Thelma Chiong: Forgiven but not forgotten
CHIONG CASE ANNIVERSARY
She has not forgotten the pain of losing her two daughters.
But 65-year-old Thelma Chiong says that she has learned to forgive the seven men who were found by the courts to have abducted, raped, and killed her daughters, Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong.
“I have moved on and accepted the fact that they are gone,” Thelma told Cebu Daily News.
“The good thing is justice has been served. The perpetrators remain in jail and serving the penalties imposed by the court. I have forgiven them but they must know that forgiveness and justice are two different things,” she added.
Exactly 21 years ago on July 16, 1997, sisters Marijoy and Jaqueline Chiong were reported missing after they were last seen outside Ayala Center Cebu.
Witnesses claimed that the two women were forced into a vehicle which had Francisco “Paco” Larrañaga and six others on board.
A body believed to be that of Marijoy’s was found two days later at the bottom of a ravine in Carcar City, southern Cebu. Jaqueline’s body was never found.
Thelma said the family will offer a Mass at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral today, Tuesday, to commemorate the day Marijoy and Jaqueline were believed killed.
“It’s going to be a simple celebration. We just want to remember them (in prayer),” she said.
Thelma and her husband Dionisio will also visit the purported remains of Marijoy at the bone chamber of the Alliance of Two Hearts Parish in Cebu City.
(To this day, the death of the Chiong sisters is being disputed in public discussions on the controversial case as there was no formal identification of Marijoy’s body, while Jacqueline remains missing — Editor’s note)
Although Jacqueline’s body was never found, her parents decided to put her name on the tomb as they had come to terms with what they believe to be their daughter’s brutal fate in the hands of the suspects.
Seven persons were convicted of killing the Chiong sisters.
They were Larrañaga, a scion of the prominent Osmeña clan; Josman Aznar; Rowen Adlawan; Alberto Cano; Ariel Balansag; and the brothers James Anthony and James Andrew Uy.
In 2004, the Supreme Court put on death row the convicts except James Andrew, a minor at the time of the crime, who was sentenced to life in prison.
On Easter Sunday in 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commuted the sentences to life terms when she abolished capital punishment.
In 2009, Larrañaga, who also holds Spanish citizenship, was then transferred to a jail in Spain by virtue of a treaty that allows a prisoner to be jailed in his homeland.
His companions remain at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.
In 2012, a documentary entitled “Give Up Tomorrow” filmed Larrañaga while in jail and presented snippets of the media frenzy that surrounded the case dubbed as “Cebu’s trial of the century”.
The film also presented conspiracy theories of how Larrañaga was “framed” for a crime he knew absolutely nothing about.
Thelma said she and her family were convinced that Larrañaga and the other accused were the same persons who raped and killed her daughters.
She also dismissed reports that controversial Cebu businessman Peter Lim had a hand in the killing.
“I know Peter Lim very well. My husband worked in Lim’s company for 20 years, and I know that he (Lim) could not do that. Stop diverting the issue,” said Thelma whose husband, Dionisio, worked at Hilton Motors, a heavy equipment company owned by Lim.
After losing their two daughters, Thelma joined the Crusade Against Violence which she headed as president of the Visayas chapter until she retired in 2015.
“I hope they will stop sowing lies. It’s been two decades since it happened and yet they are still saying that it was a case of mistaken identity. The court already convicted the persons who raped and killed my daughters and yet their families have not moved on. Worse, they have not proven their claims that these persons are innocent,” said Mrs. Chiong.
Larrañaga’s mother, Margarita, said in an earlier interview that her son was now working as a part-time chef in Spain.
Margarita is a granddaughter of former Philippine President Sergio Osmeña Sr.
Thelma said she met Margarita at a school event in Cebu City last December 2017 and requested Margarita to accept the court’s decision.
“I approached and told her that I already forgave their family. And she told me: ‘My son is innocent.’ I responded saying, ‘Ma’am, please don’t say that.’ She kept quiet and told me, Thel, let’s be friends,” she said.
Jacqueline, the second of five siblings, and younger sister Marijoy, were 22 and 20 years old at the time of their abduction.
“The ordeal my daughters suffered is still fresh in our memories. But we have to move on,” she said.
Thelma’s eldest son now works for a hotel in the United States, while her two other sons work in the Philippines.
With the permission of the Chiong family, Viva Films is coming up with a crime-thriller on the controversial case.
The movie entitled “Jacqueline Comes Home: The Chiong Story”, directed by Ysabelle Peach, is set to open in Philippine cinemas on July 18, Wednesday.
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