MANILA, Philippines?Feelings of outrage and sympathy, especially among those who have confronted injustice themselves, came on the heels of the Supreme Court?s decision Tuesday to acquit Hubert Webb and six others for the 1991 murders of Estrellita Vizconde and her daughters, Carmela and Jennifer.
?I do not agree, I do not agree. I?m dismayed with our justice system,? said Thelma Chiong, national vice president of the Crusade Against Violence (CAV). Her two daughters were raped and killed in 1997.
?My blood pressure rose when I heard they were acquitted,? Chiong said.
She questioned the Supreme Court for believing the ?lies? of the accused over the testimony of an eyewitness who had identified Webb and the others as responsible for the murders.
Chiong noted that the justices could not appreciate the actual statements of the witnesses and the presentation of evidence because it was the lower court that heard the case.
She said the prosecution of the Vizconde case was so difficult even as she sympathized with Lauro Vizconde, husband of Estrellita and father of Carmela and Jennifer, who have been waiting for justice all these years only to get an acquittal of the accused.
In the case of Chiong?s daughters, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the lower court, which handed out a conviction on Francisco Juan Larrañaga and five others. Spain has taken custody of Larrañaga in accordance with an agreement on prisoner swaps it has with the Philippines.
In Dagupan City, Susan Yadao, whose daughter was murdered last year, could not stop crying while watching news about the acquittal.
?I feel the pain [Lauro] Vizconde feels. I know how [it feels to be] a victim of injustice. I know [Vizconde?s] feeling of hopelessness and helplessness,? Yadao said.
Her daughter Zharlene, a nurse, was killed in the early morning of July 2, 2009, while she was on her way home from hospital duty. More than a year later, Yadao still has to find justice for her daughter's death.
?I?m angry at the justice system. I?m angry that the police have not found the killer or killers [of my daughter] ? I do not know where to turn to anymore,? she said.
Rule of law
Michael Yu, the president of the Cebu City Integrated Bar of the Philippines, also said he was not in favor of the ruling, but the high court had spoken and that must be respected.
Yu said he sympathized with Vizconde for failing to get justice for the death of his loved ones. ?This is the sad day of our criminal justice system, but the high court has spoken,? he said.
In contrast, the former IBP Cebu City president and regional coordinator of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Democrito Barcenas, hailed the decision of the Supreme Court.
?I think that most of the justices are right in their decision. I expected this decision because since the start, I knew that Jessica Alfaro was not entirely telling the truth,? Barcenas said.
He said Alfaro did not show up immediately after the crime and then issued inconsistent statements.
In Laoag City, lawyer Roxanne Lee Castro said the ruling might come as harsh to Vizconde, ?but that?s the law.?
?The justices are guided by law, jurisprudence and evidence presented in evaluating a case,? she said.
The brother of Alejandro ?Bong? Alejandro, who was one of the 32 media workers killed along with 26 others in the Maguindanao massacre on Nov. 23, 2009, criticized the country?s justice system, saying it ?favors? the rich.
Manuel Reblando said the Webbs, like the Ampatuan clan whose members were accused in the mass killings, ?were already anticipating this kind of move, waiting for someone, friendly associates with the government that could decide in favor of the accused.?
Reblando also said government must be blamed for losing the semen specimen taken from Carmela Vizconde.
But Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said the people ?just have to abide by the decision.?
?We cannot please all. The Supreme Court is the last arbiter,? Duterte said.
?What the Vizconde case taught the Filipinos? That it does not speak well of what an investigation should be. There were many loopholes. And it appears, as what the Supreme Court has said, the star witness?Jessica Alfaro?was not an independent soul as a witness is supposed to be, because she is said to be an agent of the National Bureau of Investigation.?
Duterte expressed sympathy for Lauro Vizconde. ?I feel his agony and I feel sorry for him. But the Supreme Court has spoken and the best thing that he can do is to accept it.?
?What is really telling is that all along, we were harping on Alfaro and yet she was not at all independent,? the vice mayor added.
Mae Chatto, an employee of a private firm, agreed with the decision. ?There?s justice in this country after all, even if it meant waiting for 15 years inside the jail.?
?My convictions since Day 1 of the case were true?that Hubert Webb (and the eight accused) didn?t have a hand in the Vizconde bloodbath,? Chatto said.
?I pity Lauro Vizconde who has been fooled into believing Jessica Alfaro?s testimonies which were peppered with loopholes. Justice is finally served to both the victims and the accused.?
In San Pedro, Laguna, a former political detainee assailed the Supreme Court decision.
?Our justice system is dead. Just imagine how they twist controversial cases like this. How much more if it involves unreported cases of ordinary citizens?? Axel Pinpin said.
Pinpin and four other activists, collectively called ?Tagaytay 5,? were arrested in Tagaytay City in April 2006 on charges of illegal possession of firearms and rebellion. They were imprisoned for two years and four months in Canlubang and Calamba City in Laguna until the court found insufficient evidence and dismissed the charges against them.
?Our case is also political, while theirs is a gruesome (one),? Pinpin said. Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Yolanda Sotelo and Cristina Arzadon, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Julie S. Alipala and Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao; and Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon