Ruling raises more questions, lawyers point out

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010


CEBU CITY -- In acquitting the respondents in the Vizconde massacre, the Supreme Court (SC) stirred up more questions than answers and gave controversy rather than closure to one of the country’s most celebrated criminal cases.

Why, for one, did the justices revisit facts and reevaluate a witness’s testimony, when previous decisions hold that passing judgment on evidence and testimony is better left to lower courts?

“I find myself staring into a paradox. Personally, I think it’s a sad day for our criminal justice system,” said lawyer Michael Yu, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter.

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Yu also pointed out that the High Court only goes into an en banc session on a criminal case when an existing jurisprudence is questioned by the parties.

“The Larrañaga case went to a division,” Yu said, referring to the case of the Chiong sisters. One of the convicts was Francisco Larrañaga, now imprisoned in Spain.

“It was only brought before the Supreme Court en banc when a motion for reconsideration as filed,” Yu said.

Dionisio Chiong, the father of the victims in the Chiong case, said he prays that Lauro Vizconde can “find refuge in the belief that his loved ones are in a better place, because there is nothing more that can be done at this point.”

Lauro is the husband of Estrellita and the father of Carmela and Jennifer, who were found dead in their Parañaque City home in June 1991, while he was working abroad.

“We know the pain he feels right now. This is no small matter,” Chiong said.

The legal proceedings against the accused in the abduction, rape and murder of his daughter Marijoy Chiong, and the continued disappearance of another, Jacqueline, began about a year after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed the case against Hubert Webb and his co-respondents for the Vizconde massacre in August 1995.

“I can feel for both... Imagine what Mr. Vizconde is going through losing daughters and a wife, and also for the Webb family, I’m sure they really believe their son is innocent,” said Councilor Margarita Osmeña.

Councilor Sisinio Andales, a lawyer, said he trusts in the wisdom of the justices of the Supreme Court.

“Let’s respect the decision and move on,” said Councilor Alvin Dizon.

Voting 7-4 with 4 abstentions, the Supreme Court acquitted on Tuesday all the accused in the Vizconde massacre, except for two who remain at large.

The court said there was “abundant presence” of inherent inconsistencies in the testimony of Jessica Alfaro.

Webb provided a certification from the US immigration department and a computer printout of his arrival and departure that was authenticated by the US State Department and the US Attorney General.

Accepting Webb’s alibi impeaches the rest of Alfaro’s testimony against all other respondents.

“Webb’s participation is the anchor of Alfaro’s story.  Without it, the evidence against the others must necessarily fall,” the High Court ruled.

“In our criminal justice system, what is important is not whether the court entertains doubts about the innocence of the accused, since an open mind is willing to explore all possibilities, but whether it entertains a reasonable, lingering doubt as to his guilt,” the ruling read.

On why the High Court decided to revisit facts already established despite jurisprudence to the contrary, Yu said they might have thought reviewing the evidence was so important that not doing so would “trample substantial justice.”

“There have been cases in the past where the SC went into the factual circumstance of the case but these are exceptions,” he added.

Lawyer Dave Duallo agreed.

“The jurisprudence is consistent on this. The trial judge who observes a witness is in the best position to judge the witness’s demeanor and veracity and to evaluate the credibility of his testimony,” he said.

He, however, stressed there is no point in second-guessing the Supreme Court.

“Ours is a rule of law. We have rules to follow,” he said. (KNR/JGA/Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 15, 2010.

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