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Sunday Lifestyle

Did justice sleep?

FROM THE HEART - Gina Lopez - The Philippine Star

A few months ago, my brother was talking excitedly about a film called Give Up Tomorrow which has won many awards overseas — 16 to be exact — and how it depicts the sad state of our Philippine justice system.

I finally saw the documentary last week. From beginning to end, I was in shock. How can this be happening? Sure, Paco Larrañaga — the subject of the film who was accused of rape and murder of two Cebu girls and sentenced to life in prison — has a swagger, a “bad boy image,” but one can’t convict based on that. How can a person commit a crime when there are 40 eyewitnesses that say he was in Quezon City when the crimes were happening in Cebu?

In the decision of the Regional Trial Court, the late Judge Martin Ocampo said it was physically possible for Paco to have taken a private plane to Cebu and then flown back in time to take his exams in Quezon City at 7:30 in the morning. Huh? If Paco was really bad, why couldn’t he just have raped someone in Manila? Or Quezon City? Why would he fly all the way to Cebu to rape someone, throw her in the ravine and then fly back to attend his exams? It just did not make sense. Another question that nagged at me after watching the movie is this: How can it be verified that Paco was in Cebu when there was no physical evidence that he hired a private plane? Where are the flight records, receipts, or pilot affidavits? In fact, Paco’s name was not in any of the manifests of any ships and commercial airplanes going to and from Cebu at that time.

I guess what really convinced me of his innocence was hearing the teacher of Paco Larrañaga talk. Chef Rowena Bautista had testified that she saw Paco at 6:30 p.m. coming down the stairs of their school in Quezon City. This is the exact time that Paco was allegedly in Cebu, according to the prosecution witness. I like to think I can tell if someone is lying or not. Well, more often than not, I can! And I could tell she was telling the truth. I also met Paco’s parents. They seemed such decent people. And Paco’s sister, Mimi — my goodness, she’s a sweetheart! So how can a family like this breed a cold-blooded killer that deserves a death penalty?

In the film there are statements from the United Nations, from Fair Trials International, Amnesty International, Reprieve, the European Union, and these are unbiased professionals with nothing to gain from defending Paco. They all say that the Supreme Court decision was flawed. However the investigation by legal experts from international groups was completely ignored.

What was also interesting to me is that after his two daughters went missing, Dionesio Chiong decided not to testify against his boss, who was under investigation for being a drug lord at that time. The other two who testified against this alleged drug lord were eventually found dead, executed in horrific circumstances. So one begins to wonder.

The film has people like one of the lead investigating officers, Pablo Labra, who can’t even “recall” the clues that led him to conclude that Paco was the culprit. He really seemed like a flake. Several times the judge was caught sleeping on the bench — while deciding on lives. Sleeping?

The Chiong family needed to vent their angst. That’s understandable. However, if one looks at the circumstances, it seems that they have chosen the wrong person. In contrast, Senator Serge Osmeña was in the auditorium when I watched the film. The mother of Paco is his first cousin. He purposely did not involve himself in the proceedings so that if Paco was found innocent, it would not be misconstrued that it was due to his interference.

Because there are so many issues, I became curious; so I asked for a copy of the Supreme Court decision. According to the Supreme Court decision there were over 20 prosecution witnesses that claimed they saw Paco in Cebu that day. I wonder how the Supreme Court came up with this statement when in the Regional Trial Court, aside from the state witness; there were only four who claimed to have seen Paco in Cebu. Then I found out that the filmmakers interviewed two of these prosecution witnesses, who admitted on film that their affidavits did not match their actual eyewitness accounts.

Mysteriously, the state witness, as well as the other prosecution witnesses, are now unavailable to be interviewed. Where did they go? The filmmakers tried their best to find them, even hiring private detectives. On the other hand, the classmates and friends who were with Paco in Quezon City are all here 15 years later, still eager to state the truth.

Another scene that horrified me in the documentary was of Paco recounting how he was not allowed to testify in his own trial. There are pictures of Paco raising his hand, calling out to the judge. In the court records, the judge himself clearly stipulates that Paco wanted to testify and yet Judge Ocampo did not allow it. Isn’t this the most fundamental of constitutional and human rights? The right to be heard in your own trial? Guess what? Despite this glaring violation, the Supreme Court denied Paco’s request for an oral argument at the Supreme Court and even elevated Paco’s life sentence to death by lethal injection!

The point about Paco Larrañaga is that if this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone else. And my goodness, Paco’s mother is an Osmeña and it still happened? What more if the person is poor and has no connections?

The only hope that remains for Paco is executive clemency. I do hope President Aquino and his legal experts will, in the interest of justice, see the film. There must be something to it, if all these impartial international experts, like the United Nations Human Rights Committee, state categorically that Paco’s human rights were violated, that an injustice was done, that the Supreme Court at that time erred in their decision.

Instead of sticking to a flawed decision, why not right it? Paco is now 34. He was 19 when this happened. He still has his whole life ahead of him. Every time injustice wins, the fiber of our society is weakened. And every time justice prevails and truth sees the light of day, we build a better future. Let justice be done.

You need to see the film. It makes for good educational material and fodder for discussion. I highly, highly recommend it. It’s in theaters now on an extended run until Oct. 16 in Greenbelt 3 and Oct. 23 in other theaters. You can go to www.giveuptomorrow.com for more info and find out how you can have private and school screenings. The filmmakers can also be contacted at www.facebook.com/giveuptomorrow, [email protected] or 0905-335-5177.

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I can be reached at [email protected].

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

CEBU

COURT

FILM

PACO

PACO LARRA

QUEZON CITY

REGIONAL TRIAL COURT

SUPREME COURT

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