MANILA, Philippines?There are two ?controlling issues? in the case, the Supreme Court said. These are:
? Whether or not Jessica Alfaro?s testimony as eyewitness, describing the crime and identifying Hubert Webb, Antonio Lejano, Michael Gatchalian, Hospicio Fernandez, Peter Estrada, Miguel Rodriguez and two others as the persons who committed it, is entitled to belief.
? Whether or not Webb presented sufficient evidence to prove his alibi and rebut Alfaro?s testimony that he led the others in committing the crime.
The quality of the witness
Was Alfaro an ordinary subdivision girl who showed up at the National Bureau of Investigation after four years, bothered by her conscience or egged on by relatives or friends to come forward and do what was right? No. She was, at the time she revealed her story, working for the NBI as an ?asset? ? one who earned her living by fraternizing with criminals so she could squeal on them to her NBI handlers. She had to live a life of lies to get rewards that would pay for her subsistence and vices.
But was it possible for Alfaro to lie with such abundant details some of which even tallied with the physical evidence at the scene of the crime? No doubt, yes. Firstly, the Vizconde massacre had been reported in the media with dizzying details.
Alfaro was the NBI?s star witness, their badge of excellent investigative work. After claiming that they had solved the crime of the decade, the NBI people had a stake in making her sound credible and, obviously, they gave her all the preparations she needed for the job of becoming a fairly good substitute witness. She was their ?darling? of an asset? Why the trial court and the Court of Appeals failed to see this is mystifying.
The quality of the testimony
What motivated Alfaro to stick it out the whole night with Webb and his friends? They were practically strangers to her and her boyfriend Estrada. When it came to a point that Webb decided with his friends to gang-rape Carmela, clearly, there was nothing in it for Alfaro? If, on the other hand, Alfaro had been too soaked in drugs to think clearly and just followed along where the group took her, how could she remember so many details that only a drug-free mind can?
Alfaro?s trailing Carmela to spy on her unfaithfulness to Webb did not make sense since she was on a limited errand. But, as a critical witness, Alfaro had to provide a reason for Webb to freak out and decide to come with his friends and harm Carmela.
According to Alfaro, when they returned to Carmela?s house the third time at around midnight, she led Webb, Lejano, and Ventura through the pedestrian gate that Carmela had left open. Now, this is weird? Why would Alfaro, a woman, a stranger to Webb before that night, and obviously with no role to play in the gang-rape of Carmela, lead him and the others into the house?
Among the accused, Webb presented the strongest alibi.
Webb claims that in 1991 his parents, Freddie and Elizabeth Webb, sent him to the United States to learn the value of independence, hard work and money.
On June 28, 1991, Webb?s parents visited him in Anaheim, California, and stayed with the Brottmans. On the same day, Freddie Webb introduced Honesto Aragon to his son when he came to visit. [On] June 29, Webb, in the company of his father and Aragon, went to Riverside, California, to look for a car. They bought an MR2 Toyota car? To prove the purchase, Webb presented the Public Records of California Department of Motor Vehicle and a car plate ?LEW WEBB.?
In using the car in the United States, Webb even received traffic citations. On June 30, 1991, Webb, again accompanied by his father and Aragon, bought a bicycle at Orange Cycle Center, which issued him a receipt.
When he arrived in Manila, Webb again went through Philippine immigration. The arrival stamp and initials on his passport indicated his return to Manila on Oct. 27, 1992.
Alibi vs positive ID
The trial court and the Court of Appeals were one in rejecting Webb?s alibi as weak against Alfaro?s positive identification of him as the rapist and killer of Carmela and, apparently, the killer as well of her mother and younger sister.
A judge must keep an open mind. He must guard against slipping into a hasty conclusion, often arising from a desire to quickly finish the job of deciding a case.
A positive declaration from a witness that he saw the accused commit the crime should not automatically cancel out the accused?s claim that he did not do it.
To be acceptable, the positive identification must meet at least two criteria: the positive identification of the offender must come from a credible witness, and the witness? story of what she personally saw must be believable, not inherently contrived. Alfaro and her testimony fail to meet these criteria.
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.