Give up tomorrow-A A +A
Sunday, September 30, 2012
A FILM that follows the story of Francisco Juan “Paco” Larranaga, charged and convicted for the double rape-slay of the Chiong sisters in Cebu on July 16, 1997, it begins from his arrest in September 1997 to his transfer to Spain in October 2009.
It was a crime that hogged the headlines. It struck fear in our hearts and provoked rage in all of us. There was rabid consensus for a swift conviction. Perhaps, that was the fatal flaw.
Directed by Michael Collins and produced by Marty Syjuco, brother of Paco’s brother-in-law, Jaime, the documentary, which took seven years in the making, has received 15 awards and has been shown in over 50 film festivals in 25 countries.
It’s a shame that theater owners in Cebu did not have the courage to allow this film to be screened. But I call on all universities in Cebu to take a different stance. Hold on-campus private screenings. This much you owe to your students as institutions of higher learning.
I have always been a death penalty advocate. This film, however, has changed me. While I continue to believe that death is the appropriate penalty for those guilty of heinous crimes, I realize now that our judicial system is so flawed, it simply cannot be relied upon to decide who should live or die.
Innocent people can be convicted, can be incarcerated, can die for a crime they didn’t commit.
I do not know if Paco is innocent. Only those who were with Paco that fateful night in Manila would know if indeed Paco was not in Cebu to commit such a crime. The lone witness, David Valiente Rusia, who testified against Paco would also know whether or not he gave false testimony. But I do know now that Paco was not given a fair trial.
And unknown to the public, Fair Trials International as well as the United Nations have arrived at the same conclusion.
They say there are different versions of the truth. Fifteen years ago, we heard one version. Perhaps it’s time we heard another and judge for ourselves if we have correctly identified the victims and villains in this story.
While I sympathize with the Chiongs, I believe that the public, the Cebuano public, in particular, should be given the chance to see this film. It’s time to look at other angles, hear other versions, raise nagging questions and render judgments of our own. Now. In more sober times.
Fifteen years ago, we convicted Paco in the court of public opinion. Today, in the interest of truth and justice, Paco’s appeal to the public deserves to be heard. Fifteen years ago, we convicted Paco because it was convenient. Today, as we face more sober times, let us take a second look at the miscarriage of justice we might have had a hand in making.
It is not moot and academic to discuss or determine Paco’s innocence or guilt in this crime. While he has been rendered a final judgment of guilt in our country, the truth remains important to Paco, his friends and his family.
Spain has determined since 2009 that Paco is eligible for parole but only if he admits guilt. Until today, Paco maintains his innocence even at the price of freedom. (Melanie Lim)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 30, 2012.