MANILA — Voting 7-4, the Supreme Court (SC) en banc on Tuesday acquitted the son of former Senator Freddie Webb, Hubert Jeffrey Webb, and eight others in the massacre of Estrellita Vizconde, and daughters Carmela and Jennifer in their home in Paranaque City in 1991.
Others acquitted were Antonio Lejano, Michael Gatchalian, Hospicio Fernandez, Miguel Rodriguez, Peter Estrada and former policeman Gerardo Biong.
SC Spokesman and Court Adminisrator Atty. Jose Midas Marquez said that the Court acquitted the seven accused as the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The High Court also ordered their release from prisons unless they are facing other charges.
At 3 p.m. after the noon promulgation of the decision, the visibly happy Webb and the others were all freed at the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa by Prisons Director Ernesto “Totoy” Diokno and within one hour were all at their respective homes.
Lauro Visconde, wife of Estrellita and father of Carmela and Jennifer who were massacred at their home, passed out at the High Court when the decision was read.
Later, the angry Visconde said he lost faith in the country’s justice system, accusing the Supreme Court justices of receiving bribe money in exchange for the acquittal of Webb and his co-accused.
“Sigurado ako na kung hindi nagkabayaran ay hindi ako magkakaganito ang kaso ko. Pinawalang-sala ng mga magagaling nating justices. Diyan ko napatunayan na sa Korte Suprema ay ginagapang nga,” Vizconde told reporters at his house in Parañaque after the Supreme Court issued its decision.
Webb, on the other hand, said he and his co-accused never lost faith in the system despite the difficulties they underwent during their 15 years in jail, because “truth has finally come out.”
“Lumabas ang totoo at naniwala kami sa sistema. Labinlimang taon, 4,000 days naming tinanggap, kaya nagpapasalamat kami na lumabas ang katotohahan,” he said.
Webb was fetched at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City by his family led by his father, former Senator and congressman Freddie Webb and sister Pinky Webb, a radio and television host.
Webb and his co-accused said they will move on, with some of them planning to go back to school to get their degrees.
Earlier, Vizconde accused Justice Antonio Carpio of lobbying so that Webb and the others will be cleared of the charges.
The group Volunteers against Crime and Corruption urged the public to wear black and paste black ribbons on their cars to show their sobbying for the acquittal of Webb. Carpio was one of four justices who abstained.
Carpio had testified in favor of Webb when the case was being heard by Parañaque court.
“Wala na po akong panawagan. Ano pa, may tiwala pa ba tayo sa ating hukuman?” Vizconde said.
VACC president Dante Jimenez, in a press conference, said the tribunal is not a “trier of facts.’
Jessica Alfaro, the prosecution’s star witness, had reportedly gone into hiding in the United States after learning of the reversal of the decision.
The Webb family hailed the decision of the High Court. “We are deeply grateful to the Supreme Court for this vindication,” the family said in a statement.
The decision clearing Webb and his companions in the grisly killings was penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad.
Voting in the majority for the acquittal of the suspects were: Associate Justices Roberto Abad, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza and Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Dissenting were Chief Justice Renato Corona, and Associate Justices Martin Villarama, Jr.; Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion.
Those who inhibited and did not participate in the voting were Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Mariano del Castillo and Presbitero Velasco, Jr.
Carpio inhibited because he testified during the trial of the case. Velasco inhibited because of his close relationship to a party in the case.
Del Castillo inhibited because one of the accused is a client of the law firm of his wife. Nachura inhibited because he was the Solicitor General at the time of the commission of the crime.
Marquez said that in their decision, the Court took into consideration the inconsistencies in the testimony of Jessica Alfaro, who was an agent of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), but she was not an eyewitness.
The SC also took into consideration the argument of Webb that he was in the United States during the commission of the crime.
However, the SC did not take into consideration the DNA test.
President Aquino immediately said he sympathized with Lauro Vizconde after the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Hubert Webb and the other accused in the Vizconde massacre.
But the President and the Palace refused to comment any further, saying it would be up to the SC to explain its decision to the public.
“Initially of course we sympathize with Mr. Lauro Vizconde. I asked for a briefer to be prepared,” the President said in a text message.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it was not for Malacanang to comment on why the case took 19 years to be decided on with finality and why the accused were convicted.
“How they came up with the decision is entirely up to the Supreme Court to explain and let their spokesperson explain it,” Lacierda said.
“The Palace has no position one way or the other on the Vizconde case. We leave it entirely to the parties to comment on that,” he added.
Lacierda said it was irrelevant that the final ruling on the case was done under the Aquino administration.
“The case was decided based on the assessment of the justices on the appeal. So we can’t comment any further than that. Again, it’s a decision made entirely by a separate branch of government so we leave it up to them. Why it took 19 years? That’s for them to decide and not for us to comment on,” Lacierda said.
“It has no impact (on the Aquino administration) because it is, with all due respect, no relevance to the Aquino administration. It was a case that was pending even prior to the Aquino administration, even prior to the Arroyo administration. So it’s a decision of the Supreme Court based on the assessment of the facts and the evidence presented and why it took that long is for them to answer that,” he added.