Documentary indicts Philippine justice system


MANILA–A gripping documentary about a wealthy, young man sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two sisters has catalysed a movement to expose wrongful convictions in the Philippines.

The award-winning “Give Up Tomorrow” follows Francisco Juan Larranaga as he is transformed from a carefree, culinary art student into one of the nation’s most vilified and hated people whose adult life is lost behind bars.

The documentary presents a compelling case that corrupt authorities framed Larranaga, then aged 19, and six other young men for the 1997 rape and murder of the two sisters in the central Philippine city of Cebu.

“This was a systematic failure of the justice system, and of society,” the producer of the film, Marty Syjuco, who is related by marriage to Larranaga, told AFP following a screening of the movie in the Philippines recently.

“He didn’t stand a chance from day one. There was no presumption of innocence. From the time he was arrested and paraded for the media he was already judged guilty by the public.”

The killings of Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong, aged 23 and 21, in the central Philippine city of Cebu triggered public outrage across the Catholic nation.

With enormous political pressure for authorities to quickly resolve the case, police accused Larranaga of being the ring-leader of a gang that abducted, raped and killed the Chiongs.

However dozens of witnesses said Larranaga was in Manila, the nation’s capital, 550 kilometers (340 miles) away, at the time of the abductions and murders. He always maintained he had never before met his co-accused.

The documentary shows how the nation’s media accepted the police account as fact and incited hatred against Larranaga, a member of a rich Filipino-Spanish family who had earlier been placed on a police watchlist for minor crimes.

After months of emotionally charged hearings that the UN Human Rights Commission would later describe as an “unfair” trial, the judge presiding over the case found the seven guilty.

Larranaga and the others appealed the conviction. But the country’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Court, instead raised their life sentences to death by lethal injection.

Throughout the ordeal, Larranaga maintained his innocence and the documentary — filmed over seven years — shows a young man maintaining a sense of dignity while growing up in some of the nation’s most infamous prisons.

The film is named after the phrase Larranaga repeats to himself, “give up tomorrow”, whenever he comes close to despair.

The Larranaga family filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Commission, which in 2006 ruled that he had been denied due process and cited multiple incidents of major flaws in the case against him.

It called for the government to commute his death sentence and grant him early release on parole. Fair Trials International and the Spanish government also pressured the Philippine government on behalf of Larranaga.

After nine years in jail, Larranaga’s first apparent piece of luck occurred later in 2006 when the Philippines abolished the death penalty.

Larranaga was then extradited to Spain in 2009. But, according to the documentary, authorities there would only reduce his sentence and release him on parole if he admitted his guilt.

The documentary ends with Larranaga saying he would not admit to something he had never done, even if it meant he had to spend the rest of his life in jail.

While the documentary does not seek to solve the case of who murdered the sisters, it shows that when they went missing their father was about to testify in a case against an alleged drug lord for whom he worked.

The father decided not to testify against the alleged drug lord, who the documentary showed as having close relationships with local police.

The film has won more than a dozen awards at film festivals around the world, after debuting at New York’s famous Tribeca in 2011.

Hitting Philippines screens last year, it has become a must-see cautionary tale on the nation’s justice system, with more than 100 law schools around the country having signed up to screen it for their students.

It also inspired the creation in December of the Innocence Project, a network of law schools and students who offer free legal help to convicts using DNA technology and investigative work to overturn wrongful convictions.

“The movie highlighted the defects and imperfections of the justice system,” project spokesman and law professor at the University of the Philippines, Jose Manguera Jose, told AFP. “There are so many wrongful convictions.”

The Philippines justice system has long been regarded as corrupt, with low-paid judges vulnerable to bribes and intimidation.

The current president, Benigno Aquino, has made fighting corruption throughout all part of society the top priority of his six-year term.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was non-committal when asked whether she thought Larranaga was innocent. “It is difficult to ascertain at this point whether there was a miscarriage of justice,” she said.

National police spokesman Generoso Cerbo declined to comment on the alleged corruption in the police force that was raised in the documentary.

Meanwhile Larranaga, now aged 35, remains behind bars in Spain.

Syjuco said that Spanish justice authorities, after seeing the film, no longer require him to admit his guilt in exchange for early release. He has also been permitted some trips outside of jail for therapy, including one to a film festival to watch the documentary.

However he remains ensnared in legal complexities and his final freedom remains far from certain.

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  • shane oy

    ano to? promotion ? advertisement? or paninira? first signs that there will be good things for these killers? the supreme court have spoken already tapos anong pinagsasabi ng artikulong ito?

    oo lusot pa rin kc sasabihin lang yung movie yung dinidescribe. This is not ACCEPTABLE!!!

    THE criminals should rot in jail. swerte nga sya napapunta sya ng spain. dapat dyan ibalik dito sa pinas at ilagay sa munti.

    kapal ng mukha ng mayamang producer na ito.

  • Jhune

    Parehas na may kaya ang mga ito, kaya pati print at media nagagamit para ipagtanggol ang kanilang  sarili. Ganyan naman ang may kaya, kung talo ang kaso nila sasabihin bayaran ang mga pulis pati ang judge. Kaya hindi ko masisi si Marantan kung sa apat niyang encounter ay 40+ ang patay.

  • arao_liwanag

    Bulok talaga ang sistema at govierno, Kaya maraming naaghihimagsik para ibagsak at magtayo ng bago. Maraming experto ang nagsasabi, na dapat lang. Ang mga pangako na reporma ay puro lang pambobola at kasinungalingan. Ang angkan ni Aquino ay isa sa mga mangungurakot, pumapangalawa lamang sa mga Marcos at Macapagal-Arroyo.

  • zeroko

    I have a lawyer in the past. He was an old man who was  formerly a judge. In one of our conversation, I just could not forget what he said, “Kung sila sa itaas gumagawa, kami pa?” The old guy died so many years back, but what he said still rings in my ear.

    The judge died practically pennyless because his big building was raze to the ground by fire and he has not insured the building. He practically spend all his life time earning on the building. He died a miserable deat, but I just could not forget his remark. I repeat what he said, “Kung sila sa itaas (Supreme Court” gumagawa, kami pa! (If our top most ranking Judges are doing honki-tongki, what more for us.” In short, the whole Justice system is corrupt. 

    Pit;y are those innocent who has no money to buy their liberty. Again, I also had  an unusual experience with an influential person. This guy is close to former President Marcos. He is a known personality. 
    I was his former Private pilot that flies his 1938 cargo airplane, a C-46 transport airplane. No body wanted to fly this type of airplane because it was branded as Widow maker. Anyway, I was mauled by three guys black and blue. I have a Medico-legal certificate while the three has none. They jump the gun and sue  me in court. It took me 7 years to win the case and my innocence  I still member when I approach my bose and said, I am charge for slight physical injury, and since all his body guards are lawyers, I was hoping that he can help me. But he retorted and said, “Don’t bother me. I am interested with murderers. If I win their case, which most of the time I do, they will forever be beholden-ed to me. Don’t bother me with your minor court case.” What I am pointing at is that if influential people, rich people are the ones who get involve, the verdict is more often than not. INNOCENT!

    Pity the innocent who are unwarranted implicated because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Marami yan!

  • Pert Cabatana

    As of today, the website of smcinemas does not include this particular documentary contrary to the claim of the movie producer’s troll kanoy. Syjuco/kanoy already Give Up Now, not Tomorrow.

    • Pert Cabatana

      Note that troll kanoy/syjuco deliberately avoids my latest posts.

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