Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hubert Webb, Vizconde Massacre: the Philippines Justice System on Trial

(Met Hubert Webb last November 7 and decided to update this post instead rather than make a new one.)

Like many Filipinos, I have already judge and concluded Hubert Webb as guilty of the Vizconde Massacre. Much of that was influenced by what I read and saw in traditional media at that time. Not to mention movies were created, with well-known celebrities and producers, further giving credibility about the issue. Everything else that the Webb clan has said, I assume, were false and just a way for former Senator Freddie Webb of influencing the case using his position.

But more than a decade later, and after reading, talking, and eventually meeting Fritz Webb, there's this anger for I felt brainwashed and manipulated.

It reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink" where - when our minds are conditioned to believe a perspective, then everything else, no matter how doubtful, is put aside due to the bias we developed.

It also reminded me of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie TED talk, "The Danger of a Single Story" on being shown or told of only one thing, who tells them, when they are told, how they are told, the number of stories told, that makes it the definite story of a person, culture, or society. It is like power being played on us by persons with authority dictating what we should only know.

It felt like everything that Lauro Vizconde, former Senator Rene Cayetano, the NBI, Jessica Alfaro, stories published in the Inquirer or said was the only truth. But watching the Probe video series raised a lot of questions.

Last November 7, I went to the National Bilibid Prison and met Hubert Webb personally. Also got the chance to talk to former Senator Freddie Webb.

Hubert Webb, like most Scorpio men I know, tends to be quiet and observant of people. He has a son that can't use his last name for fear of being ridiculed and discriminated. He can't have a long term relationship as security is something he can't offer. Fortunately, he has a family who loves him so much.

Admittedly, the Vizconde Massacre case felt bizarre for there were stories said then mostly ignored by people like me. Hearing them again and scouring the Internet for reading materials about the topic made me ponder.

Some of my questions answered includes:

1. Did the Department of Justice sent a representative to validate Hubert Webb's alibi of being in California?

According to the former Senator, no representatives were sent but inquiry letters validating Hubert's stay was made.
Letters of U.S. Embassy Robert Heafner to Mariano Mison and Teofisto Guingona

Some things that confused me as an afterthought this past 7 days and as I do further reading on this are:

1. Based on news read about the decision, the eyewitness account is given more weight rather than the letters, receipts, and videos that were produced.

2. When the Vizconde Massacre case happened, I haven't traveled out of Manila or of the country before via airplane. The speculation about the going in and out of the country, your passport not being stamped, seems believable especially if any news about corruption in Philippine government is true to you.

However, for the U.S., that is a different story altogether. The burden of proof that he didn't left the U.S. rather than proving in exact details how he got back in the country to commit the crime and returned to the U.S. is something that confused me.

Hubert Webb's Urgent Motion to Acquit - 28 Oct. 2010

Lauro Vizconde - his subtle voice and calm look made me immediately pity him then to the point that whatever he says is the truth. However, after reading more about the case, the interview confuses me:

1. He mentioned about consulting a psychic where the names of those who killed his family was given to him. They were all unknown to him. Then after meeting Jessica Alfaro giving the exact names that is the same as he has and after talking to her further made him believe that she is indeed telling the truth. If Hubert Webb is in that list, I find it hard to believe that he doesn't know him.

2. In the Probe video series, there were several "the last time we talked" mentions, referring to his conversation with her daughter Carmela. This includes:
  • She has son of politician suitor which she turned down. Name not mentioned.
  • She has son of a politician suitor who enrolled in the same gym she is in. During Santacruzan, the barkadas were following her. (Did anyone from the gym attest to that?)
  • She has a boyfriend but he doesn't know the name yet. (Was there a boyfriend investigated in the case?)
3. He also mentioned that he went to the U.S. to get money for Carmela's masteral studies. Then he mentioned that Carmela wants to become a doctor. Carmela was still in freshman college year if I recall correctly.

4. What's further glaring was when he said, "why they only rape Carmela and not my wife?" What does he exactly meant by that?

5. For a man who wants to know the truth, why contend with DNA testing?

6. For a man who was able to travel the U.S., why he doubt the authenticity of the entry and exit records of Hubert Webb issued by the U.S. government? If he doesn't believe it, can that also be said of him?

Well who knows, maybe I will also be able to meet Lauro Vizconde someday. Hear his side as I want to know his reactions to the dissenting opinions of the Court of Appeals. I hope my impression of him that - he so wants to get this case finished and would rather believe that whoever was convicted already by the Regional Trial Court are indeed the culprits of the crime - is wrong.

Today, Lauro Vizconde enjoys a position in government as board of director in IBC-13 and as a PAGCOR consultant through former First Gentleman Arroyo. Since he is also a politician and close to the Arroyo family, the most odd question I got from a friend is did this contribute to the reason why the Supreme Court did not decide soon enough on the case? It is easy to speculate but that won't help this discussion. Neither do I want to dig any further on that.

Semen evidence

On the semen evidence, NBI said they submitted it to the RTC. While the RTC said, they don't have it and only 3 slide photos were submitted as evidence. The weirdest response I got from this when discussed, perhaps there were no semen evidence at all to begin with. Some of the mailing list, on the other hand, are saying that the Webb family paid someone to lose the evidence. Isn't this crazy?

Reading the Dissenting Opinion

Unfortunately, as of this writing, I have been unsuccessful in getting a copy of the decisions issued by the Regional Trial Court.
Court of Appeals GR CR HC 0336 2007 Decision

Perspective on Court of Appeals G.R. CR HC No. 00336 Vizconde Massacre with Highlights on Dissenting Opinio...

Dissenting Opinion of Justice Renato Dacudao on Vizconde Massacre Court of Appeals G.R. CR HC No. 00336

Dissenting Opinion Justice Lucenito Tagle on Vizconde Massacre Court of Appeals G.R. CR HC No. 00336

The dissenting opinion raises a lot of questions that made me ponder about the Philippines Justice system. Was there any progress made today beyond the issuance of clearance?

Talking to Hubert Webb last Sunday instilled worry and fear in me. If you have a son or daughter accused of a crime that you know for certain not to be guilty of, will you take the risk of letting them go through an experience similar to what Hubert Webb went through?

I began thinking of how many people are in jail today who are not really guilty of the crime accused of them. Especially knowing that there is no independent audit body of any sort that checks the manner on how our law enforcement investigates.

Will there be hope or will it be a shocker like the last round at the Court of Appeals? Do we have the wrong men in jail?

By dragging this case for so long and now with social media, I hope that those who were responsible of spinning the Vizconde Massacre stories will realize that we now have access to information and can exchange insight with each other. We can get back to everything you said then and now. How this issue catapulted you to power and how you used your position to thank those who were instrumental in the case. It is sad when those who believe in you felt they were played upon.

I think what hurts the most in blogging about this is the feeling of uncertainty, the lack of faith and comfort to our justice system. I was hoping to tell Hubert before leaving, "Take care. Don't worry. Everything will be ok. Justice is on your side." Unfortunately, I can't. Somehow, I feel there must be a bigger reason why he is being kept in jail.

This I felt after watching former NBI Director Mison shared the incident (Probe video series) where former President Fidel V. Ramos gave him instruction to handle this case well. Former Senator Freddie Webb said then he was asked not to pursue investigation of the 11 Indian Nationals case and this was his payback. How come Lauro Vizconde got special treatment from the Arroyo administration? Why is Lauro Vizconde able to continue getting this special treatment with the Aquino administration? When I reach this point of discussion with friends, will usually stop for I may end up digging a hole for myself and be unable to recover.

This case is so much in the past to the point sometimes one can't help but ask, why people need to care? Well, life is progressing, government is changing, but can we say the same with our justice system? I think how the Supreme Court will rule on this shall reflect on the kind of justice system we have today.

Can bloggers and social media play a role to spark change in our justice system? Frankly, I don't know.

(P.S. November 18, 2010, I decided to edit my blog post as a lawyer friend warned me that my writing style, even if in personal opinion, might be regarded as sub judice. Well I hope this variation will be better.)