Mother of the victims, Thelma Chiong (center), reveals her Machiavellian side as one of several corrupt players in the case against Paco Larrañaga.
True crime documentaries, when done well, can elicit a
physiological response from the viewer, particularly when witnessing
injustice unfold in the film's narrative. Sighs, head shaking, and jaw
dropping are just a few of the motions that may occur while watching
Michael Collins's film Give Up Tomorrow, spurred by feelings of outrage and disbelief at a justice system so blatantly corrupt that
you'd think you were watching a parody.
The film -- an audience and best new director award winner at the Tribeca Film Festival -- documents the criminal case against Francisco "Paco" Larrañaga,
a mestizo of Spanish and Filipino descent from the city of Cebu who was
framed (along with six other men) for the rape and murder of Marijoy
and Jacqueline Chiong, two sisters in a family with ties both to the Office
of the President and to one of the biggest drug traffickers in the
There was seemingly ironclad evidence proving that Paco couldn't have been at the scene of the crime. Yet, the pressure on police to solve one of
the most grisly crimes Cebu had ever seen resulted in an illegal arrest of
Paco, false testimonies by witnesses, and the bribery of police
officials in order to get a conviction. Paco's arrest also galvanized a public who were satisfied to see a well-to-do mestizo go to jail while sensationalist media coverage fanned the flames. Ironically, it would be the well connected Chiong family that waged far more more political influence than the farmowning Larrañagas.
The efforts of the Larrañaga family to
exonerate their son is truly heartbreaking and their continuous setbacks
are, in a word, frightening. How does one keep hope when the highest
laws in the land are actively working against you? The director -- who is part of the Larrañagas' extended family --
tempers the outrageousness of Filipino media coverage and justice system
processes with the impassioned yet even-keeled presence of Paco (in
footage from inside the prison courtesy of a smuggled camera) and his
family who still struggle to make sense of a nonsensical legal system.
[Full Disclosure: Hyphen's Features Editor Momo Chang is a juror for this year's documentary selection at SFIAAFF.]