Arts and Culture

Giving up the past

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star

Far be it from me… Ha-ha, haven’t started a statement that way in decades, so allow me this once.

Rewind. Far be it from me to recommend specific action to head honchos in government, especially since they get that a lot from the madding crowd, nay, mob. But this time I can’t refrain from issuing this abiso. Or suggestion.

I know they’re not supposed to socialize anymore, after that recent oath-taking at the Palace. But it would be just dandy for the country if His Excellency, Prez PNoy, and newly-appointed CJ Hon. Maria Lourdes Sereno could sit down together — maybe without even exchanging a word, and meters apart to disallow sotto voce engagement — and watch the excellent documentary film feature Give Up Tomorrow.

Not just for entertainment, mind you. Nor for edification, as I’m sure both officials already know that all the Kafkaesque developments shown in the internationally awarded docu truly paint a sordid picture of justice, Philippine-style.

Or make that universal justice. I’ve never been a home country basher; indeed, of late the positive surges in perception and actual performance (backed by numbers on finance sheets) have been affirming what many of us continue to sense: that there has been a turnaround in effective governance.

Like all PNoy-philes, of course we have hoped that our vote in 2010 would not go to waste, or go the way of remorse the way our cheers for that constitutional coup of 2001 did. And he hasn’t let us down thus far; that’s a fact. The straight road was all it took to send a message to most everyone that the days of show biz and monkey biz have run their course.

We have a President who’s clean. In the view of many, that should be enough to turn Pilpinas around from its sick-man-of-Asia tag. Let the private sector do the rest, start to drag up the rest of the country by its very bootstraps. As has been happening, despite all the traditional excesses of abusive governance. And of course we now hope that PNoy’s measure of success against corruption will be duplicated by his direct successor, for a dozen years of more-or-less clean government, and so forth.

At last week’s invitational screening, facilitator Carlos Celdran conducted a forum with director Michael Collins and producer Marty Syjuco participating via Skype.

But enough of the generic, general dream. On to a particular one. Corruption goes hand in hand with injustice. Now that PNoy has assigned the wheels of justice to a triumvirate of helmswomen, shouldn’t we all be happy to entrust the challenge of improving our justice system to more capable hands? Isn’t a lady with a blindfold, balancing the scales, the very symbol of beneficial justice? 

Now that we have three strong women womanning the positions of Ombudsman, Secretary of Justice and Chief Justice — in effect holding up the judicial sky that is one of three co-equal branches of government — shouldn’t we expect the clean, sweet-smelling sheets, orderly household, comfort food and fair treatment all around that we received from our very mothers?

These are not three hags stirring a cauldron while chanting incantations, nor three icons of vanity expecting the apple to be handed to the fairest. No, it’s a much more powerful triumvirate than either set. In their hands is the present and future of the Philippine justice system.

I must say at this point that maybe it should be a First Five as a Justice League Team, and not just a trio. Maybe the President should also replace the heads of the PNP and AFP with well-coiffured ones.

For as we see in the compelling, riveting docu feature that’s Give Up Tomorrow — directed by Michael Collins, produced by Marty Syjuco, and written by Collins, Syjuco, and Eric Daniel Metzgar — it all seems to start with corruption in the police ranks.

Add kneejerk mindset and mob mentality fueled by injudicious media, biased judges (including a former CJ), and the frailties of court procedures, and you have a boy of 19, Paco Larrañaga, together with six others, unfairly arrested thence convicted of kidnaping and given double life sentences by a judge who’s as bizarre as one can get.

At the time of the sensational case — the June 1997 kidnapping and presumed rape and murder of the Chiong sisters, Marijoy and Jackie, national media took the cue from Cebu’s and went on a feeding frenzy, especially when “bad boy tisoys” were arrested and pinpointed as the culprits.

For the preliminary investigators and Judge Martin Ocampo, the solid alibis presented by Paco — his classmates and professors at a culinary school attesting he was in Manila at the time of the alleged crimes — were deemed unworthy of consideration. Instead, they listened to the usual “police character” turning state witness, who confessed to being part of it all, and pinpointed everyone else, as his conscience supposedly bade him.

Davidson Rusia, the stool pigeon with the checkered record — and reputed to have been subjected to police torture just so they could tie up the case — was forgiven by the Chiong sisters’ grieving parents, given presents of cash and clothes, and eventually freed by the judge, who had also sent the defense team to jail for contempt when they withdrew from the case out of sheer frustration. Months later, this judge appeared to have killed himself in a gory manner in a Cebu hotel room.

Kafka would’ve blanched over the rest of the proceedings. Mrs. Thelma Chiong continued to exercise her apparent newfound influence by way of the office of the then-sitting president (1999), and eventually her relation with the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice (2005), so that an appeal before the high tribunal even backfired, with the sentence being upgraded to the death penalty.

In prison, Paco Larrañaga developed his own simple philosophy to help him make it through each day. “Give up tomorrow,” he keeps telling himself. Concentrate on getting through the day. It continues to serve him in good stead.

Today, he is still in prison, in Spain, where he was finally extradited in 2009, thanks to the efforts of the Spanish government. Before that, again after representation from Madre España, inclusive of royalty, then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo decided to abolish the death penalty.

The European Union, United Nations agencies and human rights orgs worldwide have stepped into the picture, campaigning for Paco’s freedom — and with it freedom for his co-accused, all of them apparent victims of a terrible mistrial.

Thanks to this powerful film, which has been shown in over 50 festivals in 25 countries, and won the Audience Award, the Best Director Award and the Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Fest last year, plus many more international accolades, awareness of the plight and travesty of justice suffered by a young Spanish national in Cebu, the Philippines, has been heightened worldwide.

The Spanish officialdom’s hands are tied. In one of those universal quirks of jurisprudence, they cannot grant parole unless Paco confesses to the crime, which he won’t, because he has not really given up on the past, or today. Only a pardon from the Philippine end can turn things right.

That is why we must hope that our President watches this film, together with Hon. Maria Lourdes Sereno, Hon. Leila de Lima, Hon. Conchita Carpio-Morales, and maybe also PNP Chief Nicanor Bartolome. And then after the film screening, they can all shake their heads gravely and agree that our justice system has to be shaken up, top to bottom, once and for all time — with much hope. Prez PNoy may also consider granting Paco et al. the pardon they deserve, so that they wouldn’t have to give up on many more tomorrows

This film docu first screened in Manila at the Cinemalaya Fest last July, playing to capacity audiences on both evenings. It has since started making the rounds — of law schools and such. Its next screening is at the UP Film Theater this Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 5:30, for which tickets have been priced at P100. This screening will be conducted in partnership with the UP Office of Legal Aid.

Sometime soon, it will also screen in Cebu, where the grotesquerie all started, 15 years ago. Good heavens, that’s been a lot of yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.

In terms of justice, in the near future, what we should all be giving up are the crooked, irrational, repulsive ways of the past.










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