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Philippines: Court Decision on Vizconde Massacre Shocks Public

Categories: East Asia, Philippines, Governance, Law

It has been 19 years since the gruesome murders and rape of the Vizconde women: Estrellita(47 y.o.) had suffered thirteen stab wounds; her two daughters Carmela(18 y.o.), seventeen stab wounds and had been raped before she was killed; and Jennifer(7 y.o.), nineteen stab wounds, took place and grabbed headlines. Since yesterday, the case has grabbed headlines once more after the Supreme Court has acquitted the accused suspects for the prosecution's failure to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Long thought of as a settled case with the suspects, Hubert Webb, scion of a political and wealthy family and his friends, having been in jail for the last 15 years, it's now back to square one as the High Court's decision underscores one crucial question: who are the real culprits behind the Vizconde massacre.

The Court's decision and almost-instant release of Webb, et al. from prison has left the Filipino public shocked, dismayed and wondering if justice could really be found in the country.

WillyJ writing at Random Thoughts and Musings is puzzled by the 7-4-4 decision of the Court [1]:

What strikes me is the fact that some of the most educated, most intelligent people in the land see the case differently, and come up with contrasting conclusions. Same evidence, varying appreciations, contrasting conclusions. It doesn't give me any comfort in the fact that a majority decision prevails. I am more concerned that a decision was promulgated in a lower court; that decision was challenged yet was affirmed by the appeals court by the slimmest of margins (3-2); all of which was eventually overturned (after 15 long, long years) by a vote of 7 to 4. In essence, the 7 Supreme Court Justices say that the trial court judge was wrong, the appeals court was wrong, and the 4 dissenting Supreme Court Justices are wrong, and all those topnotch lawyers in one way or another, are all wrong. Grievously wrong. How come all these people under those circumstances, with the same hard facts before them, with the same rules of procedure, experience and jurisprudence behind them… disagree mightily in an epic manner? It is a horrible miscarriage of justice, regardless of whether one is for or against the decision.

Dine Racoma laments on The D Spot about how truth and justice remains elusive [2] dreams due to its problem-ridden justice system:

In the end, it all boils down to the Philippine Judicial System. Like other countries, especially in the third world, the Philippines has immense problems in the criminal justice systems and in the law-implementing institutions like the police, prosecutors and courts. Had the police-officer Gerardo Biong not tampered the evidences in the crime scene, had the semen sample from Carmela Vizconde’s autopsied body still been in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation and not lost, had the Philippine Judicial System been a little bit more dependable, justice to the Vizcondes could have been served.

JCC writing at Filipino Voices sums up the lessons learned from the Vizconde massacre [3]:

1) that justice in the country runs so slow, 2) investigating officers are blundering fools, 3) the judges are corrupt, 4) and unlike the poor who rot in jail forever, the rich can always seek justice though how late that justice might be, 5) that we never ask the right questions on the acquittal of H. Webb and company.

Ilda at AntiPinoy writes that the Philippine mainstream media has been of little help [4] as well:

The Philippine media for their part, never fail to sensationalize the news and conduct a trial-by-media just to fatten the bottom line of their CEO’s report. Whether it is about Hubert Webb or former President Gloria Arroyo, you cannot rely on the Philippine media to give a balanced view. Where else but in the Philippines is a movie made out of a case while the trial is still on-going? It’s safe to assume that most Filipinos who were old enough to care in 1991 know more about the details of the Vizconde massacre from the movie The Vizconde Massacre Story (God Help Us!). I wouldn’t even be surprised if the judge in Hubert Webb’s case based her decision on the movie. Hello! The crime was committed in 1991, the movie made in 1993, and star witness Jessica Alfaro emerged in 1995!

Aside from blogs, ordinary folks, particularly the younger ones Tweeted their response:

eeedsel [5] IDK the whole thing that happened on that Vizconde massacre but I know that Vizconde family were the victims and I'm not into the result.

NokieVillanueva [6] Re-Inbestigation of Vizconde Massacre Case? WTF? its 20yrs case, who your goin to investigate? Can they still remember what really happened?

oeeehreyes [7] De Lima to order Vizconde massacre reinvestigation http://bit.ly/i2IdmA #news -UH OH BACK TO ZERO.

daynelov [8] A WHOLE NEW WORLD: FIFTEEN YEARS after he and six others were imprisoned for the massacre of three Vizconde fami… http://bit.ly/grOkJI

With Department of Justice ordering a reinvestigation of the Vizconde case, lawyer Connie Veneracion writes on House on a Hill about the implications of the Court's decision to acquit Webb, et al. and the rule on double jeopardy [9]:

The rule on double jeopardy states that no man may be tried for the same crime more than once. And it applies whether he has been previously acquitted or convicted. In the case of a previous conviction, he cannot be punished more than once for the same crime.

But it is also true than if a case is dismissed, meaning there is no ruling on the merits (no final judgment) and no clear acquittal, an accused can be tried again for the same crime. Hence, the term dismissed without prejudice which really means the People is not precluded from filing a new case. Double jeopardy does not apply.

In the case of Webb, et al., was there an acquittal which bars another trial? The decision says “ACQUITS” but it isn’t synonymous with a NOT GUILTY verdict. In fact, the decision says, “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.”

Besides the reopening of the Vizconde case, lawyers for the acquitted suspects have started their legal moves at retribution of sorts, filing administrative cases against the then trial judge that handled the case and the prosecution's ‘star witness’ whose credibility was assailed in the Supreme Court decision.

At the current state of things, after two decades, the Vizconde case has just opened a new chapter and it seems that it will be far from being over.