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Dissenting opinion as motion picture

/ 08:55 AM August 02, 2012

Can a case that has been decided with finality by the highest court in the land be reviewed or overturned on the strength of a documentary film or some form of militancy?

 
The questions strike me as some 30 supporters Franciso Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, one of seven convicted in the rape slay of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong ran on the streets in Cebu City last Tuesday to give support to Paco who’s serving a life sentence in a Spanish prison. Reports say the group wanted the government to declare Paco innocent, as he is a “victim of mistrial.”

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To recall, the July 16, 1997 crime and the courtroom drama that ensued riveted the nation because scions of pedigreed and wealthy families were charged and subsequently convicted on the strength of the testimony of one of those who took part in the crime but who later turned state witness.

 
Together with Larrañaga, the High Court also sentenced to death Jozman Aznar,  Rowen Adlawan, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño. James Anthony Uy, one of the seven suspects, was spared the death penalty because he was only 16 at the time the crime was committed. James Andrew Uy, older brother of James Anthony, was originally sentenced to death, but the sentence was downgraded to life imprisonment after the court found out that he was only 17 years old when the crime was committed.

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In 2006, the death penalty was abolished.

 
The “justice run” was led by running priest Fr. Robert Reyes who capped the activity with a Mass. When I heard about the activity I got puzzled because Paco had already opted to be under the jurisdiction of the Spanish government. In 2009, he was transferred to a Spanish prison facility under the RP-Spain Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement (TSPA), a privilege given to convicts of either countries holding dual citizenship.

 
On this subject, I wrote in September 2009 that the instrument is “primarily intended to facilitate the social rehabilitation of prisoners by giving foreigners convicted of a criminal offence the possibility of serving their sentences in their own countries. It is also rooted in humanitarian considerations, since difficulties in communication by reason of language barriers and the absence of contact with relatives may have detrimental effects on a person imprisoned in a foreign country.”

 
In sum, the TSPA “enables sentenced persons to return to their places of origin, serve out their sentences in a familiar environment that is free of language barrier, and where it would be more convenient for their friends and relatives to visit them on a regular basis, which would be conducive to their rehabilitation.”

 
Paco is a dual citizen of Spain and the Philippines. His father is Basque and his mother is Filipina. When the bilateral agreement was ratified in 2009, there were questions why the Department of Justice would carry out the instrument on Spanish-Filipino nationals like Paco, who grew up and studied in the city of his revered ancestors.

 
My point then was, after living all his life in the Philippines, why would he want to “go home” to Spain?

 
Whatever it is, reports say that the much-hoped for probation that Mr. Larrañaga expects under the Spanish penal system will not happen unless he admits he is guilty of the crime.

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Larrañaga is said to have totally rejected the idea so the scenario would call for the Philippine government to declare him innocent of the crime?

 
I’m not sure where the “justice run” is headed, but the little of the law that I know tells me that unless Paco has any new evidence to present, there is little hope to have the Chiong case reopened.

 
As I write, the drums are sounding for the local screening of the documentary movie, Given Up Tomorrow, produced by Marty Syjuco, said to be related to Paco, and American director Michael Collins.

 
The controversial film which tackles the incarceration of Paco Larrañaga for the rape and murder of the Chiong sisters has been shown in 25 countries abroad and earned rave reviews in world competition for documentary films. According to an article published in the Philippine Entertainment Portal, the film highlights Paco’s life as a regular student who loves to hang out with friends.

 
The film shows Larrañaga 300 miles away from Cebu when the crime happened. Some 42 witnesses who were interviewed swore “they saw Paco on July 16 while the crime was allegedly happening in Cebu. His teachers, classmates and other staff members of his culinary school gave sworn statements that Paco was with them in Quezon City on July 16.”

 
In sum, the film portrays Paco as a victim of mistrial.

 
Paco’s family cannot be faulted for moving heaven and earth to secure his freedom, but the fact remains that this can only be achieved through a judicial process, and not by some militant activity or by a slanted independent film that delivers the subliminal message the Philippine justice system is flawed.

 
For one thing, the activities rake up painful memories and is terrible for the family of the slain sisters. For another, they are contemptuous of the Philippine courts, which in my view, is an affront to the country’s honor and dignity.

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TAGS: Franciso Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, Jacqueline Chiong, Marijoy Chiong, Prison, rape-slay
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