I was just in grade 4 when the country was shocked by the brutality of what came to be known as the Vizconde Massacre. Estrelita Vizconde her daughters Jennifer and Carmela were brutally murdered and the latter was determined to have also been raped. At an early age, I followed the story mostly on radio because we did not have TV back then. It was such a big story that all the leading papers covered the case while the tabloids fed the public with the gory and intriguing details of the case. Investigators scrambled for an answer to the burning question: Who was or were the perpetrators? A case was then filed against several suspects including the son of an actor and a sitting senator of the republic- Hubert Jeffrey Webb. It was a sensation. The case rested upon the testimony of a “star witness” Jessica Alfaro whose life was later on the subject of the biopic: “The Jessica Alfaro Story”. The victims’ husband and father respectively, Lauro Vizconde valiantly worked for the attainment of justice for his family. He was also an activist fighting against crime and violence in the country. When all the accused were convicted by the trial court, justice seemed to have been finally attained. It was not meant to be. The Supreme Court acquitted all the accused in 2010 and ordered their release. What is more, Lauro Vizconde died on 13 February 2016, a few months before the 25th year of his family’s massacre without even knowing who really killed his family. The acquittal was of course considered by many as proof that our justice system is flawed and that the justices who voted for it were bribed. The big question is WHY?
Contrary to some opinions, the Supreme Court did not acquit Webb and his co-accused because the government lost the semen specimen collected in the crime scene. The semen specimen found in the crime scene could very well establish the identity of the perpetrator. If the sample will not match Webb’s, then it is clear that he did not do it. The non-production of the sample takes away from Webb a chance to prove his innocence. “Still, Webb is not entitled to acquittal for the failure of the State to produce the semen specimen…” (G.R. 176389, 14 December 2010) said the Court. The Court based its decision mainly on the alibi of Webb claiming he was in the United States during the time the massacre happened. Webb presented his travel documents such as his passport stamped by immigration officials upon his exit from the Philippines and entry into the United States. He also presented other evidences buttressing his claim that he was indeed in the United States on the day the crime was committed showing that it was impossible for him to be commit the crime in the Philippines because he was abroad. The lower courts believed the positive identification by a witness and considered Webb’s alibi as fabricated. The High Court looked the other way and said: “A judge must keep an open mind. He must guard against slipping into hasty conclusion, often arising from a desire to quickly finish the job of deciding a case. A positive declaration from a witness that he saw the accused commit the crime should not automatically cancel out the accuseds claim that he did not do it. A lying witness can make as positive an identification as a truthful witness can. The lying witness can also say as forthrightly and unequivocally, He did it! without blinking an eye.” Webb’s defense of alibi stands firm against the positive identification by a witness whose credibility is questionable. The SC ended with this: “In our criminal justice system, what is important is, not whether the court entertains doubts about the innocence of the accused since an open mind is willing to explore all possibilities, but whether it entertains a reasonable, lingering doubt as to his guilt. For, it would be a serious mistake to send an innocent man to jail where such kind of doubt hangs on to ones inner being, like a piece of meat lodged immovable between teeth.”