Massacre case ruling draws mixed reactions

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010


MANILA -- The acquittal of Hubert Jeffrey Webb and six others accused in the 1991 Vizconde massacre case on Tuesday has drawn mixed reactions from various groups and the online community.

Webb, together with five others, was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was tagged as the primary suspect in the murder of Estrellita Vizconde and daughters Carmela and Jennifer on June 29, 1991.

Webb, Antonio Lejano, Michael Gatchalian, Pyke Fernandez, Miguel Rodriguez and Peter Estrada walked free on Tuesday after spending 15 years in jail. Gerardo Biong, a convicted accessory in the case, was earlier released from prison after completing his sentence.

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Voting 7-4-4 (7 for acquittal; 4 for inhibited; 4 for guilty), the Supreme Court (SC) acquitted the six accused, citing inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. The Court also gave weight to the documentary evidence proving Webb was in the United States when the massacre took place.

The Vizconde patriarch, Lauro, almost collapsed at his home in Parañaque when he learned of the acquittal of Webb and his co-accused.

He said in a television interview on Tuesday evening that he has already accepted the Supreme Court's final ruling and leaves the decision to the court of the Divine Providence.

Dante Jimenez, president of the Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), chided the SC magistrates, saying money prompted the court to issue the controversial ruling.

He said the SC should not have set aside the ruling of the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals that found Webb and his co-accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

"Pera talaga ang laging umiiral sa ating hustisya (Money prevails in our justice system)," Jimenez said.

Jimenez said the SC magistrates have destroyed the people's trust in the country's criminal justice system.

Filipinos here and abroad also flocked to various social networking sites to post their comments on the landmark decision of the High Tribunal.

"So after ng labin-limang taon (So after 15 years), Hubert is innocent. What kind of justice system we have here in the country," read a post by @jolyos on social networking site Twitter.

Another post by @jelmin read: "The Webbs et al wasted 20 years of their lives paying for a crime they didn't commit, and Lauro Vizconde wasted it trusting the justice system."

The online reactions of Filipinos were too many that less than two hours after the ruling was issued, the words "Vizconde" and "Hubert Webb" became trending topics on Twitter, ranking sixth and seventh, respectively.

Webb insists on innocence

At the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, relatives and friends, as well as journalists, conducted stake-out waiting for the delivery of the release papers for Webb.

The documents reached the desk of Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) Director General Ernesto Diokno at 3:34 p.m. Tuesday and were signed at 3:47 p.m.

A beaming Webb showed his release papers to the media as he was hugged by his father, Freddie Webb, and siblings.

At a press conference, Hubert Webb said the whole thing felt "surreal" and that he was thankful that the "truth has finally come out." He said he is looking forward to spending his first Christmas with his family in 15 years at their residence in Parañaque City.

He said he and his co-accused never lost faith in the system despite the difficulties during their long period of incarceration.

"Lumabas ang totoo at naniwala kami sa sistema. Labin-limang taon naming tinanggap kaya nagpapasalamat kami na lumabas ang katotohahan," he said.

Webb challenged prosecution witness Jessica Alfaro to just tell the truth. He said he and his co-accused are even willing to undergo a lie-detector test to prove their innocence.

"One of us is lying. If she says she's telling the truth, why don't we all take a lie-detector test at the same time so that we'll know who's really telling the truth? We took on every challenge including the DNA test just to prove that we are innocent," he added.

Alfaro surfaced four years after the massacre and gave testimonies that led to the conviction of Webb and the six others in 2000.

The SC, however, said in its decision acquitting Webb that Alfaro is not an eyewitness but a National Bureau of Investigation agent.

Webb said he is willing to go back to jail if people want to re-examine the defense's evidence, including his plane tickets, passports and other sworn affidavits attesting that he left the country before the murders happened.

Answered prayers

Hubert's father was also emotional with the development, saying that God has finally answered their family's prayers.

"You have to understand he has lost 15 years of his life. Since day one, we were saying he was in the United States but only a few people believed it. We cannot blame them because at that time, there were so many things being written in the newspapers that, if I didn't know anything about the case, I would be the one to throw a stone at Hubert Webb," the elder Webb said.

"The emotions are there because we are talking of 15 years wasted in the life of my son. He lost the most critical years of any person, that's from 26 years old to 41. He should not be in jail not for a minute or even a second," he added.

"I hope somehow this will teach a lesson for us not to be judgmental. To Mr. Vizconde, I hope he will not feel anger to us," he said.

Plans

In a television interview on Tuesday evening, Hubert Webb said he has many long-term plans after his freedom but said he will focus first on spending Christmas with his family.

His co-accused, Pyke Fernandez, meanwhile, said he is planning to continue his studies.

The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that two other suspects in the Vizconde massacre case are not yet off the hook.

SC spokesman and Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said the suspects Joey Filart and Artemio Ventura need to undergo trial before the court.

The two suspects have remained at-large since the trial of the Vizconde massacre case before Paranaque City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Presiding Judge Amelita Tolentino, who is now an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals.

Marquez said there was no automatic acquittal in the case, unless the two other suspects would undergo trial before the court.

Those who voted for the acquittal of Webb and five others were Associate Justices Roberto Abad, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza and Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Those who voted against the acquittal were Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion and Martin Villarama Jr.

Those who inhibited themselves and did not participate in the voting were Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Mariano Del Castillo.

Lesson to learn

On the heels of the historic ruling, President Benigno Aquino III expressed his sympathy to Lauro.

"Initially, of course, we sympathize with Mr. Lauro Vizconde," the President said in a text message Tuesday.

At the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Boying Remulla, meanwhile, said the acquittal is a lesson in legal history because the rules on evidence, especially on semen specimen used for DNA analysis, will be brought into light.

"It just tells us that DNA evidence now is heavily considered by the courts," Remulla told reporters.

The lawmaker added that the bigger implication is that those who have been convicted of rape in the past and are still serving their sentence will now be appealing to the court citing the Webb case.

"This decision is already a warning to all those authorities to take care of the evidence properly," Remulla said.

Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano meanwhile said that the long road to justice for the Webb family "was very agonizing".

"If only modern forensic science was available then, swift justice could have been won earlier by the victims, including Hubert," he added. (AH/Kathrina Alvarez/Jill Beltran/Virgil Lopez/PNA/Sunnex)

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