Philippines: Paco Larrañaga and six others risk spending their lives in prison, based on a verdict that this film suggests is a miscarriage of justice. Will this film help free Paco? The directors tell DoX about their work on the film.
Imagine fifteen years of your life – and counting – in which you have been imprisoned, away from your home, away from your family and friends, your young life abruptly interrupted. And you are innocent of the charges against you. In 1997, on the island of Cebu in the Philippines, two sisters, both in their early 20s, went missing. To this day, their bodies have never been recovered. On the evening of their disappearance, 19-year-old Paco Larrañaga, a culinary arts student, was hundreds of miles away in Manila at a party with friends. Nonetheless, he – along with a group of other young men who were nowhere near the scene of the crime – was summarily rounded up, arrested and charged with the rapes and murders of the sisters.
Paco Larrañaga, in particular, was essentially tried and convicted by the local Filipino tabloid press before his trial was over; the court of law sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole and without letting him testify in his own defense. After having his sentence transferred, Larrañaga is currently incarcerated in a maximumsecurity prison in Spain. Paco’s father is Spanish and the family asked the Spanish government for help when a death sentence was handed down by the Philippine courts in 2004. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Fair Trials International, and the United Nations, as well as the Government of Spain, have all unequivocally gone on record as saying that Paco’s case has been a gross miscarriage of justice. Whatever the outcome of their fight to free him, it is almost certain that he will never be able to return to his homeland and live in peace. In that same year (1997), Michael Collins moved to New York City after graduating from art school in upstate New York where he studied computer animation, photography and video. A few years later, he met partner, Marty Syjuco, a relative of Paco’s by marriage. Syjuco knew very little about the case at the time; once in a while, a few cloudy details would emerge about something that had happened to his brother’s wife’s younger sibling. In 2004, when Paco’s life sentence was elevated to the death penalty, Syjuco’s brother, Jamie, panicked and helpless, asked the two men for assistance. Collins explains:
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