Monday, December 13, 2010

SC acquits Hubert Webb, 6 others in Vizconde massacre

Hubert Webb, the son of a former senator, and six other persons were acquitted in the Vizconde massacre case on Tuesday.

In a vote of 7-4-4 on Tuesday, the Supreme Court (SC) reversed two lower courts' findings that found him and eight others guilty of killing three members of the Vizconde family almost two decades ago. 

While nine people may have been accused in the case, the court only took action on seven of them. This is because the two others, Artemio Ventura and Joey Filart, remain at large to this day.

According to SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez, the court acquitted the seven "for the failure of the prosecution to rule their guilt beyond reasonable doubt," said Marquez. 

"They are ordered released from detention unless for another lawful cause," said Marquez, adding that the high tribunal's decision was immediately executory. 

He said the SC has directed the Bureau of Corrections to report to the court within five days. 

Aside from Webb, those acquitted were: 

  • Antonio Lejano; 

  • Michael Gatchalian; 

  • Miguel Rodriguez; 

  • Hospicio Fernandez; 

  • Peter Estrada, and 

  • former policeman Gerardo Biong.

    The justices who voted in favor of the acquittal were: 

  • Associate Justices Roberto Abad; 

  • Conchita Carpio-Morales;

  • Diosdado Peralta; 

  • Lucas Bersamin; 

  • Jose Perez, and 

  • Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

    Those who dissented were: 

  • Chief Justice Renato Corona;

  • Associate Justices Martin Villarama; 

  • Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, and 

  • Arturo Brion.

    Those who took no part in the deliberations were: 

  • Associate Justices Antonio Carpio;

  • Mariano del Castillo;

  • Eduardo Nachura, and 

  • Presbitero Velasco.

    SC: Jessica Alfaro not credible

    In handing down the decision, the court questioned the quality of the witnesses presented during the Vizconde massacre trial.

    According to Marquez, the SC said the so-called star witness, Jessica Alfaro, was "an NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) agent and not really an eyewitness."

    "There were also suspicious details and the quality of testimony shows there are inherent inconsistencies. The supposed corroborations cannot be relied on. There is reasonable and lingering doubt on the guilt of the accused," Marquez added.

    Webb's camp had earlier questioned Alfaro's credibility, saying she only agreed to play out the role of an eyewitness.

    In the motion to discredit Alfaro, Webb’s camp cited the testimony of former NBI personnel Artemio Sacaguing, who earlier said Alfaro was only an NBI informant who volunteered to pretend to be an eyewitness.

    Appeals won't be entertained

    On Tuesday, Marquez said the aggrieved parties can no longer appeal the latest ruling.

    "No more motions for reconsideration can be filed in this particular case. That will be tantamount to double jeopardy," said Marquez.

    "Double jeopardy" refers to being tried for the same crime twice.

    Lost trust in justice system

    Meanwhile, Lauro Vizconde, the husband and father of the massacre victims, reportedly "collapsed" upon hearing the news on Tuesday.

    When he gained consciousness, he admitted that he seemed to have lost his trust in the justice system in the country.

    "Nangyari na ang aking kinatatakutan... Wala na kong panawagan... Wala nang katarungan dito sa ating bansa," said a highly emotional Lauro.

    Lauro had to be constantly given water to help him remain conscious, the report added.

    He said he was leaving it to God to punish those who committed the gruesome crime against his family. "Doon na lang siguro sa kabilang buhay," Vizconde said in between sobs.

    Vizconde, who earlier claimed that an SC justice was allegedly meddling in the case, said on Tuesday he believed that money played a role in the acquittal.

    "Paano ninyo maipaliliwanag iyon [pagpatay sa kanila] ng mga huwes? Ewan ko kung matutulungan niyo pa ako matapos niyong ibasura iyan," the widower said.

    "Paano pa ang tiwala sa hukuman? Kahit sa mababang kapulungan, eh nababayaran lang," Vizconde added.

    Biong's release from prison

    Tuesday's ruling came two weeks after former PO1 Gerado Biong, a convicted accessory in the Vizconde massacre case, was released from detention.

    Through a Department of Justice (DOJ) order, the former lawman was declared a free man anew after completing and even exceeding his six to 12-year jail term.

    Biong was imprisoned in 1995 after he supposedly tampered with the evidence when he burned bloodied bed sheets at the crime scene. A Parañaque court later convicted him in 2000.

    Massacre case in 1991

    Webb was accused of raping Carmela Vizconde, 18, who was killed in her family's Parañaque home on June 30, 1991. Her mother, Estrellita, 47, and sister, Jennifer, 7, were also killed.

    Webb was among the nine people convicted by Paranaque Regional Trial Court Branch 274 Presiding Judge Amelita Tolentino in January 2000 for the killings. The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in December 2005.

    Tolentino is now an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals.

    Webb then elevated the case to the Supreme Court and asked that a DNA analysis be conducted on a semen sample or vaginal smears taken from the body of victim Carmela Vizconde. – with Mark Merueñas, VVP, GMANews.TV
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