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Give Up Tomorrow

Premiere Date: October 4, 2012

'Give Up Tomorrow' in Context

Paco Larrañaga Case Summary

The Philippines has no jury system, so Paco's fate rested in the hands of the judge in the case, Martin Ocampo, who made the defense team's work difficult, even jailing them for protesting his decision to throw out expert testimony questioning the identification of Marijoy Chiong's body.

When Paco's fellow students and instructors took the stand to verify his alibi, the judge cut short their testimony, declaring that there were "too many" witnesses. Paco was never allowed to take the stand.



July 16, 1997 was a typical day for Give Up Tomorrow's subject, Paco Larrañaga. He attended culinary classes and then enjoyed the nightlife in Manila with his classmates. The next morning he was back at school for a day of exams. Three hundred miles away on the island of Cebu, parents Dionisio and Thelma Chiong were filing missing-persons reports. Their daughters, Marijoy, 21, and Jacqueline, 23, had disappeared while waiting for their father to give them a ride home from work. The sisters would never be seen alive again. A battered, blindfolded and handcuffed body was soon discovered and identified as Marijoy. Jacqueline was never found.

Two months later, Paco's sister, Mimi, received a call from her frightened brother saying that men in civilian clothes were arresting him for the kidnap, rape and murder of both Chiong sisters. Six other boys in Cebu were also arrested. Although some of the boys' names were on a list of juvenile delinquents because of a previous altercation, there was no evidence linking them to the crime.

The Chiong family is Chinese-Filipino. Paco is part of a prominent mestizo political clan that includes a former president. Beefy and tough, with a past of petty offenses, he neatly fits the role of privileged thug—and that is how he was cast by the frenzied media that swarmed his arrest and trial and cheered his eventual sentence to death by lethal injection.

Initially, Paco's family, devout Catholics like many Filipinos, discussed his leaving the country. But they decided he would stay and clear his name. "We didn't think it would go beyond preliminary investigation because we had . . . more than 35 witnesses . . . that said this boy was nowhere near Cebu on July 16," said Mimi.

As the media began painting sensational portraits of the accused boys as drug addicts, Thelma Chiong, distraught mother of the victims, became a sensation herself. She claimed Paco had been dating and menacing Marijoy, an allegation he and his sister, Mimi, strenuously denied. Mimi began to suspect that the Chiongs were hiding something. She was right.

It turned out that Dionisio Chiong had worked at a trucking company owned by an alleged drug lord. At the time of his daughters' disappearance, Dionisio had been scheduled to testify against the drug lord at a congressional hearing, but then he abruptly changed his mind. Could the murders have been ordered to ensure Dionisio's silence? It was later discovered that the plainclothes police who arrested Paco were the alleged drug kingpin's bodyguards and that the police superintendent was a close friend.

The story became stranger still. While Paco and the six co-defendants languished in prison, Thelma Chiong was appointed vice president of the Crusade Against Violence. Her sister was the personal secretary to the newly elected president, Joseph Estrada, who assigned four different agencies to tackle the investigation.

Police searched the Larrañagas' property for a link to the crime. No such link was found, but eight months later prosecutors announced they had a star witness. A young drug addicted prisoner named Davidson Rusia confessed that he was among the gang sought for kidnapping, raping and murdering the Chiong sisters. When the trial got underway, the prosecution questioned Rusia for days, while Paco's counsel was given 30 minutes for cross-examination. Thelma Chiong called Rusia "a gift from God" and even brought the alleged double murderer birthday gifts in prison. Rusia's cellmates would later claim he had been repeatedly tortured by police before confessing.

The Philippines has no jury system, so Paco's fate rested in the hands of the judge in the case, Martin Ocampo, who made the defense team's work difficult, even jailing them for protesting his decision to throw out expert testimony questioning the identification of Marijoy Chiong's body.

When Paco's fellow students and instructors took the stand to verify his alibi, the judge cut short their testimony, declaring that there were "too many" witnesses. Paco was never allowed to take the stand.

Judge Martin Ocampo, who was even seen sleeping through parts of the proceedings, took three months to write his decision. The verdict, reached two years after the crime, was devastating: Paco and his co-defendants were found guilty and received two consecutive life sentences. Under Philippine law, a guilty verdict required the death penalty, so why did the judge rule otherwise? He admitted there was insufficient proof that the corpse was Marijoy Chiong's. "You don't know the pressure I'm under," he told reporters who asked if he feared for his life. Five months later, he committed suicide.

The Chiong family was outraged that the young men had not received the death penalty, and their ally President Estrada asked the Department of Justice to change the sentence. The Larrañaga family appealed to the Supreme Court to protest the many violations of Paco's constitutional rights.

Lawyers assured the family that Paco's case was strong. On February 3, 2004, Paco's mother, like millions of others, would hear the news of the appeal on television. Her son was not only found guilty, but now was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

But in another twist, the court's new verdict awakened widespread support for the accused young men. Student witnesses joined a Catholic priest to organize an event and Paco's family sought new avenues for justice. Because his father was Spanish, Paco was also a Spanish citizen. The family appealed to Spain for help and Amnesty International led a nationwide campaign that generated huge momentum. In November 2004, activists delivered a petition with nearly 300,000 signatures to the embassy of the Philippines in Madrid.

The country's Supreme Court, led by a chief justice related to Thelma Chiong, refused to budge. In a final effort, Paco's lawyers submitted his case to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which called for his release. The Spanish government asked Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, who had replaced President Estrada following his removal on corruption charges, to grant Paco clemency. She vowed that Paco's life would be saved and, astonishingly, abolished the nation's death penalty in June 2006. The two countries agreed that Paco would be transferred to Spain to serve the remainder of his life sentence. Thelma Chiong tried—but failed—to prevent the transfer.

Paco and his family hoped that his transfer to Spain would set him off on a path to freedom, but the Spanish prison review board would only recommend Paco for parole if he would admit his guilt. More than two years after his transfer to Spain and 15 years after his arrest, Paco remains in prison but now benefits from an additional privilege of the Spanish penal system: Due to time already served, he is granted occasional therapeutic leaves (a few days every month) at the prison board's discretion, which means he receives permission to leave during daytime hours to study and work. The Republic of the Philippines retains jurisdiction over the case.

Caption: The co-accused at the trial   Credit: Alex Badayos



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