WHEN the world was younger, I stayed inside the Manila City Jail for several months not exactly as a prisoner, but as a volunteer to get the statements of those who were charged and undergoing detention. I was in there from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sometimes, I had to stay until a few minutes before twilight.

Their defenses were varied and synchronous, these were either a frame-up, an alibi or a terrible mistake. Insofar as sex offenders were concerned, the girlfriend defense and the allegation that they were seduced were the most common modes of denial. As everyone claimed innocence, I felt that I was the only person in there who was truly guilty of a crime. I am not saying that all of them were guilty; surely, some were innocent. I came only as a spectator and not as a judge of their past actions.

Depending on one's circumstances or affiliations, gang members during that time were segregated and distributed to any of the following cells: Cuerna ng BCJ (Batang City Jail), Cuerna ng Sigue-Sigue Sputnik, Cuerna ng Commando, Cuerna ng Bahala Na, Cuerna ng mga walang tatak, Cuerna ng mga babae. There was also a cell shared by those whom we used to call the "third sex." I noticed that the gangs were divided according to provinces, regions and linguistic groups (Sigue-Sigue is a Tagalog speaking pangkat) much like the way the Spaniards divided their indigenous conscripts during the colonial period to keep native Filipinos divided and easy to subjugate.

Some of the inmates lived inside veritable cardboard boxes which they folded like a tent and called a kubol. Life alternated between boredom and tedium. Some carried Bibles and acted as de facto pastors as they gave Bible classes in the small chapel.

Prison conditions, then as now, were horrendous. It was overcrowded which gave rise to prison riots. Life was dangerous, even for the damned. One can understand why the family of Francisco Juan Larrañaga alias "Paco" asked the help of the Spanish government to transfer him from Muntinlupa to a prison facility in Spain. Larrañaga, with seven other co-accused, were convicted of the special complex crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention with homicide and rape, as well as simple kidnapping and serious illegal detention of the sisters Jacqueline and Maryjoy Chiong of Cebu in 1997.

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In a per curiam decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Larrañaga and the rest and referred to the cases as the "trial of the century." The trial was both transfixing and horrifying because of the cases involved, according to the Supreme Court: "The kidnapping and illegal detention of a college beauty queen along with her comely and courageous sister. An intriguing tale of ribaldry and gang rape which was followed by the murder of the beauty queen. She was thrown off a cliff into a deep forested ravine where she was left to die. Her sister was subjected to heartless indignities before she was also gang-raped. In the aftermath of the kidnapping and rape, the sister was made to disappear. Where she is and what further crimes were inflicted upon her remain unknown and unsolved up to the present."

Despite his conviction, how was Larrañaga transferred to a jail facility in Spain? It was accomplished through the application of the provisions of the "Treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Between the Republic of the Philippines and the Kingdom of Spain." The treaty allows a person sentenced to serve imprisonment in the Philippines to serve his sentence in a jail in Spain and vice versa.

Larrañaga qualified because he is a citizen of Spain. The application of the treaty is subject to several conditions, the most important of which is that the person to be transferred must be a national of the place where he will be transferred to serve his sentence. Double or dual criminality must also exist, i.e., the offense committed must be a criminal act in both States and the judgment of conviction is already final.

Once the transfer is accomplished, the sentence enforcement shall be governed by the laws of the State where the convict was transferred. Only the sentencing State, the Philippines in the case of Larrañaga, may grant pardon, amnesty, or commutation of sentence. However, Spain may ask the Philippines to grant pardon, amnesty, or commutation of the sentence by submitting an application with sufficient grounds.

The sentencing State shall also have exclusive jurisdiction with respect to proceedings of any kind, the purpose of which is to review the judgment of conviction.

What of Paco Larrañaga? According to a feature story written by Juli Ann M. Sibi seven years ago, he was allowed in Spain to leave his cell in the morning and return at night without a security escort. He was then working as a chef... somewhere.