For those who want to read the text of the decision of the Supreme Court (Lejano vs. People GR No. 176389) which caused the release of Hubert Webb and company after fifteen years in prison, here is the Decision penned by Justice Abad:
On June 30, 1991 Estrellita Vizconde and her daughters Carmela, nineteen years old, and Jennifer, seven, were brutally slain at their home in
. Following an intense investigation, the police arrested a group of suspects, some of whom gave detailed confessions. But the trial court smelled a frame-up and eventually ordered them discharged. Thus, the identities of the real perpetrators remained a mystery especially to the public whose interests were aroused by the gripping details of what everybody referred to as the Vizconde massacre. Parañaque City
Four years later in 1995, the National Bureau of Investigation or NBI announced that it had solved the crime. It presented star-witness Jessica M. Alfaro, one of its informers, who claimed that she witnessed the crime. She pointed to accused Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio “Tony Boy” Lejano, Artemio “Dong”
For their part, some of the accused testified, denying any part in the crime and saying they were elsewhere when it took place. Webb’s alibi appeared the strongest since he claimed that he was then across the ocean in the
But impressed by Alfaro’s detailed narration of the crime and the events surrounding it, the trial court found a credible witness in her. It noted her categorical, straightforward, spontaneous, and frank testimony, undamaged by grueling cross-examinations. The trial court remained unfazed by significant discrepancies between Alfaro’s April 28 and May 22, 1995 affidavits, accepting her explanation that she at first wanted to protect her former boyfriend, accused Estrada, and a relative, accused Gatchalian; that no lawyer assisted her; that she did not trust the investigators who helped her prepare her first affidavit; and that she felt unsure if she would get the support and security she needed once she disclosed all about the Vizconde killings.
In contrast, the trial court thought little of the denials and alibis that Webb, Lejano, Rodriguez, and Gatchalian set up for their defense. They paled, according to the court, compared to Alfaro’s testimony that other witnesses and the physical evidence corroborated. Thus, on January 4, 2000, after four years of arduous hearings, the trial court rendered judgment, finding all the accused guilty as charged and imposing on Webb, Lejano, Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, and Rodriguez the penalty of reclusion perpetua and on Biong, an indeterminate prison term of eleven years, four months, and one day to twelve years. The trial court also awarded damages to Lauro Vizconde.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, modifying the penalty imposed on Biong to six years minimum and twelve years maximum and increasing the award of damages to Lauro Vizconde. The appellate court did not agree that the accused were tried by publicity or that the trial judge was biased. It found sufficient evidence of conspiracy that rendered Rodriguez, Gatchalian, Fernandez, and Estrada equally guilty with those who had a part in raping and killing Carmela and in executing her mother and sister.
On motion for reconsideration by the accused, the Court of Appeals' Special Division of five members voted three against two to deny the motion, hence, the present appeal.
On April 20, 2010, as a result of its initial deliberation in this case, the Court issued a Resolution granting the request of Webb to submit for DNA analysis the semen specimen taken from Carmela’s cadaver, which specimen was then believed still under the safekeeping of the NBI. The Court granted the request pursuant to section 4 of the Rule on DNA Evidence to give the accused and the prosecution access to scientific evidence that they might want to avail themselves of, leading to a correct decision in the case.
Unfortunately, on April 27, 2010 the NBI informed the Court that it no longer has custody of the specimen, the same having been turned over to the trial court. The trial record shows, however, that the specimen was not among the object evidence that the prosecution offered in evidence in the case.
This outcome prompted accused Webb to file an urgent motion to acquit on the ground that the government’s failure to preserve such vital evidence has resulted in the denial of his right to due process.
Accused Webb’s motion to acquit presents a threshold issue: whether or not the Court should acquit him outright, given the government’s failure to produce the semen specimen that the NBI found on Carmela’s cadaver, thus depriving him of evidence that would prove his innocence.
In the main, all the accused raise the central issue of whether or not Webb, acting in conspiracy with Lejano, Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, Ventura, and Filart, raped and killed Carmela and put to death her mother and sister. But, ultimately, the controlling issues are:
1. Whether or not Alfaro’s testimony as eyewitness, describing the crime and identifying Webb, Lejano, Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and two others as the persons who committed it, is entitled to belief; and
2. Whether or not Webb presented sufficient evidence to prove his alibi and rebut Alfaro’s testimony that he led the others in committing the crime.
The issue respecting accused Biong is whether or not he acted to cover up the crime after its commission.
The Right to Acquittal
Due to Loss of DNA Evidence
Webb claims, citing Brady v. Maryland, that he is entitled to outright acquittal on the ground of violation of his right to due process given the State’s failure to produce on order of the Court either by negligence or willful suppression the semen specimen taken from Carmela.
The medical evidence clearly established that Carmela was raped and, consistent with this, semen specimen was found in her. It is true that Alfaro identified Webb in her testimony as Carmela’s rapist and killer but serious questions had been raised about her credibility. At the very least, there exists a possibility that Alfaro had lied. On the other hand, the semen specimen taken from Carmela cannot possibly lie. It cannot be coached or allured by a promise of reward or financial support. No two persons have the same DNA fingerprint, with the exception of identical twins. If, on examination, the DNA of the subject specimen does not belong to Webb, then he did not rape Carmela. It is that simple. Thus, the Court would have been able to determine that Alfaro committed perjury in saying that he did.
Still, Webb is not entitled to acquittal for the failure of the State to produce the semen specimen at this late stage. For one thing, the ruling in Brady v. Maryland that he cites has long be overtaken by the decision in Arizona v. Youngblood, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that due process does not require the State to preserve the semen specimen although it might be useful to the accused unless the latter is able to show bad faith on the part of the prosecution or the police. Here, the State presented a medical expert who testified on the existence of the specimen and Webb in fact sought to have the same subjected to DNA test.
For, another, when Webb raised the DNA issue, the rule governing DNA evidence did not yet exist, the country did not yet have the technology for conducting the test, and no Philippine precedent had as yet recognized its admissibility as evidence. Consequently, the idea of keeping the specimen secure even after the trial court rejected the motion for DNA testing did not come up. Indeed, neither Webb nor his co-accused brought up the matter of preserving the specimen in the meantime.
Parenthetically, after the trial court denied Webb’s application for DNA testing, he allowed the proceeding to move on when he had on at least two occasions gone up to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court to challenge alleged arbitrary actions taken against him and the other accused. They raised the DNA issue before the Court of Appeals but merely as an error committed by the trial court in rendering its decision in the case. None of the accused filed a motion with the appeals court to have the DNA test done pending adjudication of their appeal. This, even when the Supreme Court had in the meantime passed the rules allowing such test. Considering the accused’s lack of interest in having such test done, the State cannot be deemed put on reasonable notice that it would be required to produce the semen specimen at some future time.
Now, to the merit of the case.
Based on the prosecution’s version, culled from the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals, on June 29, 1991 at around 8:30 in the evening, Jessica Alfaro drove her Mitsubishi Lancer, with boyfriend Peter Estrada as passenger, to the
Ayala Alabang Commercial Center parking lot to buy shabu from Artemio “Dong” . There, Ventura introduced her to his friends: Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio “Tony Boy” Lejano, Miguel “Ging” Rodriguez, Hospicio “Pyke” Fernandez, Michael Gatchalian, and Joey Filart. Alfaro recalled frequently seeing them at a shabu house in Parañaque in January 1991, except Ventura whom she had known earlier in December 1990. Ventura
As Alfaro smoked her shabu, Webb approached and requested her to relay a message for him to a girl, whom she later identified as Carmela Vizconde. Alfaro agreed. After using up their shabu, the group drove to Carmela’s house at
80 Vinzons Street, Pitong Daan Subdivision, BF Homes, . Riding in her car, Alfaro and Estrada trailed Filart and Rodriguez who rode a Mazda pick-up and Webb, Lejano, Parañaque City , Fernandez, and Gatchalian who were on a Nissan Patrol car. Ventura
On reaching their destination, Alfaro parked her car on
The group had another shabu session at the parking lot. After sometime, they drove back but only Alfaro proceeded to
Alfaro returned to her car but waited for Carmela to drive out of the house in her own car. Alfaro trailed Carmela up to
Webb gave out free cocaine. They all used it and some shabu, too. After about 40 to 45 minutes, Webb decided that it was time for them to leave. He said,“Pipilahan natin siya [Carmela] at ako ang mauuna.” Lejano said, “Ako ang susunod” and the others responded “Okay, okay.” They all left the parking lot in a convoy of three vehicles and drove into Pitong Daan Subdivision for the third time. They arrived at Carmela’s house shortly before midnight.
Alfaro parked her car between Vizconde’s house and the next. While waiting for the others to alight from their cars, Fernandez approached Alfaro with a suggestion that they blow up the transformer near the Vizconde’s residence to cause a brownout (“Pasabugin kaya natin ang transformer na ito”). But Alfaro shrugged off the idea, telling Fernandez, “Malakas lang ang tama mo.” When Webb, Lejano, and
Alfaro was the first to pass through the pedestrian gate that had been left open. Webb, Lejano, and
As she lost sight of Carmela and Webb, Alfaro decided to go out. Lejano asked her where she was going and she replied that she was going out to smoke. As she eased her way out through the kitchen door, she saw
After sitting in the car for about ten minutes, Alfaro returned to the Vizconde house, using the same route. The interior of the house was dark but some light filtered in from outside. In the kitchen, Alfaro saw
Unable to open the main door, Alfaro returned to the kitchen. While she was at a spot leading to the dining area, she heard a static noise (like a television that remained on after the station had signed off). Out of curiosity, she approached the master’s bedroom from where the noise came, opened the door a little, and peeked inside. The unusual sound grew even louder. As she walked in, she saw Webb on top of Carmela while she lay with her back on the floor. Two bloodied bodies lay on the bed. Lejano was at the foot of the bed about to wear his jacket. Carmela was gagged, moaning, and in tears while Webb raped her, his bare buttocks exposed.
Webb gave Alfaro a meaningful look and she immediately left the room. She met
As the three men approached the pedestrian gate, Webb told
The convoy of cars went to a large house with high walls, concrete fence, steel gate, and a long driveway at BF Executive Village. They entered the compound and gathered at the lawn where the “blaming session” took place. It was here that Alfaro and those who remained outside the Vizconde house learned of what happened. The first to be killed was Carmela’s mother, then Jennifer, and finally, Carmella.
At around 2:00 in the morning, accused Gerardo Biong arrived. Webb ordered him to go and clean up the Vizconde house and said to him, “Pera lang ang katapat nyan.” Biong answered, “Okay lang.” Webb spoke to his companions and told them, “We don’t know each other. We haven’t seen each other…baka maulit yan.” Alfaro and Estrada left and they drove to her father’s house.
1. The quality of the witness
Was Alfaro an ordinary subdivision girl who showed up at the NBI after four years, bothered by her conscience or egged on by relatives or friends to come forward and do what was right? No. She was, at the time she revealed her story, working for the NBI as an “asset,” a stool pigeon, one who earned her living by fraternizing with criminals so she could squeal on them to her NBI handlers. She had to live a life of lies to get rewards that would pay for her subsistence and vices.
According to Atty. Artemio Sacaguing, former head of the NBI Anti-Kidnapping, Hijacking, and Armed Robbery Task Force (AKHAR) Section, Alfaro had been hanging around at the NBI since November or December 1994 as an “asset.” She supplied her handlers with information against drug pushers and other criminal elements. Some of this information led to the capture of notorious drug pushers like Christopher Cruz Santos and Orlando Bacquir. Alfaro’s tip led to the arrest of the leader of the “Martilyo gang” that killed a police officer. Because of her talent, the task force gave her “very special treatment” and she became its “darling,” allowed the privilege of spending nights in one of the rooms at the NBI offices.
When Alfaro seemed unproductive for sometime, however, they teased her about it and she was piqued. One day, she unexpectedly told Sacaguing that she knew someone who had the real story behind the Vizconde massacre. Sacaguing showed interest. Alfaro promised to bring that someone to the NBI to tell his story. When this did not happen and Sacaguing continued to press her, she told him that she might as well assume the role of her informant. Sacaguing testified thus:
Q. Atty. Sacaguing, how did Jessica Alfaro become a witness in the Vizconde murder case? Will you tell the Honorable Court?
x x x x
A. She told me. Your Honor, that she knew somebody who related to her the circumstances, I mean, the details of the massacre of the Vizconde family. That’s what she told me, Your Honor.
Q. And what did you say?
x x x x
A. I was quite interested and I tried to persuade her to introduce to me that man and she promised that in due time, she will bring to me the man, and together with her, we will try to convince him to act as a state witness and help us in the solution of the case.
x x x x
Q. Atty. Sacaguing, were you able to interview this alleged witness?
A. No, sir.
Q. Why not?
A. Because Jessica Alfaro was never able to comply with her promise to bring the man to me. She told me later that she could not and the man does not like to testify.
Q. All right, and what happened after that?
A. She told me, “easy lang kayo, Sir,” if I may quote, “easy lang Sir, huwag kayong…”
How was that?
A. “Easy lang, Sir. Sir, relax lang, Sir, papapelan ko, papapelan ko na lang ‘yan.”
x x x x
Q. All right, and what was your reaction when Ms. Alfaro stated that “papapelan ko na lang yan?”
A. I said, “hindi puwede yan, kasi hindi ka naman eye witness.”
Q. And what was the reply of Ms. Alfaro?
A. Hindi siya nakakibo, until she went away.
(TSN, May 28, 1996, pp. 49-50, 58, 77-79)
Quite significantly, Alfaro never refuted Sacaguing’s above testimony.
2. The suspicious details
But was it possible for Alfaro to lie with such abundant details some of which even tallied with the physical evidence at the scene of the crime? No doubt, yes.
Firstly, the Vizconde massacre had been reported in the media with dizzying details. Everybody was talking about what the police found at the crime scene and there were lots of speculations about them.
Secondly, the police had arrested some “akyat-bahay” group in Parañaque and charged them with the crime. The police prepared the confessions of the men they apprehended and filled these up with details that the evidence of the crime scene provided. Alfaro’s NBI handlers who were doing their own investigation knew of these details as well. Since Alfaro hanged out at the NBI offices and practically lived there, it was not too difficult for her to hear of these evidentiary details and gain access to the documents.
Not surprisingly, the confessions of some members of the Barroso “akyat bahay” gang, condemned by the Makati RTC as fabricated by the police to pin the crime on them, shows how crime investigators could make a confession ring true by matching some of its details with the physical evidence at the crime scene. Consider the following:
a. The Barroso gang members said that they got into Carmela’s house by breaking the glass panel of the front door using a stone wrapped in cloth to deaden the noise. Alfaro could not use this line since the core of her story was that Webb was Carmela’s boyfriend. Webb had no reason to smash her front door to get to see her.
Consequently, to explain the smashed door, Alfaro had to settle for claiming that, on the way out of the house, Webb picked up some stone and, out of the blue, hurled it at the glass-paneled front door of the Vizconde residence. His action really made no sense. From Alfaro’s narration, Webb appeared rational in his decisions. It was past midnight, the house was dark, and they wanted to get away quickly to avoid detection. Hurling a stone at that glass door and causing a tremendous noise was bizarre, like inviting the neighbors to come.
b. The crime scene showed that the house had been ransacked. The rejected confessions of the Barroso “akyat-bahay” gang members said that they tried to rob the house. To explain this physical evidence, Alfaro claimed that at one point
Again, this portion of Alfaro’s story appears tortured to accommodate the physical evidence of the ransacked house. She never mentioned
c. It is the same thing with the garage light. The police investigators found that the bulb had been loosened to turn off the light. The confessions of the Barroso gang claimed that one of them climbed the parked car’s hood to reach up and darken that light. This made sense since they were going to rob the place and they needed time to work in the dark trying to open the front door. Some passersby might look in and see what they were doing.
Alfaro had to adjust her testimony to take into account that darkened garage light. So she claimed that
And, thirdly, Alfaro was the NBI’s star witness, their badge of excellent investigative work. After claiming that they had solved the crime of the decade, the NBI people had a stake in making her sound credible and, obviously, they gave her all the preparations she needed for the job of becoming a fairly good substitute witness. She was their “darling” of an asset. And this is not pure speculation. As pointed out above, Sacaguing of the NBI, a lawyer and a ranking official, confirmed this to be a cold fact. Why the trial court and the Court of Appeals failed to see this is mystifying.
At any rate, did Alfaro at least have a fine memory for faces that had a strong effect on her, given the circumstances? Not likely. She named Miguel “Ging” Rodriguez as one of the culprits in the Vizconde killings. But when the NBI found a certain Michael Rodriguez, a drug dependent from the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center, initially suspected to be Alfaro’s Miguel Rodriguez and showed him to Alfaro at the NBI office, she ran berserk, slapping and kicking Michael, exclaiming: “How can I forget your face. We just saw each other in a disco one month ago and you told me then that you will kill me.” As it turned out, he was not Miguel Rodriguez, the accused in this case.
Two possibilities exist: Michael was really the one Alfaro wanted to implicate to settle some score with him but it was too late to change the name she already gave or she had myopic vision, tagging the wrong people for what they did not do.
3. The quality of the testimony
There is another thing about a lying witness: her story lacks sense or suffers from inherent inconsistencies. An understanding of the nature of things and the common behavior of people will help expose a lie. And it has an abundant presence in this case.
One. In her desire to implicate Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and Filart, who were supposed to be Webb’s co-principals in the crime, Alfaro made it a point to testify that Webb proposed twice to his friends the gang-rape of Carmela who had hurt him. And twice, they (including, if one believes Alfaro, her own boyfriend Estrada) agreed in a chorus to his proposal. But when they got to Carmela’s house, only Webb, Lejano,
Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, and Rodriguez supposedly stayed around Alfaro’s car, which was parked on the street between Carmela’s house and the next. Some of these men sat on top of the car’s lid while others milled on the sidewalk, visible under the street light to anyone who cared to watch them, particularly to the people who were having a drinking party in a nearby house. Obviously, the behavior of Webb’s companions out on the street did not figure in a planned gang-rape of Carmela.
, Alfaro’s dope supplier, introduced her for the first time in her life to Webb and his friends in a parking lot by a mall. So why would she agree to act as Webb’s messenger, using her gas, to bring his message to Carmela at her home. More inexplicably, what motivated Alfaro to stick it out the whole night with Webb and his friends? Ventura
They were practically strangers to her and her boyfriend Estrada. When it came to a point that Webb decided with his friends to gang-rape Carmela, clearly, there was nothing in it for Alfaro. Yet, she stuck it out with them, as a police asset would, hanging in there until she had a crime to report, only she was not yet an “asset” then. If, on the other hand, Alfaro had been too soaked in drugs to think clearly and just followed along where the group took her, how could she remember so much details that only a drug-free mind can?
Three. When Alfaro went to see Carmela at her house for the second time, Carmella told her that she still had to go out and that Webb and his friends should come back around midnight. Alfaro returned to her car and waited for Carmela to drive out in her own car. And she trailed her up to
Four. According to Alfaro, when they returned to Carmela’s house the third time around midnight, she led Webb, Lejano, and
Five. Alfaro went out of the house to smoke at the garden. After about twenty minutes, a woman exclaimed, “Sino yan?” On hearing this, Alfaro immediately walked out of the garden and went to her car. Apparently, she did this because she knew they came on a sly. Someone other than Carmela became conscious of the presence of Webb and others in the house. Alfaro walked away because, obviously, she did not want to get involved in a potential confrontation. This was supposedly her frame of mind: fear of getting involved in what was not her business.
But if that were the case, how could she testify based on personal knowledge of what went on in the house? Alfaro had to change that frame of mind to one of boldness and reckless curiosity. So that is what she next claimed. She went back into the house to watch as Webb raped Carmela on the floor of the master’s bedroom. He had apparently stabbed to death Carmela’s mom and her young sister whose bloodied bodies were sprawled on the bed. Now, Alfaro testified that she got scared (another shift to fear) for she hurriedly got out of the house after Webb supposedly gave her a meaningful look.
Alfaro quickly went to her car, not minding Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and Filart who sat on the car or milled on the sidewalk. She did not speak to them, even to Estrada, her boyfriend. She entered her car and turned on the engine but she testified that she did not know where to go. This woman who a few minutes back led Webb, Lejano, and Ventura into the house, knowing that they were decided to rape and harm Carmela, was suddenly too shocked to know where to go! This emotional pendulum swing indicates a witness who was confused with her own lies.
4. The supposed corroborations
Intending to provide corroboration to Alfaro’s testimony, the prosecution presented six additional witnesses:
Dr. Prospero A. Cabanayan, the NBI Medico-Legal Officer who autopsied the bodies of the victims, testified on the stab wounds they sustained and the presence of semen in Carmela’s genitalia, indicating that she had been raped.
Normal E. White, Jr., was the security guard on duty at Pitong Daan Subdivision from 7 p.m. of June 29 to 7 a.m. of June 30, 1991. He got a report on the morning of June 30 that something untoward happened at the Vizconde residence. He went there and saw the dead bodies in the master’s bedroom, the bag on the dining table, as well as the loud noise emanating from a television set.
White claimed that he noticed Gatchalian and his companions, none of whom he could identify, go in and out of Pitong Daan Subdivision. He also saw them along
Vinzons Street. Later, they entered Pitong Daan Subdivision in a three-car convoy. White could not, however, describe the kind of vehicles they used or recall the time when he saw the group in those two instances. And he did not notice anything suspicious about their coming and going.
But White’s testimony cannot be relied on. His initial claim turned out to be inaccurate. He actually saw Gatchalian and his group enter the Pitong Daan Subdivision only once. They were not going in and out. Furthermore, Alfaro testified that when the convoy of cars went back the second time in the direction of Carmela’s house, she alone entered the subdivision and passed the guardhouse without stopping. Yet, White who supposedly manned that guardhouse did not notice her.
Surprisingly, White failed to note Biong, a police officer, entering or exiting the subdivision on the early morning of June 30 when he supposedly “cleaned up” Vizconde residence on Webb’s orders. What is more, White did not notice Carmela arrive with her mom before Alfaro’s first visit that night. Carmela supposedly left with a male companion in her car at around 10:30 p.m. but White did not notice it. He also did not notice Carmela reenter the subdivision. White actually discredited Alfaro’s testimony about the movements of the persons involved.
Further, while Alfaro testified that it was the Mazda pick-up driven by Filart that led the three-vehicle convoy, White claimed it was the Nissan Patrol with Gatchalian on it that led the convoy since he would not have let the convoy in without ascertaining that Gatchalian, a resident, was in it. Security guard White did not, therefore, provide corroboration to Alfaro’s testimony.
Justo Cabanacan, the security supervisor at Pitong Daan Subdivision testified that he saw Webb around the last week of May or the first week of June 1991 to prove his presence in the Philippines when he claimed to be in the United States. He was manning the guard house at the entrance of the subdivision of Pitong Daan when he flagged down a car driven by Webb. Webb said that he would see Lilet Sy. Cabanacan asked him for an ID but he pointed to his United BF Homes sticker and said that he resided there. Cabanacan replied, however, that Pitong Daan had a local sticker.
Cabanacan testified that, at this point, Webb introduced himself as the son of Congressman Webb. Still, the supervisor insisted on seeing his ID. Webb grudgingly gave it and after seeing the picture and the name on it, Cabanacan returned the same and allowed Webb to pass without being logged in as their Standard Operating Procedure required.
But Cabanacan's testimony could not be relied on. Although it was not common for a security guard to challenge a Congressman’s son with such vehemence, Cabanacan did not log the incident on the guardhouse book. Nor did he, contrary to prescribed procedure, record the visitor’s entry into the subdivision. It did not make sense that Cabanacan was strict in the matter of seeing Webb’s ID but not in recording the visit.
Mila Gaviola used to work as laundry woman for the Webbs at their house at BF
. She testified that she saw Webb at his parents’ house on the morning of June 30, 1991 when she got the dirty clothes from the room that he and two brothers occupied at about 4.a.m. She saw him again pacing the floor at 9 a.m. At about 1 p.m., Webb left the house in t-shirt and shorts, passing through a secret door near the maid’s quarters on the way out. Finally, she saw Webb at 4 p.m. of the same day. Homes Executive Village
On cross-examination, however, Gaviola could not say what distinguished June 30, 1991 from the other days she was on service at the Webb household as to enable her to distinctly remember, four years later, what one of the Webb boys did and at what time. She could not remember any of the details that happened in the household on the other days. She proved to have a selective photographic memory and this only damaged her testimony.
Gaviola tried to corroborate Alfaro’'s testimony by claiming that on June 30, 1991 she noticed bloodstains on Webb's t-shirt. She did not call the attention of anybody in the household about it when it would have been a point of concern that Webb may have been hurt, hence the blood.
Besides, Victoria Ventoso, the Webbs' housemaid from March 1989 to May 1992, and Sgt. Miguel Muñoz, the Webbs' security aide in 1991, testified that Gaviola worked for the Webbs only from January 1991 to April 1991. Ventoso further testified that it was not Gaviola's duty to collect the clothes from the 2nd floor bedrooms, this being the work of the housemaid charged with cleaning the rooms.
What is more, it was most unlikely for a laundrywoman who had been there for only four months to collect, as she claimed, the laundry from the rooms of her employers and their grown up children at four in the morning while they were asleep.
And it did not make sense, if Alfaro’s testimony were to be believed that Webb, who was so careful and clever that he called Biong to go to the Vizconde residence at 2 a.m. to clean up the evidence against him and his group, would bring his bloodied shirt home and put it in the hamper for laundrywoman Gaviola to collect and wash at 4 a.m. as was her supposed habit.
Lolita De Birrer was accused Biong’s girlfriend around the time the Vizconde massacre took place. Birrer testified that she was with Biong playing mahjong from the evening of June 29, 1991 to the early morning of June 30, when Biong got a call at around 2 a.m. This prompted him, according to De Birrer, to leave and go to BF. Someone sitting at the backseat of a taxi picked him up. When Biong returned at 7 a.m. he washed off what looked like dried blood from his fingernails. And he threw away a foul-smelling handkerchief. She also saw Biong take out a knife with aluminum cover from his drawer and hid it in his steel cabinet.
The security guard at Pitong Daan did not notice any police investigator flashing a badge to get into the village although Biong supposedly came in at the unholy hour of two in the morning. His departure before 7 a.m. also remained unnoticed by the subdivision guards. Besides, if he had cleaned up the crime scene shortly after midnight, what was the point of his returning there on the following morning to dispose of some of the evidence in the presence of other police investigators and on-lookers? In fact, why would he steal valuable items from the Vizconde residence on his return there hours later if he had the opportunity to do it earlier?
At most, Birrer’s testimony only established Biong’s theft of certain items from the Vizconde residence and gross neglect for failing to maintain the sanctity of the crime scene by moving around and altering the effects of the crime. Birrer’s testimony failed to connect Biong's acts to Webb and the other accused.
Lauro Vizconde testified about how deeply he was affected by the loss of her wife and two daughters. Carmella spoke to him of a rejected suitor she called “Bagyo,” because he was a Parañaque politician’s son. Unfortunately, Lauro did not appear curious enough to insist on finding out who the rejected fellow was. Besides, his testimony contradicts that of Alfaro who testified that Carmela and Webb had an on-going relation. Indeed, if Alfaro were to be believed, Carmela wanted Webb to come to her house around midnight. She even left the kitchen door open so he could enter the house.
5. The missing corroboration
There is something truly remarkable about this case: the prosecution’s core theory that Carmela and Webb had been sweethearts, that she had been unfaithful to him, and that it was for this reason that Webb brought his friends to her house to gang-rape her is totally uncorroborated!
For instance, normally, if Webb, a Congressman’s son, courted the young Carmela, that would be news among her circle of friends if not around town. But, here, none of her friends or even those who knew either of them came forward to affirm this. And if Webb hanged around with her, trying to win her favors, he would surely be seen with her. And this would all the more be so if they had become sweethearts, a relation that Alfaro tried to project with her testimony.
But, except for Alfaro, the NBI asset, no one among Carmela’s friends or her friends’ friends would testify ever hearing of such relationship or ever seeing them together in some popular hangouts in Parañaque or
What is more, Alfaro testified that she saw Carmela drive out of her house with a male passenger, Mr. X, whom Alfaro thought the way it looked was also Carmela’s lover. This was the all-important reason Webb supposedly had for wanting to harm her. Again, none of Carmela’s relatives, friends, or people who knew her ever testified about the existence of Mr.X in her life. Nobody has come forward to testify having ever seen him with Carmela. And despite the gruesome news about her death and how Mr. X had played a role in it, he never presented himself like anyone who had lost a special friend normally would. Obviously, Mr. X did not exist, a mere ghost of the imagination of Alfaro, the woman who made a living informing on criminals.
Among the accused, Webb presented the strongest alibi.
a. The travel preparations
Webb claims that in 1991 his parents, Senator Freddie Webb and his wife, Elizabeth, sent their son to the United States (U.S.) to learn the value of independence, hard work, and money. Gloria Webb, his aunt, accompanied him. Rajah Tours booked their flight to
Webb told his friends, including his neighbor, Jennifer Claire Cabrera, and his basketball buddy, Joselito Orendain Escobar, of his travel plans. He even invited them to his despedida party on March 8, 1991 at Faces Disco along
Makati Ave. On March 8,1991, the eve of his departure, he took girlfriend Milagros Castillo to a dinner at Bunchums at the Makati Cinema Square. His basketball buddy Rafael Jose with Tina Calma, a blind date arranged by Webb, joined them. They afterwards went to Faces Disco for Webb's despedida party. Among those present were his friends Paulo Santos and Jay Ortega.
b. The two immigration checks
The following day, March 9, 1991, Webb left for
On arrival at
c. Details of
In May 1991, on invitation of another aunt, Susan Brottman, Webb moved to
On June 28, 1991, Webb’s parents visited him at
On June 30, 1991 Webb, again accompanied by his father and Aragon, bought a bicycle at
Webb stayed with the Brottmans until mid July and rented a place for less than a month. On August 4, 1991 he left for
d. The second immigration checks
As with his trip going to the
When he arrived in
e. Alibi versus positive identification
The trial court and the Court of Appeals are one in rejecting as weak Webb’s alibi. Their reason is uniform: Webb’s alibi cannot stand against Alfaro’s positive identification of him as the rapist and killer of Carmela and, apparently, the killer as well of her mother and younger sister. Because of this, to the lower courts, Webb’s denial and alibi were fabricated.
But not all denials and alibis should be regarded as fabricated. Indeed, if the accused is truly innocent, he can have no other defense but denial and alibi. So how can such accused penetrate a mind that has been made cynical by the rule drilled into his head that a defense of alibi is a hangman’s noose in the face of a witness positively swearing, “I saw him do it.”? Most judges believe that such assertion automatically dooms an alibi which is so easy to fabricate. This quick stereotype thinking, however, is distressing. For how else can the truth that the accused is really innocent have any chance of prevailing over such a stone-cast tenet?
There is only one way. 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 accused’s 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.
Rather, to be acceptable, the positive identification must meet at least two criteria:
First, the positive identification of the offender must come from a credible witness. She is credible who can be trusted to tell the truth, usually based on past experiences with her. Her word has, to one who knows her, its weight in gold.
And second, the witness’ story of what she personally saw must be believable, not inherently contrived. A witness who testifies about something she never saw runs into inconsistencies and makes bewildering claims.
Here, as already fully discussed above, Alfaro and her testimony fail to meet the above criteria.
She did not show up at the NBI as a spontaneous witness bothered by her conscience. She had been hanging around that agency for sometime as a stool pigeon, one paid for mixing up with criminals and squealing on them. Police assets are often criminals themselves. She was the prosecution’s worst possible choice for a witness. Indeed, her superior testified that she volunteered to play the role of a witness in the Vizconde killings when she could not produce a man she promised to the NBI.
And, although her testimony included details, Alfaro had prior access to the details that the investigators knew of the case. She took advantage of her familiarity with these details to include in her testimony the clearly incompatible act of Webb hurling a stone at the front door glass frames even when they were trying to slip away quietly—just so she can accommodate this crime scene feature. She also had
Further, her testimony was inherently incredible. Her story that Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and Filart agreed to take their turns raping Carmela is incongruent with their indifference, exemplified by remaining outside the house, milling under a street light, visible to neighbors and passersby, and showing no interest in the developments inside the house, like if it was their turn to rape Carmela. Alfaro’s story that she agreed to serve as Webb’s messenger to Carmela, using up her gas, and staying with him till the bizarre end when they were practically strangers, also taxes incredulity.
To provide basis for Webb’s outrage, Alfaro said that she followed Carmela to the main road to watch her let off a lover on
Ultimately, Alfaro’s quality as a witness and her inconsistent, if not inherently unbelievable, testimony cannot be the positive identification that jurisprudence acknowledges as sufficient to jettison a denial and an alibi.
f. A documented alibi
To establish alibi, the accused must prove by positive, clear, and satisfactory evidence that (a) he was present at another place at the time of the perpetration of the crime, and (b) that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime.
The courts below held that, despite his evidence, Webb was actually in Parañaque when the Vizconde killings took place; he was not in the U.S. from March 9, 1991 to October 27, 1992; and if he did leave on March 9, 1991, he actually returned before June 29, 1991, committed the crime, erased the fact of his return to the Philippines from the records of the U.S. and Philippine Immigrations, smuggled himself out of the Philippines and into the U.S., and returned the normal way on October 27, 1992. But this ruling practically makes the death of Webb and his passage into the next life the only acceptable alibi in the
If one is cynical about the Philippine system, he could probably claim that Webb, with his father’s connections, can arrange for the local immigration to put a March 9, 1991 departure stamp on his passport and an October 27, 1992 arrival stamp on the same. But this is pure speculation since there had been no indication that such arrangement was made. Besides, how could Webb fix a foreign airlines’ passenger manifest, officially filed in the
The Court of Appeals rejected the evidence of Webb’s passport since he did not leave the original to be attached to the record. But, while the best evidence of a document is the original, this means that the same is exhibited in court for the adverse party to examine and for the judge to see. As Court of Appeals Justice Tagle said in his dissent, the practice when a party does not want to leave an important document with the trial court is to have a photocopy of it marked as exhibit and stipulated among the parties as a faithful reproduction of the original. Stipulations in the course of trial are binding on the parties and on the court.
The U.S. Immigration certification and the computer print-out of Webb’s arrival in and departure from that country were authenticated by no less than the Office of the U.S. Attorney General and the State Department. Still the Court of Appeals refused to accept these documents for the reason that Webb failed to present in court the immigration official who prepared the same. But this was unnecessary. Webb’s passport is a document issued by the Philippine government, which under international practice, is the official record of travels of the citizen to whom it is issued. The entries in that passport are presumed true.
The U.S. Immigration certification and computer print-out, the official certifications of which have been authenticated by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, merely validated the arrival and departure stamps of the U.S. Immigration office on Webb’s passport. They have the same evidentiary value. The officers who issued these certifications need not be presented in court to testify on them. Their trustworthiness arises from the sense of official duty and the penalty attached to a breached duty, in the routine and disinterested origin of such statement and in the publicity of the record.
The Court of Appeals of course makes capital of the fact that an earlier certification from the U.S. Immigration office said that it had no record of Webb entering the
While it is true that an earlier Certification was issued by the
U.S. INS on August 16, 1995 finding “no evidence of lawful admission of Webb,” this was already clarified and deemed erroneous by no less than the INS Officials. As explained by witness Leo Herrera-Lim, Consul and Second Secretary of the Philippine Embassy in US , said Certification did not pass through proper diplomatic channels and was obtained in violation of the rules on protocol and standard procedure governing such request. Washington D.C.
The initial request was merely initiated by BID Commissioner Verceles who directly communicated with the Philippine Consulate in
, bypassing the Secretary of Foreign Affairs which is the proper protocol procedure. Mr. Steven Bucher, the acting Chief of the Records Services Board of US-INS Washington D.C. in his letter addressed to Philip Antweiler, Philippine Desk Officer, State Department, declared the earlier Certification as incorrect and erroneous as it was “not exhaustive and did not reflect all available information.” Also, Richard L. Huff, Co-Director of the Office of Information and privacy, US Department of Justice, in response to the appeal raised by Consul General Teresita V. Marzan, explained that “the INS normally does not maintain records on individuals who are entering the country as visitors rather than as immigrants: and that a notation concerning the entry of a visitor may be made at the Nonimmigrant Information system. Since appellant Webb entered the U.S. on a mere tourist visa, obviously, the initial search could not have produced the desired result inasmuch as the data base that was looked into contained entries of the names of IMMIGRANTS and not that of NON-IMMIGRANT visitors of the U.S.. San Francisco, USA
The trial court and the Court of Appeals expressed marked cynicism over the accuracy of travel documents like the passport as well as the domestic and foreign records of departures and arrivals from airports. They claim that it would not have been impossible for Webb to secretly return to the Philippines after he supposedly left it on March 9, 1991, commit the crime, go back to the U.S., and openly return to the Philippines again on October 26, 1992. Travel between the
U.S. and the , said the lower courts took only about twelve to fourteen hours. Philippines
If the Court were to subscribe to this extremely skeptical view, it might as well tear the rules of evidence out of the law books and regard suspicions, surmises, or speculations as reasons for impeaching evidence. It is not that official records, which carry the presumption of truth of what they state, are immune to attack. They are not. That presumption can be overcome by evidence. Here, however, the prosecution did not bother to present evidence to impeach the entries in Webb’s passport and the certifications of the Philippine and
7. Effect of Webb’s alibi to others
Webb’s documented alibi altogether impeaches Alfaro's testimony, not only with respect to him, but also with respect to Lejano, Estrada, Fernandez, Gatchalian, Rodriguez, and Biong. For, if the Court accepts the proposition that Webb was in the
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 one’s inner being, like a piece of meat lodged immovable between teeth.
Will the Court send the accused to spend the rest of their lives in prison on the testimony of an NBI asset who proposed to her handlers that she take the role of the witness to the Vizconde massacre that she could not produce?
WHEREFORE, the Court REVERSES and SETS ASIDE the Decision dated December 15, 2005 and Resolution dated January 26, 2007 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. 00336 and ACQUITS accused-appellants Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio Lejano, Michael A. Gatchalian, Hospicio Fernandez, Miguel Rodriguez, Peter Estrada and Gerardo Biong of the crimes of which they were charged for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. They are ordered immediately RELEASED from detention unless they are confined for another lawful cause.
Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Director, Bureau of Corrections,
for immediate implementation. The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is DIRECTED to report the action he has taken to this Court within five days from receipt of this Decision. Muntinlupa City