A remarkably cogent docu, “Give Up Tomorrow”chronicles the case of a young man wrongly convicted of rape and murder, exposing a major miscarriage of justice (with Amnesty Intl., Fair Trials Intl. and the U.N. Human Rights Commission unanimously concurring). The Philippines-set pic depicts a perfect storm of cronyism, tabloid journalism, public prejudice and corruption that could have happened anywhere, but the specificity of the players’ interlocking relationships adds enormously to the drama. Arousing outrage and disbelief in equal measure, this Tribeca fest highlight should score strongly with critics and arthouse auds and flourish in ancillary.
Two sisters, Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, disappeared in July 1997. Two days later, the body of Marijoy Chiong was found blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten. Paco Larranaga and six others were arrested for her rape and murder, although dozens of reputable witnesses and photographic evidence placed Larranaga 300 miles away at the time of the crime.
Helmer Michael Collins and producer Marty Syjuco (a distant relative of Larranaga’s) posit few alternative scenarios about what actually happened; rather, they let the case’s multiple discrepancies speak for themselves, chief among them the fact that Marijoy Chiong’s father worked for drug lord Peter Lim and was scheduled to testify against him until his daughters disappeared. Furthermore, policemen who moonlighted as Lim’s bodyguards investigated the murder.
When no support for the charges could be found, a new suspect — an ex-con whose cellmates claimed he was tortured by cops — appeared and testified that he reluctantly participated in the crime, implicating all those arrested as ringleaders. During the trial (in the Philippines, by judge and not by jury), key defense witnesses were not allowed to testify and defense lawyers were summarily jailed for contempt.
The filmmakers concisely sum up the explosive sociopolitical background of the principal players. The Chiongs belong to the traditionally oppressed Chinese-Malay majority. The girls’ mother, Thelma Chiong (whose sister was longtime secretary to President Estrada) mobilized the press and the government in massive campaigns against Larranaga, whose family belongs to a ruling elite with ties to oppositional political candidates.
The filmmakers savvily stitch together newscasts, tabloid headlines, TV interviews and other archival materials, along with their own interviews with Larranaga, his parents and his sister, to capture the incredible media circus that surrounded the case. The most incredible footage comes from a filmed reconstruction of prosecution testimony, with actors portraying defendants callously brutalizing actresses portraying the Chiong sisters: This inflammatory re-creation was broadcast on national television during the trial, before the defense presented its case. The appeal and long aftermath of the trial prove equally melodramatic. Resolution is not forthcoming.
Docus about abuses of justice abound, but few present complicated events in so concrete, linear and compelling a fashion.