Lauro Vizconde is not yet in the mood to celebrate the latest breakthrough in the reinvestigation of the murders of his wife, Estrellita, and daughters Carmela and Anna Marie Jennifer.
In a statement, Vizconde's counsel, Ferdinand Topacio, said his client is "guardedly optimistic" about this latest development.
“Mr. Lauro Vizconde is guardedly optimistic about the reports saying that a new witness has come out to testify regarding the events that transpired in connection with the murder of his wife and two daughters.
“While we welcome the continued efforts of the Department of Justice to have the case revived before it finally prescribes in June of this year, Mr. Vizconde hopes that the investigation will not lead to another dead end as it has in the past. He hopes and prays that the new witness will shed light on what really happened so that he may attain closure on this matter as he enters the twilight of his years," Topacio said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima announced another breakthrough in the reinvestigation Thursday but refused to give details.
Today, de Lima confirmed meeting the witness during the Vizconde case conference at the Department of Justice(DOJ) with the National Bureau of Investigation(NBI) and the Philippine National Police(PNP)-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group(CIDG).
"The witness was there, but for obvious reasons, for security reasons, kailangan muna kasi ma-maintain ang confidentiality. We cannot yet disclose kasi siyempre hindi madali yung lalantad ka at this point," de Lima said.
This witness, a female, executed a sworn statement and has agreed to a polygraph test.
Asked if the witness's testimony is substantial, de Lima said: "Hindi ko muna pwedeng sabihin yan kaya nga (nag-utos) ako na ipa-polygraph. Kasi kung pumasa siya sa polygraph, then malaking bagay yan at yan na nga yan."
The justice chief said the reinvestigation should provide closure and not raise more questions, thus the need to be careful in validating witnesses, evidence and information.
"If it's not conclusive, if it will raise more questions than answers, we better not release the results. Kasi mahirap yan lalo na kung ang resulta ay iba sa desisyon ng Supreme Court because it's not easy to refute the Supreme Court because that's a judicial body and nakapagsalita na sila...with finality na yung desisyon nila na acquitted na sina (Hubert) Webb based on reasonable doubt," de Lima said.
Hubert Webb and 6 others were acquitted by the high court December of last year for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
De Lima said the reinvestigation is being undertaken with extra care considering that if it points to Webb's group again, the DOJ, NBI and PNP-CIDG would then be in a collision course with the Supreme Court.
"Kung ganoon ang magiging resulta, kailangan sigurado kami. Because you have to contend with the Supreme Court na para bang in a manner of speaking, we would be in a direct collision course with the Supreme Court if we will say na sila pala yun ang therefore nagkamali rin ang Supreme Court. Kaya maingat kami, maingat kami dito.
"Now, kung iba naman ang resulta, na hindi pala talaga (sina) Webb, then you have to contend with the camp of Mr. Vizconde and yung mga supporters ni Mr. Vizconde. Tatanggapin ba nila yan? Kasi all this time, naka-focus lang sila talaga kina Webb, para sa kanila wala nang iba kundi sina Webb, so tatanggapin ba nila yun?
"Kaya ganoon ka-importante itong resulta ng reinvestigation. That's why you have to understand na hindi ko pa pwedeng sabihin itong mga ito. Kung nandyan na yung pinakatotohanan - kinukumpleto na lang namin - kung yun na yun, I have to report that. And when I report it, it has to be really the one na because of those (two things mentioned), either way, may problema tayo," she said.
'Truth has no deadline, prescriptive period'
Through his lawyer, Vizconde said he will continue to cooperate in the reinvestigation even if it will only be in the interest of truth.
“Mr. Vizconde no longer has any rancor in his heart against those whom he believes may have perpetrated that dastardly crime against his family. He simply wants to know the truth, and even if those whom the new witness will possibly name may no longer be prosecuted due to technicalities. We will cooperate with all efforts of the DOJ to unmask the culprits in this crime if only for the sake of truth because for us, the truth is eternal and has no deadline or prescriptive period,” Topacio said.
The murders were committed on June 30, 1991. The prescription period for the crime of murder is 20 years.
In the event that the prescription period on June 3oth lapses minus any conclusive results from the reinvestigation, de Lima said she will clear it with the Office of the President on whether to proceed with the reinvestigation, for the sake of closure. This would mean no one can be charged anymore for the murders.
"Yung mandate ng grupo (to reinvestigate), ng task force, came from the Office of the President, specifically (from) Executive Secretary (Paquito) Ochoa. So iki-clear ko yan..kung itutuloy pa ba beyond the prescriptive period, kung hindi namin makayanan na mahabol ang prescriptive period. Iki-clear ko rin yan sa Office of the President," she said.
Extreme time pressure
The justice chief said the DOJ, NBI and CIDG are trying their best to be able to file charges before the courts prior to the lapse of the prescription period.
"Everybody is aware of the extreme time pressure. Kung mga bago ang suspects, makakalibre na sila kung lumampas na. Kung mga bagong suspects, we should not go beyond the deadline, we have to file something," de Lima said.
De Lima refused to confirm whether the suspect or suspects being zeroed in belong(s) to a prominent family and whether the suspect(s) is/are here or abroad. She, however, said extradition proceedings will be initiated if the reinvestigation points to anybody living abroad.
De Lima said the NBI and CIDG are also working on physical evidence to pin down the perpetrator(s) of the crime.
Vizconde, through counsel, expressed faith in the efforts of the Justice chief to put closure to the case.
“We reiterate our utmost faith in the dedication of Secretary Leila de Lima, who has been most supportive of our crusade to know the truth since she started her term as Secretary of Justice, and wish to express our gratitude for her attitude of not giving up in the face of the fast-approaching deadline," Topacio said.