“Give Up Tomorrow” is a documentary that has all the elements of a fictional drama. It presents cinematic doses of corruption, injustice, and media manipulation to keep its “victim and victimizer story” moving forward. Unfortunately, it is not fiction. It is a true story still waiting for real closure.
As the many questions on the Philippines’ corruptible system abound, so does the questions on the uncertainty of Paco Larrañaga’s fate in this now one-and-a-half-decade-long saga about seeking justice. Even the fate of the two Chiong sisters who were said to be kidnapped, raped, and murdered by Larrañaga, along with six other suspects/convicted men like him, still keeps the public in a conundrum.
The film highlights the kind of life the Larrañaga family succumbs into as media frenzy instantly carries the case into sensational heights – as if it is one of the masses’ top-rated teleseryes with Larrañaga clearly painted as the premier antagonist.
In the eyes of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, this Spanish mestizo who comes from an old-rich political kin with ties from the opposition to the then ruling administration is already guilty of the crime against Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, two girls who belong to the traditionally oppressed Chinese-Malay clan of the country. In the eyes of the Fair Trials International, Amnesty International, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Larrañaga is a man wrongly convicted of a heinous crime, basing it from evidences that he was in school in Manila while the sisters’ abduction happened in Cebu.
This documentary works as a compelling picture. Looking at it objectively, I am in no means to conclude which side to readily believe by simply watching this feature-length offering. However, things are pretty clear with how the prosecution and media suppressed Larrañaga’s case. The chronicled handling of the hearings is downright outrageous, unjust, and unbelievable – to the point that they could have only taken place in a fictional movie. It shows how tabloid-style media coverage empowers any story to sway the public, particularly people who are too lazy to question and analyze what media really spews. It examines the corruption dominating over the trials of those who are weak or even those who are just simply less powerful in the society. It explores the incompetence that muddles people’s fight for justice.
Regardless of any possible form of manipulation from the filmmaker, this true-to-life film presented in the perspective of the so-called villain doesn’t change the facts. The events present defense witnesses halted to take stand in a very ridiculous fashion. The story depicts an outrageous take on allowing the key prosecution witness to avoid cross-examination. The defense team resigns en masse and gets jailed for their actions. The Larrañaga farm gets thoroughly searched even without warrant. A judge who frequently sleeps in court is eventually found dead after issuing a life sentence verdict instead of the prosecution’s demand for death penalty.
Another aspect of the film features the story of a family who never stops believing that the truth, no matter how long it takes, will eventually prevail.
With all the socio-political elements in question, the outcry for truth and justice, and the many international pressures and their accompanying negotiations in the story, things boil down into very simple ideas. Power consumes and corrupts. Media circus is escapist entertainment. Diplomatic and legal actions typically involve politics. Political rule is power. The cycle goes on.
Review also published at: BusinessWorld Weekender (2013)