Submitted on Sat, 19 Oct 2013 - 07:14 PM
Whenever the death penalty issue has arisen, arguments are automatically sparked as the issue is highly controversial. The victims and families probably want the offenders to receive the punishment they thought they deserved, whereas some would argue that the offenders might never truly plead guilty for the crimes they have caused. Or in a worst case scenario, what would happen if innocent people got imprisoned and sentenced to death for a crime they have not committed?
Such a case actually happened in the Philippines. Fransico Larrañaga or Paco, a Spanish-Filipino, has been jailed for over a decade and given a death sentence for a crime that he has not committed. His real life story has been recorded and put into a heart-wrenching documentary film “Give up tomorrow” by Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco. It premiered in Thailand with support from Amnesty International Thailand and the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice on Thursday the 10th of October, also known as the World Day against the Death Penalty.
Paco, together with six other men was wrongly accused of the rapes and murders of the Chinese-Filipino Chiong sisters on Cebu island, despite a great deal of evidence that he was miles and miles away in Manila when the incident took place.
'Give Up Tomorrow' movie trailer
At first the case was thought by the public to be merely a criminal case, but as the documentary dug deeper into the background of the situation, everything became more complicated than it seemed. This involved multiple players, from local up to the national-level, starkly affecting not only the life of Paco but also the entire moral foundation of the justice system of the Philippines. The murky political games, involvement of the Choing family with legally questionable businesses, and corrupt governmental officials all contributed to Paco’s case. Moreover, Paco’s family background involving national politics and his Spanish-Filipino background, considered as a superior class of the Filipino society, were all contributing factors to him being ‘picked’ as the perfect scapegoat of the case.
And on top of everything, the media slandered his character and background to get public attention. By selectively presenting a one-sided story of the case, the media enormously affected the public sentiment and supported the unfair judgments from all levels of the justice system. Paco and his family then fought for his human rights by asking for international intervention from Spain, Amnesty International and the UN. The outside world reacted promptly and the Philippines eventually was pressured to abolish the death penalty. However, Paco still remains in jail for the crime he has not committed.
Currently, 58 countries still practice the death penalty actively. Although many studies have proved that having the death penalty does not reduce the number of crimes committed, many countries are hesitant to abolish the death penalty as abolition would cause public resistance and social paranoia about crime rates.
This hesitance also applies to Thailand. Director General of. Department of Rights and Liberties Protection Pol.Col. Narat Sawetanan said that even though he respected the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was in favour of abolition, the sensitivity of the public on the issue is high and it would cause resistance if the country announced the complete abolition of the death penalty. Nonetheless, his department is advocating for change as there is an effort to use the term “transforming death penalty to life imprisonment” instead of “abolishing the death penalty”.
However, Thailand should bear in mind that changing the degree of punishment does not mean that the problem of injustice will automatically be fixed at its root. Plenty of cases like Paco’s are still happening, and many of these “Pacos” might never have the chance to prove themselves innocent. A truly just society will only exist in Thailand if the country takes its commitment to human rights on the global level seriously. Additionally, the legal and legislative systems must cease abusing their powers to destroy political enemies, while the media dares to present all relevant facts freely and comprehensively.