Give Up Tomorrow

by Sankage Steno


          Much like the Vizconde massacre case, people who were born after the first EDSA people power revolution might find themselves clueless as to the details of certain heinous crimes that transpired in the news during the 1990s. With the exception of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, the great Luzon earthquake and the Asian economic crisis, nothing much would be remembered in that decade—at least for the MTV generation and those that followed.

          The case of the “Chiong Seven,” or the seven men convicted of kidnapping and rape of the Chiong sisters, Marijoy and Jacqueline, who both disappeared at a mall in Cebu on July 16, 1997, is a classic example—or victim—of the generation’s casual amnesia, if not their innocence.

          Although the case has long been “closed” by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, the story remains open-ended, and this 15-year-old account is nowhere near its conclusion. That is why it is only fitting that the case is put into the mainstream media once more through a documentary film directed by Michael Collins and produced by Marty Syjuco.

          The 95-minute documentary is a chronological narration of the political and judicial happenstance of Paco Larrañaga, one of the Chiong Seven, whose freedom and constitutional rights were curtailed due to the corruption and subsequent failures of the justice system in the country. The focus on only one “convict” is understandable, as the film revealed close to its end that one of its makers is an extended family member of the Larrañagas.

          It was clear from the start that the film wants to portray Paco as innocent. This honesty is well-defined all throughout the documentary as it evidently tries to uphold the truth through the statements of almost all the people who were, and still are, involved in the case. It took into consideration not just both sides—the Larrañaga’s and the Chiong’s—but all the sides of the whirlwind story that were indispensable to the credibility of the filmmakers’ claim.

          How the interviews and amateur camera footage were sewn together to create a sublime fabric of audiovisual presentation, despite (or in lieu of) the Kafkaesque expedition of several intertwined lives in this tumultuous—and often hopeless—socio-political background that is the Philippines, was what made the film modestly controversial but markedly significant in unveiling the reality to the public’s eyes, which are often fogged up by sugar-coated information or prejudiced innuendos by the media.

          In the same vein, the use of the commercial media today to rectify the wrongdoings of many national figures and institutions in the past is an appropriate way to deliver justice where it is due. As the award-winning documentary comes home this October to Philippine soil, especially to Cebu where it all began, Filipinos who were witnesses to the “trial of the century” and the events surrounding it, and those that are unaware of the Chiong sisters’ case, would be given an insightful, critical, and somber view of the events that were unimaginable to be shown more than a decade ago.

          The message of the film does not fall far from its name, Give Up Tomorrow.