Aquino is last chance to free Paco, says filmmaker

Katherine Visconti

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'He's the only one who can grant pardon for Paco,' says the filmmaker who documented missteps by Philippine courts in relation to the celebrated murder case

CEBU'S MISTRIAL OF THE CENTURY? Michael Collins and Filipino-born Marty Syjuco document Paco Larrañaga's uphill quest for justice in the award-winning film 'Give Up Tomorrow.' With Larrañaga widely believed guilty of kidnapping, rape, murder before the film was shown, the filmmakers are hoping to shift public opinion with each viewing. “We’d like the president to know that thousands of Filipinos have seen the film and believe in Paco’s innocence, and are clamoring for his release,” Syjuco tells Rappler. Photo by Katherine Visconti.

MANILA, Philippines – Convicted rapist and murderer Francisco “Paco” Larrañaga has one last bet in his bid for freedom, according to Marty Syjuco, who produced the film documenting missteps by Philippine courts, police and media that led to a young man losing his life behind bars. (Read: Give up tomorrow)

“It’s all up to the Philippine president. He’s the only one who can grant pardon for Paco,“ Syjuco told Rappler in a March 15 interview.

So far, petitions by Larrañaga’s lawyers to the Board of Pardons and Parole have been denied. But Syjuco explained that filing with the board is “part of the process for asking the President for pardon.”

Larrañaga, who was arrested on Sept 22, 1997, has been jailed for 15 and a half years for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 23-year-old Marijoy Chiong and her 20-year-old sister Jacqueline. Born to a Spanish father and a Filipina mother of the influential Osmeña clan of Cebu, he was sent to serve out the rest of his sentence in a Spanish prison in 2009 thanks to the RP-Spain Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement (TSPA). Without a pardon from the Philippine president, Larrañaga won’t be released until 2039, by which time he will be 61 years old.

Changing the justice system 

Syjuco has seen Larrañaga repeatedly slapped back by the Philippine justice system – the initial trial judge cut short testimony from alibi who were with Larrañaga 500 km away from Cebu the same night the victims were abducted, his defense lawyer was jailed briefly for protesting the decision to throw out expert testimony disputing the identification of Marijoy Chiong’s body and the Supreme Court elevated his sentence to death by lethal injection before the death penalty was outlawed. The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) wrote that the trial was “unfair” and that Larrañaga’s rights were violated.

Still, despite past missteps, the filmmaker is hopeful the justice system is changing under Aquino.

“It’s a great turning point. Little by little we’re starting to get back belief in our systems. The recent impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, that was really amazing that [it] happened. There’s a shift happening now,” he said.

PERSONAL APPEAL. On March 15, 2013, Marty Syjuco hands over his 'Ani ng Dangal'  from the National Commission on Culture and Arts to a representative at the Board of Pardons & Parole in Quezon City. He says he can't keep the award which "was given by the Philippine government to citizens who bring honor to the country." He adds, "It is ironic that such an honor was given to a film about the most dishonorable aspect of Philippine society - the habitual failure of our country's justice system." Photo by Katherine Visconti.

Syjuco, whose brother is married to Larrañaga’s sister, has an obvious personal stake in securing the pardon. He and Larrañaga’s immediate family are gathering signatures on for a petition they will deliver to the President.

The Philippines has a history of presidential pardons, which are allowed under the 1987 Constitution, which states that “except in cases of impeachment… the President may grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons.” When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was president, she famously pardoned former president Joseph Estrada who was found guilty of plunder. Aquino has pardoned more low-profile cases, including a British drug-trafficker in 2011 and 8 elderly inmates in 2012. 

“I hope Paco gets his freedom, that’s what he deserves,” said Syjuco, who added that Larrañaga is already working on his rehabilitation and has begun studying cooking again, the course he was taking when he was arrested at the age of 19. –

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