco’s life would be spared. In a shocking turn of events, a politician kept a promise and President Arroyo abolished the death penalty in the Philippines In June, 2006, effective retroactively. The Chiong 7 were not free men, but they were no longer condemned to death.

Paco’s family in Spain worked alongside the group Fair Trials International, a group dedicated to working on behalf of people who face a miscarriage of justice in a country other than their own. It took 12 long years in prison, but in September of 2009, Paco was finally going to be returned to his home country of Spain. Thelma tried her hardest to prevent the transfer, but it was one woman against the world. Perhaps she could have succeeded if she dedicated more time to this endeavor and less to bringing presents and birthday cakes to her daughter’s supposed rapist.

Once back in his home country, Paco was immediately sent to prison. What did you expect? They said he could come home, not that he was pardoned. Paco’s family felt this was just the first step in finally seeing their son’s freedom, and it very well could have been. The Spanish prison review board agreed to recommend Paco for parole so he could continue his life outside of jail, but there was just one condition: he had to admit his guilt. His guilt to a crime that, by literally all accounts except for Davidson Rusia’s, it would have been impossible to commit as he was 300 miles away from the island of Cebu.

Needless to say, Paco refused and is still serving his life sentence in Spanish prison. I have a feeling Simon and I might disagree on this one, but I get it. You get that offer 2 or 3 months into your prison sentence, and sure, you’ll say whatever they want to hear to get the Hell out of there as fast as possible; prison is a scary place. But after already surviving 12 years in jail for a crime you didn’t commit? By that point, I really think walking out a free man would not seem nearly as important as walking out an innocent man.

Public opinion has only continued to lean further towards the side of Paco and the Chiong 7. While the case was an immensely important event in the Philippines, it was largely unknown across the world. That changed in 2011 when American director Michael Collins premiered his documentary “Give Up Tomorrow” at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film would go on to screen at 75 festivals in over 40 countries and win 18 major awards, as well as receiving a theatrical release in Spain. “Give Up Tomorrow” centered around Paco and his family, and showcased the ridiculously corrupt nature of the story that we’ve discussed today.

The film’s title comes from something that Paco says in an interview related to the possibility of committing suicide in prison. “I always tell my co-inmates: if you want to give up, which is normal, if you want to give up, give up tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, then ‘I’ll give up tomorrow.’ Tomorrow comes, ‘I’ll give up tomorrow.’”

Thelma Chiong, who at this point I think we can all agree is an unrelenting cunt, was once again outraged that this movie could exist, so she decided to fight fire with fire. Thelma commissioned her own movie, “Jacqueline Comes Home”, to be made from the perspective of her daughters rather than the alleged murderers. Her take was a true revisionist history, with most of the movie centering around what awful and violent people the Chiong 7 were. But not Davidson Rubia! He was portrayed as a kind person whose conscience left him no choice but to come forward and confess the guilt of himself and his friends.

“Jacqeuline Comes Home” was released in 2018 to much less acclaim than “Give Up Tomorrow”. Maybe it was because the movie was blatant propaganda, maybe it was because it was revisionist history, or maybe because it features a scene where Thelma Chiong has a conversation God. Not a prayer, a dialogue.

            Six years after his arrival in Spain, Paco was downgraded to a third degree felon, the classification for the least dangerous criminals. This allowed him certain privileges, such as leaving the prison to go to school and work. He has continued his culinary studies and has a part time job as a chef.

            In 2019, three members of the Chiong 7 were released from prison in the Philippines on the Good Conduct Time Allowance law. Thelma threw a fit, at which point it was announced that their release was a mistake and they were to turn themselves back in to authorities. President Rodrigo Duterte held a press conference stating an ultimatum: the three men had 15 days to surrender themselves, or else the public could hunt them down at the price of 1 million Phillipines pesos (roughly $20,000) per head, dead or alive.  As expected, the men surrendered themselves back to custody. I miss President Arroyo, she was way cooler.

A Shocking Development

            I’ve got a riddle for you, Simon: when is a murder not a murder? When the alleged victim is alive and well in Canada! That’s the theory, anyway. With “Give Up Tomorrow” reigniting interest in the case and bringing it to the world’s attention, internet sleuths immediately got to work. If both girls were murdered, there should be a report of a second body somewhere. Or if Jacqueline was kidnapped but alive, perhaps there would be evidence of her whereabouts somewhere in the world.

            The evidence people found came from the most shocking source: Thelma Chiong’s facebook page. In 2017, now deleted Facebook posts from a family wedding in Canada showed two women who people felt looked exactly like Jacqueline and Marijoy. When people caught wind of this, two users who claimed to be friends of Thelma said that the girls were 100% alive and well. There are innumerable photos of the two women believed to be Jacqueline and Marijoy, and I have to admit that the resemblance is uncanny.

            In this image, Marijoy is on the left and Jacqueline is on the right. The official story is that the women are their younger sister Debbie on the right, and their brother’s wife on the left. This is the official story that has been presented, but many people are not buying that explanation at all. There are many, many more images of their modern selves available, even if the family has tried to remove them all from the internet, which is suspicious in and of itself. Something rather notable is that at the wedding of allegedly Debbie, alleged drug lord Peter Lim and his family were in attendance. I guess Lim and the Chiongs were somehow able to patch things up despite that whole “testifying against you in court” mess they almost got into. It’s nice to see old friends reconnect and not at all suspicious.

            It would be easy to dismiss these claims from Western internet detectives on the basis that they’re not the same race and are falling victim to the “they all look the same to me” trope, an actual psychological phenomenon every person is victim to, though to varying degrees. Fortunately, a number of Filipino people chimed in on the subject as well. A very, very large number of Filipino people. I can’t say with any degree of certainty that there is a consensus among them on whether these absolutely look like the missing girls or not, but the percentage of Filipinos claiming that these pictures are clearly Marijoy and Jacqueline is an order of magnitude higher than what you would expect from a run of the mill conspiracy theory.

            The theory that the Chiong sisters are alive and well in Canada has yet to either be proven or disproven. To many people, the debate is once again Thelma Chiong versus a preponderance of evidence, but without the women coming forward and admitting it, I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done. For their sakes it would be nice to think these two women, both married with families, are the Chiong sisters and that they are alive and well, but for the sakes of the Chiong 7? Luckily, this is the Casual Criminalist and it is not our job to solve deep, moral dilemmas like this.

Wrap Up

            It’s extremely hard to remain neutral in a case as controversial as this, and as is clearly obvious, I didn’t even try to. If you disagree with my assessment and think that yes these men deserve to die and you hope they burn in Hell, be sure to GET IN THE COMMENTS and let me know.

Right from the beginning, things weren’t adding up. Two girls disappeared from a mall. This happened as the girl’s father was set to testify against an alleged drug lord, and immediately after they disappeared he chose not to testify.

Originally, the story was that seven men had kidnapped these girls. Then, when it was convenient, it suddenly became eight men. The eighth man was a drug addled convict who was beaten into a confession and later recanted. At the trial, prosecution witnesses were paid to speak and defense witnesses were not allowed to testify, nor were the defendants themselves.

The judge, when he was awake, kept no semblance of order in his courtroom. He testified on behalf of a “fainted” witness, and imprisoned the defense attorneys for very accurately insulting his integrity and the integrity of the trial. A few months after the trial, he was found dead in a hotel in an apparent suicide.

The evidence presented in court, beyond the coerced confession, was basically non-existent. What little forensic analysis was done was grossly mishandled, and alibis were ignored. From start to finish, the trial was a complete and total disaster and miscarriage of justice.

One theory that circulates, and the one that I find by far the most likely is this: the Chiong sisters were kidnapped by Peter Lim’s hired goons to keep Dionisio from testifying. When a Jane Doe was found at the bottom of the ravine, it was seen as an opportunity. The Chiongs identified her as their daughter, then refused any testing on her. Now that the girls’ disappearance could be claimed as murder, corrupt police officers were free to round up children of Lim’s enemies with juvenile records to teach the families a lesson. We already know as fact that the men that came to arrest Paco were in fact Lim’s goons with expired police badges.

With the seven men arrested, they needed to build a case against them. Since there was fortunately no evidence to prove what actually happened to the Chiongs or the girl in the ravine, or at least no evidence about the girl in the ravine that wasn’t mishandled and destroyed, they just needed the police to beat a confession out of some lowlife criminal that was already behind bars.

Judge Ocampo was then paid off to ensure a proper verdict, though he sentenced the Chiong 7 to live imprisonment instead of death. After the trial, either he committed suicide out of guilt, was killed as punishment for not giving a death sentence, or was simply killed to tie up loose ends.

With that matter resolved and with Thelma’s relative as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to ensure the appeal would result in the death penalty they sought, Marijoy and Jacqueline were free to begin their new life in Canada, and the Chiongs and Peter Lim could be friends again now that they had proven themselves useful and trustworthy once more.

On the surface that would read like an absurd conspiracy theory, but with all the facts that are available about just how mismanaged the trial was and how corrupt the police were, not to mention family friend President Estrada, it becomes disturbingly realistic.

Hopefully someday the complete truth about this case will come out so we can know for sure what happened and justice can be done properly. Until then, I will leave you with Paco’s own words: “I would rather have the death penalty again than admit a crime I didn’t do.”

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