Among the accused in the dock, Paco Larrañaga asks in vain to be heard.

Give Up Tomorrow



n 1995 in the Philippines’ Cebu Island capital of Cebu City, a seventeen-year-old Filipino by the name of Francisco Osmeña Larrañaga, otherwise known as Paco, appeared on the National Bureau of Investigation’s list of juvenile delinquents. The teenager, who had a swagger about him and a temper, had been involved in a car-park scuffle, little more than a display of youthful bravado and arrogance of the sort that happens everywhere.


Two years later, on 16 July 1997, Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, Cebuana sisters in their early twenties, failed to return home after work. On 18 July the blindfolded, battered and handcuffed body of a young woman was found in a local ravine. She had been raped. The Cebu police and the Chiong family initially declared it wasn’t one of the missing. However, a few days later, and under pressure to resolve the case, the police identified the body as Marijoy’s by slicing skin from the corpse’s fingers and comparing it with the prints on Marijoy’s voter ID card – a determination independent forensic investigators would later question. The Chiong family endorsed this revised finding.

Using an affidavit secured from a market vendor who lived near the ravine, the police formulated a theory that a gang of drug addicts was responsible. Apparently, the affidavit, written in English – a language the vendor didn’t speak – stated that she’d heard a group of men that night shouting, ‘Run, run!’, which she’d assumed had caused the distraught woman to fall into the ravine – an assertion the vendor was later to deny.


Two months later, Paco and six other young men were arrested and accused of the murder. Thus began the Kafkaesque odyssey of a young man who, along with his six co-accused (Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawen, Ariel Balansag, Alberto Caño, James Anthony Uy and James Andrew Uy), was denied a fair trial in a court presided over by a judge, Martin Ocampo, who had a habit of nodding off on the bench and who clearly favoured the prosecution. Despite only flimsy and circumstantial evidence against them,
despite a well-documented alibi in Paco’s case and despite judicial misconduct, all seven were convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life
sentences. At the time of writing, they have been in prison for fifteen years.



The prize-winning documentary, Give Up Tomorrow, examines this case and Paco’s role in it, laying out the facts and circumstances in sober and
methodical fashion. Directed by Michael Collins and produced by Marty Syjuco, the documentary is neither strident nor disinterested. It simply
marshals evidence so convincingly that the viewer cannot help but conclude that Paco and his co-accused have suffered a grave miscarriage of justice. Syjuco is not an objective observer – his brother is married to Paco’s older sister, Mimi, a relationship declared early on, and which explains the focus on just one of the seven accused. The documentary builds systematically on a wealth of sources, including trial records, media reports and interviews with journalists, prosecutors, defence lawyers, family members of both the accused and the victims, and with Paco himself. In light of so much material, the viewer is left puzzled – and aghast – that the case ever made it to court.



Human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Fair Trials International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission arrived at the same conclusion; as did a number of local and Spanish journalists; as did the Spanish government itself. Paco is a Spanish citizen through his
father’s nationality, and the family eventually called upon Spain to help them secure Paco’s extradition and transfer to a Spanish prison. They had hoped he would be released soon after arriving in Spain, just as they had hoped each absurd episode of their nightmare in the Philippines would be the last.




he trial in Cebu unfolded amidst tabloid frenzy, inciting the public and the Chiong family to bay for blood. Larrañaga and most of the other accused were either Spanish or Chinese mestizos (Paco is both), and in a country where mixed blood often characterizes the privileged class this stoked the fire of public resentment. Paco’s father, Manuel, is a former jai alai player and a Spanish Basque; his mother, Margot, belongs to the politically powerful
Osmeña clan, and is of Chinese ancestry. Sergio Osmeña, the patriarch, was president of the Philippines from 1944 to just before the country gained its independence from the United States in 1946.


Paco’s arrest was apparently based on his inclusion on the NBI list, which the police had used to trawl for suspects. At the time of the murder, Paco was attending the Center for Culinary Arts in Quezon City, Metro Manila. He provided ample evidence that he was there on the day and night of the crime. On 16 July 1997 he had attended class, gone out later that night with his classmates to a local restaurant and bar, and sat for an exam the next morning. Thirty-five witnesses (classmates and teachers) attested to this, and photographs were produced of the group and Paco at the bar.

But the press (and the court) ignored this evidence and focused instead on the lurid details of the crime. Teddy Boy Locsin, a well-known journalist and lawyer who later became a three-term congressman for the wealthy district of Makati, was televised standing beside the grave of the victim and cupping his hands. ‘This,’ he says, ‘was the amount of semen found in the victim.’ He then describes the accused as, ‘These animals [who] were not born drugged; they made themselves into drug addicts.’ Referring to Paco’s statement that he did not know the Uy brothers prior to their arrest, Locsin notes with contempt: ‘As a Spanish-blooded mestizo, he would never mix with Chinks like the Uys.’ He gratuitously describes the Uys as ‘bananas – yellow on the outside, white on the inside’.

Also weighing in was President Joseph Estrada, whom the victims’ mother, Thelma, and her husband, Dionisio, met in July 1998 – a meeting arranged by Thelma’s sister, Cheryl Jimenea, Estrada’s social secretary. Erap, as he is popularly known, was a film star in the 1950s, when he made a name for himself as a fictional crime fighter. It was a role he reprised when, as vice president under President Fidel Ramos, he was named the government’s anti-crime czar. President Estrada instructed four law enforcement agencies to help solve the Chiong case, and intensified the pressure to convict the accused. (The anti-crime Erap was later forced from office – in January 2001 – charged with plundering the public purse. He was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to forty years in prison. He served barely a month before receiving a pardon from his successor, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now charged with corruption herself.)

The murder trial ended on 11 February 1999 and on 5 May Judge Ocampo found the seven defendants guilty. The sentence of two consecutive terms of life imprisonment failed to appease the Chiongs, who clamoured for the death penalty. President Estrada endorsed their opinion and said the men deserved to die. The judge refused to apply the death penalty (still on the books then), saying there was insufficient evidence that the corpse was in fact that of Marijoy – an incredible statement that in effect undermined the entire case. Ocampo pointed out belatedly that no facial photos had been taken of the dead woman. This raised more questions: Who was the victim, if not Marijoy? Who might be lying in her grave? Might she and her sister still be alive? The body of Jacqueline has never been found.


Judge Ocampo had barred most of the pro-Paco eyewitness testimony, complaining that everyone was saying the same thing, as though corrobor-ation were irrelevant. He denied a request by the defence to exhume the body to verify that it was indeed Marijoy’s. Judge Ocampo also refused
Paco’s repeated request to take the stand, a violation of his constitutional right to speak on his own behalf.


Five months later, Judge Ocampo shot and killed himself in a hotel room. According to the film’s director, Ocampo ‘had a reputation as a judge who couldn’t be bought. But evidence of political pressure was everywhere’.

The defence appealed to the Supreme Court and, after deliberating for four years, the justices in 2004 not only let the guilty convictions stand but also imposed the death penalty through lethal injection. (In another sordid twist to the tale, the chief justice, Hilario Davide, Jr, was related by marriage to Thelma Chiong, yet failed to recuse himself.)



aco now sits in Martutene Prison, near the city of San Sebastián, Spain, where he was sent following the abolition of the death penalty by President Arroyo in 2006 and as a result of a new prisoner-exchange treaty with Madrid that allowed the transfer. The difference between Bilibid Prison in the Philippines and Martutene is, according to Collins, ‘night and day’. There are, for instance, no gangs; at Bilibid – with an original capacity of 8,700, its actual inmate population is more than 20,000 – twelve gangs effectively rule inmate life. Paco and the others had to become members of one, Batang Cebu (Boys of Cebu), for their own protection. In Spain, Paco is granted periodic stays outside on parole. The painful irony is that the parole board will release him permanently only if he admits guilt, which Paco declares he won’t, asking, ‘How can I admit something I didn’t do?’


It is Paco who, on death row at Bilibid, coined the phrase ‘Give Up Tomorrow’. By this he meant that, were he to give up hope of a reprieve, it would not be today. He’d put off giving in to despair till the morrow. He’d repeat this process the next day; it became a question then of when to give up, focusing only on the timing. He also made three resolutions: ‘I won’t kill myself, I won’t kill anyone else, and I won’t look for trouble.’ Sound strategy for a life of captivity at Bilibid.



efore the trial began, one promising avenue of investigation seemed to have been disregarded and overlooked: the possible links between the disappearance of the girls and the rift between their father and Peter Lim, the man he worked for and who has long been suspected of being a drug lord. Chiong and Lim had fallen out. Chiong was scheduled to testify before the Congressional Committee on Dangerous Drugs about Lim’s alleged drug trafficking but, shortly before the set date, Marijoy and Jacqueline disappeared. The girls’ father subsequently refused to testify. Were the disappearances simply a coincidence or a not-too-subtle warning to the Chiongs? (Much later Paco’s family, also fearful of Lim’s power, asked that his name be bleeped out of the film when it was shown in the Philippines.)


Leo Lastimosa, one of the few journalists in Cebu who took a neutral tone in his reporting, did point out the tantalizing link to Lim but, as he notes in the film, ‘nobody was interested’. After seeing the film in Cebu City earlier this year, Lastimosa wrote that ‘most importantly the movie has to be seen by those who have hidden knowledge about the case, so they can help answer the questions as to what really happened to the Chiongs’. Lastimosa said he was convinced of Paco’s innocence when Paco refused to admit guilt to secure his release in Spain.

Perhaps the Lim connection was something no one dared touch. The fact that two of the police investigating team had moonlighted as Lim’s bodyguards raises further questions.


Towards the end of Give Up Tomorrow, Mrs Chiong, on learning of
Paco’s imminent transfer to Spain, threatens to kill him. ‘I will die thinking of Spain making a fool of me. If Paco comes home I will kill him.’ We are left to wonder why this woman is so intent on pinning the blame for her daughters’ disappearance on the men now behind bars, even when an overwhelming weight of evidence points to their innocence.




An exclusive audio interview with Michael Collins, the director of Give Up Tomorrow, is available on our website.


Upper: The Chiongs react to the verdict with dismay. 
Mrs Chiong holds a picture of her daughters.
Lower: Media frenzy.

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