MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Supreme Court has acquitted the main suspects in the much publicized Vizconde massacre case, ending their years of burden for being incarcerated.
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Rather than closing the case that has gripped the hearts of a grieving husband and father and the whole nation, it has further provoked many questions, including: Who really killed Estrellita Vizconde and her daughters Carmela and Jennifer?
Voting 7 for acquittal, 4 dissenting with the majority opinion, and 4 abstentions, the high court has allowed Hubert Webb, the son of a former senator, and other scions of influential families to be freed.
The acquittal ruling bars the filing of an appeal as per the doctrine of double jeopardy.
In a press conference, SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the decision is couched on “the failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”
“The majority is questioning the quality of the testimonies [of witnesses]…and their inherent inconsistencies,” he said.
It was only Webb who filed a petition for acquittal, but because of the conspiracy doctrine, the other accused have also been cleared.
The others are: Antonio "Tony Boy" Lejano, son of actress Pinky de Leon; Michael Gatchalian and Miguel Rodriguez, sons of prominent lawyers; Peter Estrada, son of a wealthy businessman; Pyke Fernandez, son of a retired commodore; and former police officer Gerardo Biong.
Marquez said the high court is ordering their immediate release from prison “unless held for another lawful cause.”
The Bureau of Corrections has to report what it has done within 5 days.
Associate Justice Roberto Abad wrote the decision. The other concurring magistrates are: Associate Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Maria Lourdes Serrano.
The dissenting opinion was written by Associate Justice Martin Villarama, Jr. The other dissenters are: Chief Justice Renato Corona, Teresita de Castro and Arturo Brion.
Four magistrates abstained: Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, who earlier testified during the case hearing; Mariano del Castillo, whose wife is working for one of the Webb’s counsel; Presbitero Velasco, Jr., who has close relations to one of the parties; and, Antonio Eduardo Nachura, who was former Solicitor General.
‘We have nothing to do with the loss of his family'
Former Senator Freddie Webb, father of Hubert Webb, on Tuesday thanked God for answering his prayers that his son be acquitted in the Vizconde massacre case.
In a radio dzMM interview, Webb could hardly speak with emotion after hearing that the Supreme Court had acquitted his son in the gruesome massacre 15 years after the latter was sent to jail for the crime.
"You have to understand – he has lost 15 years of his life. Since Day 1, we have already been saying that he was in the US 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. And now it has finally come to light. The Lord will answer your prayers," he said.
Asked his message for Lauro Vizconde, Webb said: "There is a difference between him and me. Alam naman niya… kahit paano nag-imbestiga din kami. We have nothing to do with the loss of his family. I agree with him. I could imagine... at least tama siya na at least ang anak namin nandiyan. But I don't know why...my son has been in jail for 15 years for a crime he has not committed."
Webb said he is now on his way to prison to finally see his son be freed. "I don't know if there is paperwork but I am on my way to pick up my son," he said.
Vizconde assails decision
Meanwhile, an emotional Lauro Vizconde cried and fainted after hearing the news that the Supreme Court had acquitted Webb and the 5 others accused.
Vizconde was immediately surrounded by relatives and supporters who have been with him 19 years since the massacre, reported ABS-CBN correspondent Jing Castañeda, who was at the family's residence in Parañaque City after the decision was announced on Tuesday morning.
“Panawagan. Hindi po nakuha sa dalangin natin kaya po kayo na po ang gumawa ng paraan kung paano magkakaroon ng hustiya ang pagkawala ng aking mga mahal sa buhay,” Vizconde said.
While slumped on a chair, Vizconde tearfully said, “Ewan ko...Diyos ko! Bakit mo po ako pinababayaan?”
The former overseas Filipino worker (OFW) said he did everything he could to get justice for his wife Estrellita and daughters Carmela and Jennifer.
“Ginawa ko lahat ng magagawa ko sa tulong ng lahat ng nagmamalasakit sa akin. Pero wala. Maski mga dasal ko, parang hindi dininig,” he said.
When asked what he would like to say to his family, Vizconde replied, “Wala akong masasabi sa kanila basta sa kabilang buhay, doon na lang po kami husgahan pare-pareho.”
Vizconde pointed to supposed lobbying at the high court in the decision.
“Ano pa ba ang masasabi natin? Kaila pa ba sa inyo ang rampant corruption sa ating gubyerno? Umpisahan mo sa pinuno sa kaibabaan. Kaya yan ang kinatatakutan ko, hindi magtatagal iyan nga ang nangyari,” he said.
“Kilala na. Nalaman na ng taongbayan. Kaya ko ibinulgar yun para at least man lang sana ay magkaroon ng dalawang pagiisip. Pero hindin pa rin. Sakim ng salapi alam ko,” he added.
The grieving man
For many months, the nation waited for the decision of the Supreme Court following the failure of police authorities to present the one last evidence that could have further held Webb as the culpable party—the sperm specimen found in the body of Carmela.
The wait, however, was said to be more excruciating for the complainant. Lauro Vizconde found himself at a loss as to how such kind of carnage has befallen his family.
On the morning of June 30, 1991, the 47-year-old Estrellita, 18-year-old Carmela and 7-year-old Jennifer was found murdered in their home in BF Homes Subdivision in Parañaque.
It was only after 4 years that an eyewitness, Jessica Alfaro, emerged and gave context to the crime.
Alfaro, who was a confessed drug addict, submitted several testimonies that befuddled the minds of legal pundits, conspiracy theorists and film makers alike.
In the end, then Parañaque trial court Branch 274 Judge Amelita Tolentino gave credence to the issues raised by the prosecution including the relevance of Alfaro’s testimony.
The accused were convicted on January 6, 2000.
Alfaro, who is now in the United States and married to one of her then bodyguards, testified that she was with the suspects on the night of June 29, 1991.
They had then finished a shabu session until they decided to go to Carmela’s house. Webb was supposedly smitten with the young lass and decided he would rape her.
Alfaro said she was tagged along because Estrellita only allowed her daughter to entertain female visitors. The group, in 3 different cars, had to go back and forth the subdivision waiting for the right moment to enter the Vizonde’s home. All had sniffed shabu with each turn.
Alfaro said she saw Webb follow Carmela while the others acted as lookouts. Estrellita was supposedly killed first before Webb raped Carmela.
Jennifer tried to stop Webb but was hurled to a wall and then later killed.
Estrellita had sustained 13 stab wounds, Carmela had 17 and Jennifer had 19.
After the carnage, Webb called policeman Gerardo Biong supposedly to clean their “mess.” Biong supposedly destroyed vital physical evidence such as the clothing and the bloodied bedsheets.
The charge sheet
The panel of prosecutors, which filed the case in 1995, said “neither can we discredit Alfaro merely because of the inconsistencies in her two sworn statements. Citing Angelo vs. Court of Appeals, the Court refused to discredit the testimony of a witness accusing therein petitioner for the slaying of one Gaviano Samaniego even though said witness failed to name Angelo in his affidavit which was executed five (5) months earlier. Granting, the Court continued, that a part of the witness' testimony is untrue, such circumstance is not sufficient to discredit the entire testimony of the witness."
On the defense’s rebuttal, the prosecution said “denial is a self-serving negative which cannot be given greater evidentiary weight than the declaration of a credible witness who testified on affirmative matters.”
Their alibis were supposedly weak, including Webb’s claims that he was in the US when the murders happened.
The defense produced documents and presented 95 witnesses while the prosecution presented only 7 witnesses. The accused were meted out the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
They also lost the case before the Court of Appeals on December 16, 2005. This was affirmed on January 2007.
Dissenting opinions emerged there, however. They gave credence to Webb’s passport issued by the Bureau of Immigration which bears a departure stamp of March 9, 1991 and arrival stamp of October 27, 1992.
Webb also presented certifications from the US-INS Washington DC confirming his entry to the United States.
Then Justice Lucenito Tagle, who is now Comelec commissioner, said: “To hold an accused guilty as a co-principal of conspiracy, there must be sufficient and unbroken chain of events that directly and definitely links the accused to the commission of the crime without any space for baseless supposition or frenzied theories to filter through.”
Legal wheels continued to turn after the SC earlier announced it was deciding the case even without the DNA sample it had asked.
The lawyers of Webb filed contempt charges against the police authorities who supposedly lost the exculpatory evidence.
Fiscals, on the other hand, said that the same evidence is not anymore important considering the voluminous texts and other pieces of information they had submitted. Their case, of course, is anchored on their wins before the lower courts.
The controversy came to another peak when Biong was released from prison after having fully served his sentence.
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, where Vizconde is a member, cried foul. It said Biong’s release from prison showcased of things to come.
The decision of the magistrates proved their fears.
Marquez said: “The court will decide cases in accordance with facts, whether the decision is popular or unpopular.”