I had just come from a visit to a prison in southern Philippines where more than a few inmates told me they were innocent, or that the sentence given them was excessive.
Two weeks later, I am watching “Give Up Tomorrow,” a riveting documentary about the 1997 frame-up of Paco Larrañaga, convicted of taking part in the gang rape and murder of two sisters in Cebu.
Larrañaga comes from a well-to-do family. His father is Spanish and his mother is Filipina. He was 19 when he was accused of the crime along with six other men. But at the time the crime was being committed, he was in Manila at a party with 20 classmates, all of whom verified that he was there. There were photographs too. It would’ve been fairly impossible for Larrañaga to leave this party, fly to Cebu, commit the dastardly crime and return to Manila all that same evening.
It seemed like an open and shut case, but Larrañaga was in for a nightmare. In the Philippines, judges rather than juries decide trials, and unfortunately, Larrañaga’s case was handled by a judge who didn’t allow the testimonies of his classmates, was erratic and would convict and sentence him to death sentence. Three years later, the judge committed suicide in a hotel room.
Many long years of appeals finally brought the case to the Supreme Court. There it would sit for more years until it ruled with finality that Larrañaga was indeed guilty of the crime.
His family had one last option, which was to declare his Spanish citizenship so that the Spanish government could intervene on his behalf. As a result, Larranaga was flown to Spain to serve a life term there.
Having languished in jail for 15 years, Larrañaga could get parole from the Spanish authorities, or get a pardon from President Aquino. Either one would require more public clamor, hopefully prodded by this documentary, which has won over 15 international awards and enjoyed well attended recent local commercial runs, including in Cebu.
“Give Up Tomorrow” Directed by Michael Collins. Produced by Marty Syjuco. Thoughtful Robot Productions.
This film leads us to clues as to why Larrañaga couldn’t get justice. Around the time of the murder, the mother of the two victims was working for then-President Joseph Estrada. In a personality-oriented justice system, promotions and appointments are made on the basis of having gotten publicity and mileage. The conviction of a well-to-do young man ensured the promotion of the lead prosecutor in the case and he is now a judge.
Overlooked aspects of the case (the recovered bodies were not absolutely verified or DNA tested) undermined Larrañaga’s defense. Slanted media coverage, such as television commentator Teddy Boy Locsin’s tasteless remarks (e.g., Larrañaga shouldn’t stoop in the prison shower to pick up a bar of soap), poisoned public opinion. Coming from a wealthy family made Larranaga an easier target of blame.
The unflagging devotion of Larrañaga’s sister and parents, whose appeals to conscience are riveting, holds the documentary together. They’ve seen their Paco thrown in jail with a death sentence. He has suffered many setbacks. And now he is marking time in a Spanish jail. This searing documentary is not just about Paco, but also about the persistence and sustaining love of a family.
Paco’s case is disquieting. If such brutality and miscarriage of justice could happen to someone with means and connections–in a country where these are important—what about the hundreds of thousands of other prisoners who have not even gone through the motions of a trial?
Paco manages to keep his hopes alive. When asked by his companions if it’s time to throw in the towel, he responds, “Give up tomorrow.” When tomorrow comes, he says again, “Give up tomorrow.” And again and again, thus, the documentary’s title.
You must see this film, and then sign a petition to set Paco free. I’m including the petition’s website here. Let’s try to get Paco out by Christmas.
John L. Silva is an author and writer and currently the Executive Director of the Ortigas Foundation.