In 1997, 19-year-old culinary student Paco Larrañaga was arrested for the kidnap, rape, and murder of two sisters on the provincial island of Cebu in the Philippines. Despite demonstrable evidence of his innocence, including 40 eye-witnesses and photographs placing him hundreds of miles from the scene, Paco's legal ordeal was only just beginning. Dubbed the Philippines' "trial of the century," Paco's ordeal became a galvanizing focal point in a far-reaching exposé of gross miscarriage of justice at the highest levels.
Following the case and its aftermath for more than a decade, the filmmakers trace Paco's story from the ethnic and class tensions at its roots, through a distracting thread of tabloid sensationalism, and ultimately to appeals and interventions from foreign governments and NGOs as the injustice of Paco's situation becomes ever more stark and undeniable. At once a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and a stunning indictment of national corruption, Give Up Tomorrow is an engrossing, enraging true crime chronicle.
Director's Statement Collapse
Marty and I had been friends for a few years when his brother-in-law, Paco's uncle, asked for our help. I had heard about Paco, but until his sentence of death, everyone in the family was embarrassed to talk about it, and was 100 percent sure that the court would overturn the verdict.
I had retained some skepticism—until I read the letter from the 35 "unheard witnesses." I was in a cafe´ on New York City's Lower East Side, and the letter brought me to tears. Paco was my age, and over that last seven years, while I had thrived, he waited, unjustly condemned to execution, in a horrific gang-run prison.
There was no way to ignore the injustice; I had the background in video and had long believed in the power of film to create social change. But it was only when I realized how passionate I had become about this story that I understood the power of the medium.
But passion alone does not make a good film, and it has taken seven years to complete the project. Our first step was to go to Los Angeles to interview two of the letter writers who attested to Paco's whereabouts when the crime was committed. They had left the Philippines, partially out of disgust over the case, but also haunted by guilt—the same guilt we would feel at our inability to reverse a clear and terrible injustice. At our LA meeting, the two broke down and cried at feeling powerless and failure to make anyone listen. They painted a backdrop of corruption and class-race conflict in the Philippines that made us realize that this injustice was only the tip of a very deep iceberg.
In December 2004, on the plane to the Philippines, I read the instruction manual for a new camera. The day we arrived was my first time in a third world country, in a prison, or in Asia, and by the next day I had landed on death row. The prison was nothing like what exists in America. It was a gigantic walled city, with 12 rival sections run by armed gangs. The stench of bodies and cooking fish, the suffocating heat and the fear were overwhelming.
In total darkness, we clung in a row to the man ahead, as we were led through a labyrinth. We had to shuffle our feet for fear of tripping on masses of reclining men we glimpsed only when someone flicked a cigarette lighter. Finally we arrived at Paco's death row cell. Larger than life, he made us feel instantly safe. After a while I loved going. Paco would cook for us, and he was a great host, worried if we liked the food and had enough to drink. When I asked what he would do when finally freed, he said he couldn't think about that. He could only survive if he lived in the moment.
Eventually we bribed someone to let us smuggle in a camera and tapes, which Paco buried in Ziplock bags. We concealed the camera in a paper bag to capture footage inside the prison.
On the outside, many people, galvanized by the opportunity to do the right thing, supported us with resources, information, and encouragement. Others held back, believing that the risk in going against police, presidents, and drug lords was too high, and that the system was beyond reform.
We found that Paco, who will soon have spent half his life in prison, had two sides: When we mentioned the case and prison, he would become hard, cold, and silent. But when we talked about his pre-arrest life, he was full of warmth, enthusiasm, and light. It is my biggest regret that—because of the prison environment and Paco's experience of media as enemy—that we could not adequately capture the sweetness and joy in life that we glimpsed, and that Paco's friends and family saw as his essential nature.
I came to understand that we could prove Paco's innocence over and over with the facts, but that would never be enough. We needed to expose a deep and complex dynamic of corruption and injustice, but also to reveal the part of Philippines culture th