Monday, December 20, 2010

Reinvestigation of Vizconde massacre case begins

Renewed investigation of the controversial Vizconde massacre case began on Monday with the creation of an inter-agency task force, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

Coming more than a week after the Supreme Court acquitted the seven men who were earlier convicted for the crime, the task force was created from members of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The Justice secretary will head the team, and investigations will tap the manpower and resources of both the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

In an interview with reporters on Monday before the first inter-agency task force meeting with both law enforcement agencies, De Lima said she was going to thresh out the mechanics and parameters of the reinvestigation, which will last for six months. 

Under the law, cases that are punishable by life imprisonment are given a prescriptive period of 20 years. Investigation into the massacre, which occurred on June 30, 1991, will have to end on June 30, 2011.

"It's not just about finding out the true perpetrators — whether it's still the Webb group or another group or another (set of) perpetrators — hindi lang ang aspeto na yan, kasama pati (not just that aspect, but also [a probe into]) what went wrong [with the previous investigations]," the former head of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.

Howev er, after her meeting, she told reporters at the NBI that her task force’s “priority is to know the real perpetrators."

Babalikan natin lahat ng group (We’re going to review all groups [of suspects])," she said.

The meeting ended at 6 p.m. Monday; subsequent meetings will be also held at the NBI main office on Taft Avenue, Manila.

Both the NBI and the PNP had already created their own teams to reinvestigate the massacre, but De Lima said they decided to create the inter-agency task force to conduct the new probe more efficiently.

“The consensus is that it is going to be an inter-agency task force. Hindi gagalaw ang mga teams ng NBI na hindi rin kasama ang teams ng PNP (NBI teams will not ‘move’ without NBI counterparts). DOJ and DILG will lead, because (the) NBI is under DOJ and (the) PNP is under DILG," De Lima said. 

On Dec. 14, the Supreme Court acquitted Hubert Webb, son of former Senator Freddie Webb, as well as six co-accused who were convicted in 2001 by a ParaƱaque court for the brutal murder of Estrellita Vizconde and her daughters Carmela and Jennifer.

NBI chiefs summoned, physical evidence recalled

For next Wednesday’s meeting, the Justice chief said that former NBI directors Mariano Mison and Epimaco Velasco are invited to shed light on the issue.

“They have conflicting statements, Director Velasco believes that Webb and company are innocent, while Director Mison insists that they are the correct suspects," she said.

She also said NBI legal was tasked to prepare a matrix of all evidence for the guidance of the various teams working on the Vizconde reinvestigation.

Iyung legal ng NBI (NBI's legal department) will be preparing a matrix of all the evidence — yung mga na-present at mga subject for review ng (those already presented and those for review of the) Supreme Court," she said.

De Lima said she directed the NBI to find out the chain of custody of the semen sample taken from the autopsied body of Carmela Vizconde, and to identify and get hold of the custodian of the semen sample which is believed to be missing.

When confronted with the possibility that the evidence might have been gone cold since the massacre took place almost 20 years ago, she said “The witnesses are still there. Jessica is still there. The other alleged corroborative witnesses are still there. Yun mga unang kumanta (Those who owned up), and especially the second group. May mga nag-confess (Those who confessed) and alleged that they were tortured. Babalikan sila (We will go back to them)."

“It was the PNP that produced the first two sets of suspects; the NBI produced Jessica.Pinapa-trace namin sila. Kaya lang lahat sila discredit sila sa trial court.

Pero kailangan balikan din (We’re asking them to retrace these [presentation of suspects]. Of course all of them had been discredited by the trial court. But we need to reinvestigate them," she said.

Tracking down the witnesses

De Lima also said that she had assigned someone to get in touch with the NBI star witness Jessica Alfaro.

“I also asked (about) the possibility of accessing Jessica Alfaro. She’s not anymore in the Philippines. But we could access her and ask her to come back for further questioning," she said.

Her team will also question the handlers of the so-called star witness, whose testimony was judged by the Supreme Court as "incoherent, if not inherently unbelievable," she said.

The SC ruled that Alfaro was not an eyewitness but merely an NBI agent who merely acted out the role of witnessing first hand the murders of the three Vizconde women.

The new probe team will also consider ordering a manhunt for the two suspects, Artemio Ventura and Joey Filart, who were earlier accused of being involved in the crime but who were never charged by the courts.

“We created a team to track down Filart and Ventura. That team is to supposed to confirm the real identity of the two. Do these two really exist and iyong profile nila, sino ba talaga sila (who are they, really), why were they considered suspects— And if their identities are confirmed, to track them down," she said. "Those two suspects cannot go scotfree."

Even the groups that the PNP first tagged as responsible for the massacre — the Akyat-Bahay Gang and construction workers — are not off the hook, De Lima said.

Iyong unang mga grupo, yung mga ni-reject ng trial court, titingnan namin ulit yon. May dalawang grupo before the Webb group, (The first groups [that were identified as possible suspects], those rejected by the trial court, we will look at those again. There were two groups [identified as suspects] before the Webb group" she said.

Even Hubert Webb will be subject to reinvestigation, she said.—with Kimberly Jane Tan, DM/KBK GMANews.TV

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