I am not a good police beat reporter (hence, the decision to stick to Lifestyle reporting) and I tend to get my facts all askew. But I just want to mark this date where Filipinos were given a glimpse of two faces of tragedy.
Today is the day when the suspects of the Vizconde Massacre, a big and controversial crime which happened in the 90s were acquitted by the court. Led by the principal suspect, Hubert Webb, all six men was finally freed after languishing for 15 years in jail.
Here’s a snippet from the Philippine Star’s online reporting:
MANILA, Philippines – After 15 years behind bars, Hubert Webb and five others convicted for the sensational Vizconde massacre in 1991 walked out of prison yesterday after being cleared by the Supreme Court (SC).
Voting 7-4 with four abstentions, the High Court ruled that Parañaque Regional Trial Court Branch 274 judge and now Court of Appeals Justice Amelita Tolentino erred in handing down in January 2000 a guilty verdict on Webb, Hospicio “Pyke” Fernandez, Antonio “Tony Boy” Lejano, Michael Gatchalian, Peter Estrada, and Miguel “Ging” Rodriguez for the crime of rape with homicide.
The SC’s ruling covered former policeman Gerardo Biong who was released last month after serving his 12-year sentence for destroying evidence including bloodstained clothing.
“They should be released soon unless they are held for any other unlawful cause,” court administrator and SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez told a press conference.
“There is no more motion for reconsideration that can be filed. That would be tantamount to double jeopardy,” he added.
Marquez stressed that even if guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt, the freed convict cannot be automatically considered innocent.
He added that Webb and the other convicts may claim damages from the government for being wrongly imprisoned.
“They would have to file a separate case for that, and their claims would have to be proven,” Marquez said.
Marquez also vehemently denied allegations of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption that money changed hands in the acquittal of Webb and the six others.
“It would be better if they read the majority decision,” he said.
He declined to comment when asked if VACC founding chair Dante Jimenez could be penalized for hurling profanities at the justices in a press conference.
For a man to be incarcerated for 15 years–provided he is innocent–then, that is hell. Imagine not knowing what goes on in the outside world for 15 long years, only seeing a patch of sky from your cell. In his presscon earlier, Webb admitted that he doesn’t even know anymore where is “home”.
Incidentally, I was able to watch via live streaming the “profanity-laced” statement hurled by Jimenez to the judges, and I personally think it’s uncalled for. Jimenez was so overacting and so effing emotional, I thought I was watching a bad court drama on TV. Considering that the father of the victims, the grieving Lauro Vizconde was just beside him: a picture of silence and calm amidst the raging storm.
This is the heartbreaking part. I literally felt my heart break into a million pieces when the camera cut away from the jubilant suspects and to that image of Mang Lauro crying, almost fainting — a picture of a man who seemed to lost it all again. Here was a man who is now at the twilight of his years, yet still hellbent on a quest to find truth for his murdered family.
“Is there still anyone among you who doubts that there is rampant corruption in our government? Remember when I made the disclosure that someone is pressuring the justices to vote for a reversal? I did that hoping to make them have second thoughts about doing so,” Vizconde said. “There is no justice in the Philippines. All of us who have cases in court, don’t we realize that if your opponent has money, brace yourself. Anyone can be paid!”
“This is the challenge I am giving you, Justices. If you tell me that the ones in prison did not do it, then help me search for those responsible, if there is any conscience or delicadeza left in you,” Vizconde fumed. “This is like a second massacre. Until when will we suffer? Now you know the plight of a victim of the justice system. Why should we still have faith?”
— Lauro Vizconde, from a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer
Mang Lauro is already old, and this sad event caused him too much heart ache and pain. He should be enjoying his old age, playing with grandchildren instead he continues a lonely fight for justice and truth.
In a country where the wheels of justice takes too long to grind, and that innocent men go to jail and guilty men evade jail time, how can we fight this kind of pain and tragedy from happening?