Even if the documentary “Give Up Tomorrow” is eventually released in Cebu, Thelma Chiong said she’s confident Cebuanos familiar with the 1997 case kidnap and killing of her two daughters won’t believe the main culprit, Juan Francisco “Paco” Larrañaga, is innocent.
“I am not afraid of that documentary. It’s fiction. If they (audience) believe that, it’s up to them. It’s all lies. That is just a waste of money for what, to get sympathy?” an emotional Chiong told Cebu Daily News in a phone interview.
Producers are trying to arrange for the film to be shown in commercial theaters in Cebu. The film will open in Manila theaters next week.
Two private screenings were held on Wednesday in the Marcelo Fernan Cebu Press Center, the first time it was ever shown in the city where the heinous crime took place.
The film has been shown in 25 countries and won 15 awards from film festvials and human rights organizations.
This is Larrañaga’s 15th year in prison along with six others men convicted for the kidnap and murder of Chiong’s daughters Marijoy and Jaqueline.
Since 2008, Larrañaga has been serving a life sentence in a prison in Spain where he was transferred from the National Bilibid Prison under a new prisoner exhange treaty of Spain and the Philippines.
For a few days, Paco was given a pass out of a San Sebastian prison this year to attend the April 27 screening and awards ceremony at the San Sebastian Human Rights Film Festival.
The “audience award” was handed to him by the mayor of San Sebastian. A Youtube video of the event shows the director Michael Collins and Paco on stage. Collins thanked the audience and Paco, speaking in Spanish, briefly jokes that “it’s been a long time since I’ve won anything” and says that with the award he would “go back to prison happy.”
Paco can apply for parol if he admits guilt to the charge, something he refuses to do, according to “Give Up Tomorrow”,which was produced by Filipino Marty Syjuco, whose brother is married to Paco’s sister.
Conditions of his incarceration in Spain are less severe than the cramped, gang-infested death row in Muntinglupa. Spanish authorites grant him occasional furloughs and leaves, for him to visit family or spend Christmas with them outside the prison walls.
In a phone interview, Mrs. Chiong recalled the events in 1997 from the time her daughters were kidnapped to the time the seven men, including Larrañaga, were convicted for the crime.
The case was dubbed the “crime of the decade” or “crime of the century” in Cebu. Marijoy’s body was found at the bottom of a ravine in Tina-an, Carcar in south Cebu a day after she disappeared. Until now, the Chiong family is still searching for Jacqueline.
The film was seven years in the making and tells how Larrañaga and his six co-accused were supposedly framed for the crime.
“If we’ve learned something these 15 years it’s this: the law provides the innocent no real protection, no one cares about the truth. Truth, if it doesn’t have mass appeal or isn’t going to score any political points, certainly isn’t going to set you free,” wrote Mimi Larrañaga, Paco’s sister, posted in the the film’s website.
The Philippine distribution committee of the film was turned down when they asked two Cebu malls to screen it in the commercial theaters.
The reasons cited were either technical or scheduling limitations, or “the sensitive nature of the case.”
Mrs. Chiong said she knew that the documentary was slanted in favor of Paco Larrañaga even as she stressed that he was positively identified by several witnesses during the trial, and not just the state witness Davidson Rusia.
She vehemently denied accusations that the Chiong family had a hand in the conviction of the “Chiong-7.” Her sister Cheryl Jimenea was the appointments secretary of then president Joseph Estrada, a relationship the film said showed its influence in promotions that Mrs. Chiong “promised” to prosecutors who eventually advanced in their careers after the case.
Mrs. Chiong, however, said they’re not as wealthy and powerful as the Larrañagas, who were related to two Osmeña senators at that time.
“No one can change result of the case anymore, not even politicians or any judge because there is already finality in the case. Not even executive clemency can be given because with the abolition of the death penalty there is no more pardon or parole (for those guilty of a capital offense),” Chiong said.
Melo Esguerra of the Philippine distribution committee said they would continue to promote the film in various schools and forums .
“There will be no stopping us in making this film available (if not commercially) to law students, communications students and anyone who cares for the justice system,” Esguerra said.
Mrs. Chiong said she hopes the Larrañaga family stops their campaign and just give up their son to God.
“For me, the title itself is wrong. There is no tomorrow to give up. When they commuted the death penalty there was a condition that there will no longer be pardon or parole,” Chiong told Cebu Daily News.
“Give up tomorrow” were the words of advice Paco said he would repeat to himself or other inmates depressed by their incarceration.
He said this helped him focus on living one day at a time.