A message from Faisal Saifee:
I am a barrister-at-law. We were instructed in 2004, following the appeal to the Supreme Court. At that stage the family were desperate and, certainly after the Supreme Court’s rejection of the motion for reconsideration, realised that they could not find justice in the Philippines. I was working with Fair Trials International at the time. Previously, I had spent several months in 2003 researching the death penalty and post-conviction remedies in the Philippines. I had also written a published paper titled “Dead Certain: A critical study of the standard of proof in Philippine Death Penalty Cases” and so was uniquely placed to assist. We filed on 15 August 2005, and the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted its views on 24 July 2006, following a number of written submissions having been made to the Committee.
Without a doubt, Paco’s case was the greatest travesty of justice I have encountered in my career.
The entire proceedings in the Philippines were blighted by the massive, undue and wholly unprecedented pressure campaign for a conviction. It prevented any possibility of a fair trial. Despite that campaign, even the trial court acquitted Paco of rape and homicide. Astonishingly, the Supreme Court went on to reverse the trial court’s decision without Paco being present, without hearing from the witnesses or even holding a public hearing.
Following a thorough review of all proceedings in the Philippines, the United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded in 2006 that there had been multiple violations of Paco’s fundamental rights. He did not have a fair trial or impartial judges. Particularly, the Committee concluded the trial judge “excluded” several key defence witnesses, “put a number of leading questions to the prosecution” and relied on the evidence of an alleged accomplice who had lied about his criminal convictions, was granted immunity from prosecution and who admitted raping one of the victims. Crucially, the Committee concluded “neither the trial court nor the Supreme Court” properly considered Paco’s case.
The international system is there to intervene for the case that has gone very badly wrong. This was that case and the Human Rights Committee’s views must be respected.
For the first time, millions of people in the Philippines will have a chance to watch Innocent on Death Row, directed by highly acclaimed filmmaking team, director Michael Collins and producer, Marty Syjuco, when it premieres on Philippine television on BBC World News on Saturday March 14, 2015.
“We hope this film will prompt outrage, action, a response…” says Syjuco.
Innocent on Death Row, based on the award-winning full-length documentary film Give Up Tomorrow, tells the powerful story of Paco Larranaga, a teen who was wrongfully accused of the rape and murders of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong one stormy night in 1997 on the island of Cebu.
With archival footage and breathtaking testimonies, the film masterfully chronicles the chilling homicide details and media hysteria surrounding the court case of the heinous crime, once dubbed “The Trial of the Century”. But at its center, the film exposes the corrupt, utterly flawed investigation and subsequent conviction of an innocent man, condemned to death row for a crime he couldn’t possibly have committed. While the film stands as a persuasive indictment against this injustice, it also serves as a tender portrait of a courageous young man and his loving family who are forced to endure a harrowing Kafkaesque nightmare – one that reveals schisms of race, class and political power at the core of the Philippines’ democracy. Despite the fact that the feature documentary on the Cebu case was instrumental in helping the Philippines abolish the death penalty, Larranaga remains behind bars, where he’s grown from a boy to a man over the past 17 years.
Called “jaw-dropping” by The New York Times, and “a must-see” by the Huffington Post, the story of Paco Larranaga has resonated with global audiences, winning more than 18 international film awards, including two top honors at Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Film Festival where it made its American debut. The story has attracted the attention of numerous American and European celebrities including notably Martin Gore, of the UK band Depeche Mode, who is the current face of the Free Paco Now campaign, directed at raising awareness of the Larranaga case.
Innocent on Death Row will air on March 14 on BBC World News as part of “Storyville Global” an international documentary strand, featuring 20 outstanding works by filmmakers around the globe.
BBC World News reaches 300 million homes worldwide.