Your Chair Wrecker was utterly appalled to watch the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) go on a feeding frenzy the moment the Supreme Court announced last Tuesday the acquittal of Hubert Webb et al, better known as the convicted Vizconde Massacre prisoners. The ANC feeding frenzy simply exceeded the usual feeding frenzy that we expect media all over the world to engage in.
What is totally unacceptable was the treatment that ANC anchors, especially Twink Macaraig, gave the prisoner release processing live coverage at the Muntinlupa Penitentiary. Macaraig was talking like she had a sure grip of all the legal ramifications of the 7-4 Supreme Court decision and was recklessly speculating about charges for the Vizconde case star witness Jessica Alfaro and others who may have ‘connived’ to convict Hubert Webb et al.
The Supreme Court Vizconde case decision isn’t without controversy. There are legal minds who felt that the Supreme Court should not have delved on the appreciation of evidence and testimony and should have confined its review instead to judging the legal procedures. Seven Supreme Court Associate Justices cannot presume to appreciate evidence and testimony better than the presiding judge who was physically present to observe the witnesses and the evidences. That former Regional Trial Court Judge Amelita Tolentino’s decision was sustained by the Court of Appeals would indicate that proper procedures were followed.
It is not for a network anchor like Macaraig to speak as if she knows if Hubert Webb et al were totally innocent or that Jessica Alfaro et al were all ‘evil conspirators’ who allegedly ‘connived’ to make Hubert Webb et al spend 15 miserable years of their lives in prison while suffering the anguish of public condemnation. The Supreme Court acquittal merely stated that the evidences and testimonies failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of Hubert Webb et al.
That the evidences and testimonies failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of Hubert Webb et al, could mean that Hubert Webb et al may really be the criminals except that the evidences and testimonies were insufficient to convict them. That the evidences and testimonies failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of Hubert Webb et al, does not also mean that Jessica Alfaro et al willfully perjured with malice in mind. It could simply mean that there was a need for more corroboration.
Hubert Webb et al can no longer be made to account for the Vizconde Massacre. However, it has yet to be established as legal fact if Jessica Alfaro et al are accountable for perjury and until such time - Macaraig et al are out of bounds to suggest that they should be made to account.
What made the ANC feeding frenzy more repulsive is public knowledge that Pinky Webb, Hubert’s sister, happens to be one of the anchors of the network. If ABS-CBN is professional enough to state their sister company relationships with Meralco and Maynilad during controversies — Macaraig et al should also state that Pinky Webb is their colleague when they begin sounding the way they did. This is not to say that Pinky Webb had anything to do with the prejudicial statements of Twink Macaraig et al. This is merely to point out the impropriety of the statements of Macaraig et al.
It’s not our intention to comment on the merits of the Supreme Court decision. To begin with, Freddie Webb, Hubert’s father, is an old friend and I do not even know Lauro Vizconde. I am very happy for Freddie and his family and my heart goes out to Lauro Vizconde whose deep anguish was very evident on television.
Both Freddie Webb and Lauro Vizconde could have been victims of injustice. For sure, they were preyed upon by media feeding frenzy. Educated people will make themselves scarce whenever there is an embarrassing demonstration of uncontrolled emotion — like the reaction of Lauro Vizconde when the Supreme Court verdict was announced. Somehow, when some folks have a camera or a microphone like media people — they discard good manners and right conduct.
What should bother us is this tendency of some media practitioners to make the news instead of to simply cover it. Freddie Webb denied even thinking of a counter suit against those who testified against his son but here we have an ANC anchor already projecting that eventuality. Macaraig did not just project these possible counter suits — she sounded like she was drumbeating for it! She and Tony Velasquez were already calculating the State compensation for illegal imprisonment. It was an editorial that they did — not news coverage — and it’s simply unacceptable.
When he was still President Cory Aquino’s Legal Counsel, now retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna shared with me an insight on how media badly affect the justice system. Adolf explained that falsely premised media reports condition the public mind to expect a wrong decision. A correct decision fails to be appreciated by the time this is announced because media had already conditioned the public mind against it.
In their anguish, the camp of Lauro Vizconde charged that the Supreme Court decision was the result of an elaborate power play and public relations plan. That ANC coverage last Tuesday reinforced that perception.
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