Court throws out Webb suit vs Inquirer | Inquirer News

Court throws out Webb suit vs Inquirer

By: - Reporter / @KatyYam
/ 05:59 PM November 29, 2012


MANILA, Philippines—A Makati court has dismissed the P5-million damage suit filed by the family of Hubert Webb against the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1995 for “sheer dearth of merit.”

Judge J. Cedrick O. Ruiz of the Makati Regional Trial Court’s Branch 60 said the Webb family “utterly failed to provide” evidence that there was malice on the part of Inquirer officers, editors and reporters when a series of articles on the Vizconde massacre case was published from June 21 to August 1 that year.


A civil case filed by the Webbs alleged the Inquirer “did not care and bother to verify with any family member… the veracity of statements contained” in the reports.


The judge pointed out, however, that statements of former Senator Freddie Webb, father of Hubert, and a family lawyer were used in the stories.

Ruiz added that a perusal of the articles would show that Inquirer reporters who wrote the stories relied on official sources, specifically in the National Bureau of Investigation.

Hubert was the principal accused in the brutal deaths of Estrellita Vizconde, 42, and her daughters Carmela, 18, and Jennifer, 7, in the early morning of June 30, 1991 in Parañaque. Carmela was also raped.

Six other accused were named in a police report.

Hubert denied being the mastermind, saying he was in the United States doing odd jobs when the crime occurred.

Two sets of suspects were initially charged but the charges were subsequently dropped before Hubert was named a suspect almost four years after the crime happened.


Hubert and four others were found guilty by the Parañaque RTC in January 2000 and served 10 years in the National Bilibid Prison for the murders before the Supreme Court acquitted them in December 2010.

Two other suspects remain at large.

Judge Ruiz examined seven news stories and two photos that the Inquirer published in connection with the Vizconde massacre.

In the article “Alabang Boys: A Passion for Basketball and Ecstasy,” the judge noted that the reporter merely cited sources from the NBI and that the story itself “did not impute the commission of a crime.”

The next story, “Neighbor with Hubert aboard US jet on July 13″ also quoted NBI sources that Ruiz said were “the right provenance for any development” in the investigation then.

He said the Webbs were “totally unable” to produce evidence that the reporter who wrote the story should not have fully depended on NBI sources at the time.

In the story “NBI probers: Webb US papers falsified,” Ruiz said it was “luminous to readers” that the article was based on results of the “tentative investigation ” of the NBI.

His decision noted that the Inquirer attempted to balance its presentation of the news with the side of the Webb family appearing in the fourth paragraph saying the senior Webb “repeatedly denied that his son was in the country” when the Vizconde women were stabbed to death in June 1991.

The judge said the Inquirer story “6 suspects holed up in Webb house” was also based on NBI findings as “clearly apparent in the lead sentence” of the article.

Ruiz said half the length of the article presented the side of the Webb family, hence it was “lucid that the defendants did not have the slightest intention of maligning the Webbs.”

The fifth story, “Probers pursue switching angle” was again based on NBI sources, the court observed.

It said the Inquirer could not be faulted for relying on the results of a preliminary examination made by the NBI.

The court pointed out that the Webb family was “accorded an opportunity to ventilate its side” in the portions sub-titled “In defense of Webbs” and “No comment on signature” of that story.

The story “Hubert flew to US July 15, 1991” was premised on a Bureau of Immigration report and also “extensively cited and quoted” a lawyer of the Webb family.

In the last story, “3 more witnesses vs. Hubert – NBI,” Ruiz said it was “palpable” that the story was based “upon claims made by the NBI,” thus the Inquirer could not be faulted for publishing it.

The Webb family complained about two photos that appeared in the Inquirer.

One that appeared on July 7, 1995 showed a family portrait taken on Christmas 1991. A second showed a medium shot of Hubert playing billiards.

The judge said that since the family portrait was distributed nationwide as campaign material during Webb’s senatorial run in 1992, the family members including two minors who appeared in the photo “became ‘public figures’ in a sense” and “cannot now bellyache… that they have been defamed” with the photo’s publication.

Meanwhile, the photo of Hubert in the billiard hall with the caption “Gotcha!” could not be considered defamatory.

The Webbs claimed that star witness Jessica Alfaro did not know Hubert and would not distinguish him from a police line-up.

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After these observations, the judge reiterated that the Webb family failed to provide evidence that the news reports and photos “were not done honestly and fairly and with due regard to the truth.”

TAGS: Hubert Webb, Inquirer, Judiciary, Libel, Media

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