MANILA, Philippines?Stopping short of calling for people power, supporters of Lauro Vizconde on Wednesday rallied behind the man they said had become ?the face of victims of injustice? in the country.
Public-interest lawyers, rights activists, anticrime advocates and religious on Wednesday joined Vizconde as he petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its ruling acquitting Hubert Webb and six others convicted of killing Vizconde?s wife and two daughters.
Assisted by Public Attorneys? Office head Persida Acosta, Vizconde filed an 84-page motion for reconsideration seeking a ?re-deliberation? of the high tribunal?s ruling issued on December 14, its last en banc session for 2010.
Acosta said the prosecution would present at least eight new witnesses against Webb, including lawyer Pedro Rivera who led the National Bureau of Investigation probe of the killing.
Aside from Rivera, former NBI agent Crescencio Nombres Jr., said to be main prosecution witness Jessica Alfaro?s childhood friend, and forensic expert Erwin Erfe also submitted sworn affidavits in support of Vizconde?s appeal.
At a news briefing replete with symbolism, the widower said his fight for justice had also become his personal crusade to help other victims of injustice and for reforms in the judiciary.
?My quest for justice is now beyond me and my family. This is the fight for and of the Filipino people,? he said.
Wearing a yellow shirt to symbolize hope, he said: ?I am only just an instrument for reforms in the judiciary.?
?Running priest? Robert Reyes filed on Wednesday a separate motion for leave to intervene in the case, along with activist nun Mary John Mananzan, anticrime advocate Dante Jimenez and Bishop Evangelio Mercado.
?Lauro Vizconde is the face of victims of injustice like the ?Abadilla 5.? He may look old and weak, but he is full of hope in his fight for justice. He won a lot of support because common people can identify with him,? Reyes said.
Star witness did not lie
In his petition, Vizconde insisted that Alfaro did not lie about the guilt of Webb and his coaccused in the murder of his wife Estrellita and daughters Jennifer, 7, and Carmela, 18, who was also sexually assaulted.
He said the rape of Carmela and the numerous stab wounds she sustained clearly indicated that the perpetrators harbored a ?deep-seated anger against my daughter.?
?All I ask of the justices is [that they] take a second look at the testimony of Jessica Alfaro and all the evidence against the accused,? he told reporters.
Acosta, who wore a bright yellow blazer, argued that Vizconde?s petition should be exempted from the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy.
Supreme Court spokesperson and administrator Midas Marquez earlier said that asking for a reversal of the high court?s decision to acquit would subject Webb and his coaccused to double jeopardy.
However, Acosta cited several rulings of the high tribunal showing that the acquittal of convicted criminals could still be appealed for certain reasons.
?The rule on double jeopardy is not an absolute rule, but a general rule. There is always an exception to general rules,? she said.
In the petition, Vizconde said his pleading should be given due course since the high court?s ruling in favor of Webb et al. was a ?tainted judgment.?
?As will be revealed, the highly questionable and suspicious evidence for the defense taints with serious doubt the validity of the decision acquitting (Webb et al.),? he said.
?(This) justifies an exception to the rule on double jeopardy,? he said.
Vizconde also claimed that the seven magistrates who voted to clear the accused committed a ?grave error? when they ruled that Alfaro was an ?incredible witness.?
?It appears that, right from the start, this honorable court had been inclined to believe the alibis of the accused, especially Hubert Webb?s which ?appeared to be the strongest,?? he said.
Vizconde said the tribunal ?can satisfy the clamor for truth and justice only if it will firmly, thoroughly and convincingly establish that the prosecution witnesses, the prosecution?s physical evidence and the prosecution?s documentary evidence are utterly not believable.?
?Therefore, at the very least, there must be a re-deliberation of the case,? he said.
Vizconde also said the high court ?radically departed from its ruling that ?in a criminal case, factual findings of the trial court are generally accorded great weight and respect on appeal.??
Exceptions to double jeopardy
To support the motion, Acosta cited several previous Supreme Court decisions where justices noted exceptions to the double jeopardy rule.
In the case of soldiers acquitted of killing the martyred father and namesake of President Aquino, Acosta said the tribunal allowed a retrial of the accused in deference to the ?right of the people and the world to know the truth.?
She said an acquittal of convicted criminals could also be reversed if the following conditions are present: grave abuse of discretion on the part of the judges; the integrity of the judicial system is at stake; the pre-determined judgment of acquittal was unlawful; the judgment is void; the review could be an opportunity for the court to correct its errors; the right of the public to know is at stake; and the ruling was tainted and erroneous.
Acosta said these factors, as shown in the majority ruling penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad, were present in the court?s ruling on the case of Webb et al.
?The gruesome killing of the Vizcondes and the beastly assault on Carmela?s person and honor are undeniably of overreaching significance to our society, law enforcement agencies, and judicial system,? the petition read.
?How this honorable court would finally decide this case will, undoubtedly, have a tremendous impact on the future of crime investigation and appreciation of evidence by the courts of the land,? it added.
Lawyer Pete Principe, counsel of Fr. Reyes and the three other intervenors, cited the historical significance of the case, citing a recent survey that showed a majority of the people believed that Webb et al. were guilty as charged.
?We believe that this is a chance for us to save the judicial system. There?s still hope,? Principe said.
He said Vizconde?s appeal was a ?fight of all the Filipino people. This is history in the making.?
Mariano Mison, the NBI director when Webb and his coaccused were arrested in 1995, insisted on Alfaro?s credibility and the bureau?s findings on Webb?s role in the crime.
?There is no truth that Jessica was a manufactured witness. From that time on, I never wavered in my belief that we did the right thing,? said Mison, who worked at the NBI for 39 years.
Vizconde cried as Mison spoke about the difficulties they encountered in pursuing the case.
?If (Webb?s lawyers) insist on filing a case of perjury against Jessica, they might as well include us in the case because we believed her along with the Court of Appeals justices and four Supreme Court justices,? said Mison.
The former NBI chief chided some former NBI agents who, he said, turned their backs on the institution and peddled lies to discredit Alfaro.
Sought for comment, Webb?s lawyer Demetrio Custodio said he was confident the tribunal would ?not give much consideration? to the petition.
?The Supreme Court had very clearly said that Jessica is not a credible witness and the court laid out its reasons for saying that,? he said.
?To repeat what they said is just an idle gesture. It does not amount to anything. It?s violative of the rules on criminal procedure,? he said.
Custodio also said that since the high court?s acquittal of Webb was ?not a void judgment, the exception to the rule of double jeopardy is not applicable.?
Senator Francis Pangilinan is not optimistic that the Supreme Court would reverse itself on its Vizconde ruling, citing the voting results?seven to four.
?While we sympathize with Mang Lauro in his desire to seek justice for his family, I am afraid he will be disappointed in the outcome of his motion for reconsideration,?? said Pangilinan, a lawyer who chairs the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who has initiated a reinvestigation of the Vizconde case on Mr. Aquino?s orders, clarified on Wednesday that Webb et al. would still be part of the reinvestigation.
Speaking with reporters, De Lima said Vizconde and his supporters had sought a clarification on the NBI efforts to find the perpetrators of the crime after the high court exonerated Webb et al.
?They have this impression and apprehension that the reinvestigation would focus on finding other suspects,? she said.
?Mr. Vizconde said he was concerned because he was confident that Hubert Webb and his group really did it. So I had to assure them that Webb et al. are still part of the reinvestigation as the third set of suspects,? she said.
De Lima said efforts are being made to convince Alfaro to return to the country and that the justice department was willing to put her back on its witness protection program.