THE controversial documentary film “Give Up Tomorrow” pushed the country to abolish the death penalty in 2006, according to a study conducted by an American journalist and filmmaker Gemma Cubero.

The film centers on the life of Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, who was tried and convicted for his role in the abduction and killing of the Chiong sisters in 1997.

Cubero said former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was forced to scrap the death sentence after the film caused a massive outcry in Spain.


Larrañaga has dual Spanish and Filipino citizenship. His father is a Spanish national, while his mother is a Cebuana.

“Ever since I decided to write and research, I wanted the work to add to the impact the film has had,” Cubero told Sun.Star Cebu through E-mail.

Her thesis examines how the making of the film, using new digital media, can bring about justice and create social change.

The film shows Larrañaga’s life in jail.

Cubero’s thesis, which was recently published by the Germany-based Lambert Academic Publishing, was a requirement for her masters in specialized journalism at the University of Southern California in 2012.

“I hope that having this book along with the film will also help free Paco and bring justice to the other men who remain in prison in the Philippines,” Cubero said.

Film producer Marty Syjuco and director Michael Collins believe Larrañaga was wrongly convicted.

Police arrested and charged Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caño, Ariel Balansag and brothers James Andrew and James Anthony Uy with double murder for the deaths of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong.

On May 5, 1999, Judge Martin Ocampo found them all guilty of kidnapping and illegal detention and sentenced them to two life terms.

Spanish ‘rescue’

On Feb.3, 2004, the Supreme Court imposed the lethal injection on Larrañaga, Aznar, Adlawan, Caño and Balansag.

“The filmmakers and Paco’s family knew that the legal roads in the Philippines had been exhausted. If there was any hope for Paco, it would be in Spain,” says Cubero.

The filmmakers smuggled a camera into the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, Metro Manila to record Larrañaga’s testimony.

Larrañaga’s 90-second video titled “No Me Abandoneis (Don’t Abandon Me)” pleading the Spanish people for help went viral on YouTube. The video was also released to the Spanish media.

The Spanish Government later sent politicians to the Philippines to visit Larrañaga and to meet with former Arroyo.

In October 2005, Juan Carlos King of Spain and the President of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, asked Arroyo for leniency in favor of Larrañaga.

Syjuco told Cubero that Arroyo assured the King that Larrañaga would never be executed while she was president.

On June 24, 2006, Arroyo abolished the death penalty, a move Larrañaga considered as a “miracle.”

During his arrest, Larrañaga was 19 and taking up culinary arts in Quezon City.

Now 35, Larrañaga is incarcerated in a penal facility in Spain after the Department of Justice approved his transfer there to serve the remainder of his prison term while waiting for his parole.

The transfer was pursuant to the Treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons signed by the Philippines and Spain, allowing convicted persons of either country to return to his home country and spend his sentence there.