Going past the velvet rope and red carpet of the film festival circuit, this reporter spoke one on one to producer Marty Syjuco about his documentary “Give Up Tomorrow” which debuts on PBS’ “P.O.V” show this week.
In 1997, two sisters, Marijoy, 21, and Jacqueline Chong, 23, were missing in Cebu. Jacqueline’s body was recovered dumped in a gravesite, while Marijoy’s body was never found. As public outrage loomed with no suspects were at hand. Desperate to find suspects, 19 yr old Paco Larranaga and six other young men were accused of the murders without any hard evidence.
However, after court room drama every day of the trial, the prosecution was able to find a supposed witness who sealed the faith of these men and were sentenced to death by lethal injection. Granted Larranaga had over a dozen credible witness that supported his alibi of being in Manila and not hundreds of miles south on the island of Cebu where the murders occurred. Unfortunately for Larranaga, the judge threw out all the witness testimonies that solidified Paco’s whereabouts during the abduction and subsequent murder.
In May of 1999, Cebu Regional Trial Court Judge Martin Ocampo convicted Larranaga and the six of kidnapping and illegal detention. Ocampo gave the convicted criminals two life sentences.
As a distraught and avenging mother, Thelma Chiong helped push the trial to the Philippine Supreme Court hoping for the death penalty.
On February 3, 2004, Larranaga was sentenced to death along with four others on Feb 3.. Syjuco couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Seated in a comfortable chair in his room at the Sky Hotel in Los Angeles this past Friday, Syjuco explained, “I couldn’t believe it had gotten this far. I knew they said Paco was in Manila 350 miles away on a separate island in cooking school with all these witnesses, so eventually it would sort itself out. They got the wrong guy. But then he was convicted. Immediately, I felt this responsibility to do something.”
As Syjuco told the story to Collins, Collins couldn’t believe it. It was time for the two young men to take action by creating the documentary to tell the story of the injustice that had taken place in the Philippines. It took the twosome several years to complete the documentary. Prior to the film, Paco and the other six men’s side of the story wasn’t communicated to the public through the media. The media spotlight was all on the Chiong Family.
With this documentary, Syjuco and Collins wanted to present both sides of the story. “We didn’t want to make an advocacy film. It was important for us to show all side and all perspectives and let the viewer come to their own conclusion. Our goal was also to show Paco’s side of the story. His family’s side of the story because that never came up before.”
The documentary has definitely resonated throughout the film festival world after its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival winning the Heineken Audience Award. As of this writing, the film has now garnered fifteen awards with one more award coming from Korea the day before this reporter’s interview with Marty Syjuco.
The awards include the following:
BEST NEW DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR, SPECIAL JURY PRIZE @ TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
AUDIENCE AWARD @ SHEFFIELD DOC/FEST
ACTIVISM JURY AWARD @ TRAVERSE CITY FILM FESTIVAL
AUDIENCE AWARD @ ANTENNA SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL
AUDIENCE AWARD @ VALENCIA HUMAN RIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL
BEST DOCUMENTARY @ ANCHORAGE INT’L FILM FESTIVAL
HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD @ DOCS BARCELONA FILM FESTIVAL
EDITING AWARD @ SALEM FILM FEST
AUDIENCE AWARD @ MOVIES THAT MATTER FESTIVAL
AUDIENCE AWARD @ SAN SEBASTIAN HUMAN RIGHTS FESTIVAL
HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD @ LA ASIAN PACIFIC FESTIVAL
AUDIENCE AWARD @ LA ASIAN PACIFIC FESTIVAL
Interestingly, the documentary premiered in Cebu last week. Syjuco mentioned that one of the journalists who persecuted Larranaga and the six others through his reports, tearfully apologized to the Larranaga family after viewing the film.
Paco still languishes in a Spanish prison after being transferred from death row in the Philippines.
According to Syjuco, the story is still unfolding.
The documentary debuts on PBS in Los Angeles on October 7 while it debuts nationally on October 4th as part of T.V. show “P.O.V” 25th anniversary.
After the interview, Marty headed to the Philippines for more media appearances.