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Film on Paco's life shown in Cebu

- Marigold Lebumfacil, Vanessa A. Balbuena (The Philippine Star) - September 28, 2012 - 12:00am

 CEBU, Philippines - A tearful apology from a mediaman and an emotional display by the father of one of the convicts were just some of the reactions during post-screening of the documentary following the trial of Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga.

After making the rounds of more than 50 film festivals in over 25 countries and reaping 15 awards in the process, “Give Up Tomorrow” was finally shown for the first time in home territory.

Two screenings were held Wednesday at the Marcelo Fernan Press Center attended by Larrañaga’s family members, friends, four witnesses who had testified on Paco’s behalf, parents of the other “Chiong Seven” and journalists interviewed for the 90-minute docu.

The film is directed by Michael Collins and produced by Marty Syjuco, brother of Paco’s brother-in-law Jaime.

Collins and Syjuco were both first-time filmmakers when they began research for the project in 2004. In one of their past interviews, the New York-based tandem said that they studied how to operate a video camera on their first plane ride for Manila.

“Give Up Tomorrow” debuted at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival last year, winning the Audience Award and the Special Jury Prize for Best New Director. It has earned more international accolades since.

The film’s title borrows from a mantra Paco lives by, which he utters in one of his interviews inside the death row of Bilibid Prison. “When I have jail mates who want to give up, I tell them, not today. Give up tomorrow. And when tomorrow comes, tell yourself again to give up tomorrow,” he said.

Despite years of languishing in jail, he said there are three things he vows never to do. “I won’t kill myself. I won’t kill someone else. I won’t look for trouble.”

Working on the docu for a period of six years, the filmmakers outlined Larrañaga’s tale in seven parts: beginning with the arrest of then 19-year old Paco in September of 1997, six months after his arrest, the trial a year after, the verdict, his prison time in the Philippines, the efforts to ask help from the Spanish government, and concluded with his transfer to Spain.

Newscasts, print headlines and court footage were interspersed with the interviews of Paco’s sister Mimi Larrañaga, Paco’s parents Manuel and Margot, lawyers, witnesses, a forensic expert and police officials.

Local journalists Leo Lastimosa and Suzanne Salva-Alueta, and broadcaster Solita “Winnie” Monsod were among the media personalities interviewed for their personal accounts on the media coverage of what was dubbed then as Cebu’s “Trial of the Decade.”

Provoking snickers from the audience were scenes of trial judge Martin Ocampo seen dozing off during trial proceedings, as well as close-up shots of investigators saying they do not remember important names.

Thelma Chiong is also seen followed around by cameras, dropping comments that did not portray her in a positive light. In one scene, she is seen pointing at a picture of prosecution state witness Davidson Rusia and saying “We had to change his image so that he will look like the boy-next-door.”

In another instance, she is seen providing documents to court personnel that she says could hinder Paco’s transfer to Spain. When she bumps into the judge on her way out, she tells him, “Ikaw na bahala diyan judge.”

She also grants an interview with the filmmaker, telling him what she could possibly do if ever Paco is granted parole.

“If Paco will come, I will kill him. My husband and the NBI will help each other in killing him,” her statements often followed by boisterous laughter uncharacteristic of the usual sorrowful mother the public sees of Mrs. Chiong in media footage.

During the open forum via Skype with Collins and Syjuco after the screening, they said they did not disclose to Mrs. Chiong that the producer was related to Paco.

Of some of the challenges they faced while filming, Syjuco said they had to earn Paco’s trust since years of “being burned by the media made him afraid of the cameras.”

They said they also tried to search for Rusia to get his side, but they could not locate him.

The filmmakers do not pretend to present an unbiased take of the case. Before the end credits, they indicate that the reason the film focuses on Paco is because he is a member of the Syjuco’s extended family.

Leo Lastimosa, a tri-media personality who anchors a radio commentary show and TV newscast and writes an opinion column, took the mic during the open forum to apologize to the Larrañagas for “going with what was fashionable then which was to prosecute Paco.”

“After 15 years, we are still afraid of naming names. As a member of the media, I’d like to say sorry. I felt guilty because I told the filmmakers to edit out some of the things I said,” Lastimosa said, receiving cheers and applause from the crowd. A name he mentions during his interview with the filmmakers was bleeped twice.

Turning to the film subject’s parents, Lastimosa said, “I’m so proud of the growth and maturity of Paco. You raised your son well.”

Alueta, who extensively covered the Chiong trial during her time as court reporter for a local daily, said that she was surprised by Lastimosa’s apology.

“He is entitled to his opinion, but as a former court beat reporter, I wouldn’t say we were biased in our coverage. I’m speaking for myself and I can say it straight now that our daily reports were actually taken during the course of the proceedings, and we could not inject our opinion. So what were reported in the papers were what actually transpired during the court proceedings,” said Alueta, now program manager of GMA-7 Cebu.

Margot Larrañaga said that she is grateful to the filmmakers “because they have been instruments for having this truth come out, not only in the Philippines, but all over the world. This is not only about Paco. He often tells me, ‘Ma, I’m not the only one. There are many innocents here in Bilibid, especially the poor ones who cannot afford lawyers. They’re just told to admit guilt to get it over with.’”

She said the film does not solely aim to clear Paco’s name but also serve as an eye-opener to our country’s criminal justice system to do their jobs well. “Starting from the policemen, the investigative arm down to the NBI not to succumb to pressure and not be influenced by the promise of promotion.”

She said screenings abroad aroused outrage and disbelief, whereas Filipinos seem to be already immune to widespread injustice. “In the US, viewers were really appalled. We are already accustomed to injustice happening around us, but when it was shown abroad, they were shocked.”

 “I am so glad that it has been shown in Cebu. We were scared of the repercussions as we don’t know who really did this to the Chiong sisters. But when will we let everybody know? They would say we are being self-serving because we are Paco’s parents. In seeing through the film what really happened, the viewer can come up with their own conclusion.”

Being the son of a Spanish father made Paco a Spanish national. In 2009, a treaty allowing the transfer of prisoners between the Philippines and Spain was ratified. This made possible Paco’s transfer to Spain.

What seemed the ultimate solution then turned out to be an irony of sorts.

“I find it ridiculous that they brought me to Spain because they believe I’m innocent, but then they make me assume guilt,” said Paco.

Mrs. Larrañaga said her son, who will turn 35 years old this December, is still determined to maintain his innocence even at the risk of not being granted parole by the Spanish government.

“If Paco had to serve as an instrument in the abolition of the death penalty, then so be it. Hopefully, they can see what cracks exist in our justice system for the future Pacos out there.”

“Give Up Tomorrow” was screened for the first time in the country last July 22 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The film will have a cinema release in Metro Manila this October 3 at Robinson’s Ermita & Galleria and on Oct. 5 at Ayala Greenbelt, Alabang & Trinoma.

Documentarist Joanna Arong, a friend of the filmmakers who moderated the Cebu screening, said they tried to show the film in some of Cebu’s mall theaters but once they learned what it was about, they were “politely declined.”

Arong said universities in Manila and Cebu have expressed interest in screening the film for students.

 Thelma Chiong, in an interview with The FREEMAN, said the movie was just too expensive, a waste of money and are all lies.

“Anybody can make a documentary. But the documentary can no longer touch the case. Everything that has been said in the documentary are all lies, it can be fiction,” said Chiong, adding, “All these years, ang family ni Paco, wa pa kadawat nga convicted siya twice. Si Paco murag nakadawat na man. But the documentary cannot change the fact that he committed the crime.” Chiong said the title should have been “No Tomorrow”. (FREEMAN)

CEBU CHIONG COLLINS AND SYJUCO FILM GIVE UP TOMORROW IF PACO LARRA PACO
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