“That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change…”

Seems like a lot of PBS documentary films set in the Philippines are coming out of the woodwork lately.  A few months ago, I saw Left By the Ship on Independent Lens , and last week on POVGive Up Tomorrow. That’s awesome!!  Okay, I might be a little biased
Give Up Tomorrow was more relatable to me.  Not because anything in my life resembles the predicament of the film’s primary subject, Paco Larrañaga… well, come to think of it, no one’s life could.  Back in the late 90s, well before the social media and just before the 24-hour news cycle, I remember catching the occasional word about the Philippines’ version of “The Trial of the Century.”  I never took the time to learn much about it, thinking it was just some Filipino hyperbole.

From the film’s website

As a tropical storm beats down on the Philippine island of Cebu, two sisters leave work and never make it home…

GIVE UP TOMORROW exposes a Kafkaesque extravaganza populated by flamboyantly corrupt public officials, cops on the take, and a frenzied legal and media circus. It is also an intimate family drama focused on the near mythic struggle of two angry and sorrowful mothers who have dedicated more than a decade to executing or saving one young man, Paco Larrañaga.

So, no, unlike Paco, I’ve never been convicted and sentenced to death for rape and murder, even though 35 witnesses and at least one photograph place me 350 miles away from the crime scene.  But when I hear the stories of the things the victims’ family and Larrañaga’s family did to try and prove Paco’s guilt or innocence–things people in most civilized countries would call trading in influence, corruption, cronyism, and nepotism–I remembered how I grew up hearing that those sorts of methods were, regrettably, simply “the way things are done.”  Or, in the immortal words of Bruce Hornsby and the Range, “That’s just the way it is.”  In other words, you needed to do what you needed to do in order to get your due in what everyone knows is a broken system.

Because if you think your son is suffering through what you see is a gross miscarriage of justice, and you had the position and influence to take advantage of an international law to get him moved to another country, what might you do?

If you think someone is about to get away with the rape and murder of your children because you fear his family could use their position and influence to do just that, and you have relatives who are cops, or who literally work in the office of the President of the Philippines, or who actually happens to be The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, what might you do?

The amazing thing about the film is it’s example of how virtually every person in it really does see her or himself as the hero of his or her own story.  From Paco, to the Larrañagas, to the Chiongs (the victims’ family), even down to the judge who gave these bizarre rulings and even fell asleep (yeah, you read that right) at different points during the trial.

Well, except for maybe one person.

Near the end of the film, Paco’s mother berates herself for not having allowed her son to flee the country to the US or Spain (where they have relatives) when the charges were announced, against the advice of virtually everyone around her.  That strategy isn’t so unusual, even for ostensibly innocent people: go on the lam for a bit, maybe to another province or another country, let the heat die down a bit, and let the evidence wind its way through.  But Paco’s mother refused to play that game.  She applied the reasoning that most others would apply: 35 witnesses + 1 photograph = This’ll get straightened out in a jiffy.  And because she made that bet, she continues to ask herself to this day if she was a bad mother.

When people can feel like a failure as a parent for trusting the system, it’s no wonder they think they live in a world where “some things will never change.”