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HOW SWEET IT IS Hubert Webb, now 41, flashes a big smile as he speaks at a press conference in the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City. RAFFY LERMA


SC acquits Webb et al.

Eyewitness testimony found unbelievable

By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:05:00 12/15/2010

Filed Under: Crime and Law and Justice, Judiciary (system of justice), Massacre

MANILA, Philippines?Hubert Webb and six others were acquitted Tuesday of the grisly 1991 Vizconde massacre by the Supreme Court, which thrashed the testimony of the prosecution?s star witness Jessica Alfaro as ?incredible and unbelievable.?

So, who did it? Who murdered Estrellita Vizconde and her daughters Jennifer, 7, and Carmela, 18, who was raped before being stabbed to death?

Voting 7-4, the high court acquitted Webb, Antonio Lejano, Michael Gatchalian, Hospicio Fernandez, Miguel Rodriguez, Peter Estrada and Gerardo Biong ?for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.?

All of them have been released. Biong, a former policeman convicted of destroying the evidence at the crime scene, was freed two weeks ago after having completed his sentence.

The decision does not cover two other accused, Joey Filart and Artemio Ventura, who have remained at large.

The high court?s 38-page decision to acquit Webb et al. revolved mainly around what it said was an ?incredible and unbelievable? testimony of Alfaro and the alibi presented by Webb that he was in the United States at the time of the crime, which the prosecutors had failed to disprove.

?Ultimately, Alfaro?s quality as a witness and her inconsistent, if not inherently unbelievable, testimony cannot be the positive identification that jurisprudence acknowledges as sufficient to jettison a denial and an alibi,? the tribunal said in the decision written by Associate Justice Roberto Abad.

How they voted

Those who concurred with Abad were Senior Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza and Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

?I vote for the revocation of the verdict of conviction there being a lingering doubt,? Mendoza wrote above his signature in the promulgated decision.

Those who dissented were Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Martin Villarama, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Arturo Brion.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who had testified in the trial, did not participate in the deliberations.

Senior Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., a distant relative of a party to the case, was on official leave.

Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura abstained because he filed a pleading in the case when he was the solicitor general. Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo inhibited as well because one of the convicts is a client of his wife?s law firm, according to court administrator and spokesman Jose Midas Marquez.

Lingering doubt

In the decision, the Supreme Court said it was reversing the decision dated Dec. 15, 2005, and resolution dated Jan. 26, 2007, of the Court of Appeals and ordering the immediate release from detention of Webb et al. ?unless they are confined for another lawful cause.?

?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 high court said, adding:

?For it would be a serious mistake to send an innocent man to jail where such kind of doubt hangs on to one?s inner being, like a piece of meat lodged immovable between teeth.

?Will the court send the accused to spend the rest of their lives in prison on the testimony of an NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) asset who proposed to her handlers that she take the role of the witness to the Vizconde massacre that she could not produce??

Marquez said the Supreme Court?s decision questioned the ?quality? of the witness presented by the prosecution, ?suspicious details that continued to linger on the quality of the testimony because of marked inherent inconsistencies and supposed corroboration of other witnesses that could not be relied on.?

NBI ?darling?

Alfaro?s testimony failed to convince the magistrates, who noted in the decision that she could have lied in pointing to Webb et al. as the perpetrators of the gruesome crime that had shocked the nation.

The high court said Alfaro was not an ordinary NBI asset but a ?darling? of the agents because she had helped bring about the arrest of a number of notorious drug pushers and criminals.

It said Alfaro might have pieced together the details of the crime with the help of her easy access to NBI information and the details widely reported in the media.

The high court also noted that in his testimony before the trial court, NBI official Artemio Sacaguing said Alfaro had claimed to know someone with knowledge of what happened on the night of the crime, but that she eventually volunteered to assume the role when she failed to produce the informant.

Sacaguing testified that he had warned Alfaro that she could not do that because she was not an eyewitness to the crime.

The court discussed in detail the ?abundant? inconsistencies in Alfaro?s testimony, such as her claim that Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez and Filart had agreed to Webb?s proposal to gang-rape Carmela and yet it was only Webb, Lejano and Ventura who entered the house.

It pointed out that the rest supposedly stayed outside the house where they could have been easily seen by the Vizcondes? neighbors who were having a drinking party.

?Mr. X?

The high court said the prosecution had failed to corroborate its ?core theory? that Webb and Carmela Vizconde were sweethearts, and that it was her being unfaithful to him that prompted him to hurt her.

Alfaro had testified that she followed Carmela out of the house and saw her drop off a man somewhere near their Paraaque City subdivision. She said Webb?s mood darkened after she told him about what she had seen.

But the high court wondered why Carmela?s unidentified male companion, her boyfriend as Alfaro had presumed in her testimony, had never surfaced.

This ?Mr. X,? according to the tribunal, the supposed object of Webb?s jealousy, should have surfaced upon news of Carmela?s murder, but apparently ?did not exist.?

Moreover, the high court noted, none of Carmela?s friends ever testified that she and Webb had a relationship, or were at least going out.

?Alfaro?s claim of a five-hour drama is like an alien page, rudely and unconnectedly inserted into Webb and Carmela?s life stories or like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle trimmed to fit into the shape on the board but does not belong because it clashes with the surrounding pieces. It has neither antecedent nor concomitant support in the verifiable facts of their personal histories. It is quite unreal,? it said.

Documented alibi

As for Webb?s alibi that he was in the United States at the time of the crime, the Supreme Court said that if there were questions on the accuracy of his travel documents, the prosecution ?did not bother to present evidence to impeach the entries in Webb?s passport and the certifications of the Philippine and the US immigration services regarding his travel to the US and back.?

?Webb?s documented alibi altogether impeaches Alfaro?s testimony, not only with respect to him, but also with respect to Lejano, Estrada, Fernandez, Gatchalian, Rodriguez and Biong. For if the court accepts the proposition that Webb was in the US when the crime took place. Alfaro?s testimony will not hold together,? the tribunal said.

?Webb?s participation is the anchor of Alfaro?s story. Without it, the evidence against the others must necessarily fall,? it said.

The high court also said Webb was not entitled to be acquitted for the failure of the authorities to produce his semen sample because at the time of the trial, neither he nor his co-accused had brought up the matter of preserving the specimen.

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