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'Vizconde suspects can still be charged in 6 months'

- Delon Porcalla -

MANILA, Philippines –  The Department of Justice (DOJ) still has six months to file rape slay charges against a new set of suspects in the Vizconde massacre, Malacañang said yesterday.

Undersecretary Abigail Valte said the charges can still be filed within six months to beat the 20-year prescriptive period in which to file the murder case.

Valte told a press briefing at Malacañang that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is under the DOJ, can still investigate the 19-year-old rape-slay case since this did not necessarily mean they are starting from scratch.

“Six months, it can be done. But you have several factors to consider in any investigation – availability of evidence, availability of witnesses,” explained Valte, a lawyer by profession.

Valte also clarified that contrary to public perception, investigators are not left without any trail of evidence on the case.

“It’s not really back to square one. You should ask (DOJ) Secretary (Leila) de Lima again,” she said.

“Realistically, I don’t think entirely that it’s back to square one because they (NBI and DOJ) have evidence on hand that they can use from the crime scene itself,” she explained further.

Under Philippine laws, criminal cases like murder can only be pursued or prosecuted 20 years from the commission of the crime. Otherwise, the state can no longer pin down any suspect if the crime had lapsed for two decades.

At the same time, Valte said President Aquino was wary of the prescriptive period on the murder case, which somehow effectively tied the hands of the government in going after the real culprits.

Aquino had expressed sympathy to Lauro Vizconde following the Supreme Court (SC) ruling on Tuesday acquitting the convicts in the rape-slay case.

“Since our briefing yesterday (Dec. 15) and today there have been several issues that have been raised such as the prescription period,” Valte said. 

The SC acquitted Hubert Webb, son of former senator Freddie Webb, and six others for the massacre, after they were imprisoned for 15 years.

Webb and his group were the second set of suspects that were freed by the courts for insufficient evidence.

Valte also hinted that the Webb family has all the right to go after the NBI agents who may have filed the murder cases.

“That is within their discretion, judgment call nila iyun kung magsasampa sila ng kaso (if they decide to pursue the case),” she said.

A militant group, on the other hand, said the acquittal of the convicts in the Vizconde massacre could discourage other victims of rape and other forms of violence against women to seek justice.

“We fear the repercussions on other victims of VAW (violence against women). That even a high-profile case such as the Vizconde massacre goes back to square one after 20 years of investigation and trial can discourage other victims to complain and seek redress,” said Gabriela party-list deputy secretary-general Joms Salvador.

Salvador said the failure of the Philippine justice system and its law enforcement agencies to give justice to the victims Carmela, Estrellita and Jennifer is a crime in itself against the Vizconde family.

“It is also a backlash to Filipino women’s pursuit of justice for victims of rape and other forms of VAW,” Salvador said.

The group supported proposals to reopen investigation of the case even as it urged the public “to remain vigilant until justice is fully attained,” particularly since the 20-year prescription period of the case ends in July next year.

Challenges

The DOJ is mulling a reinvestigation of the Vizconde massacre after the SC acquitted the convicts in the case.

But the SC clarified Tuesday that its ruling does not necessarily mean Webb and the other convicts were innocent of the crime. It so happened that the prosecution had failed to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

De Lima said the SC ruling clearing Webb, Hospicio Fernandez, Antonio Lejano, Michael Gatchalian, Peter Estrada, Miguel Rodriguez and Gerardo Biong was a challenge to the DOJ.

Biong, the police investigator who was convicted as accessory of the crime for destroying evidence, was released from prison on Nov. 30 after completing his sentence.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Biong may not be entitled to receive benefits since he was dismissed from the service following his conviction in 1991.

PNP chief Director General Raul Bacalzo said Biong can file his claim for back wages and they would look into it.

“Biong can file request for his back wages but the PNP will still study if he is entitled to his claim,” Bacalzo told The STAR editors during a visit late Wednesday.

Director Reynaldo Lañada, chief of the PNP Directorate for Logistics, said Biong could only be entitled to receive commutation of leave but not back wages.

“From what I heard and read, Biong was convicted and dismissed from the service, and any policeman convicted and dismissed from the police service will not be entitled to benefits,” Lañada told The STAR.

But if a police officer was convicted of a crime but later acquitted, Lañada said he or she could work for back wages.

Lañada explained the cleared police officer will have to secure a certification from his superior stating that he served as a member of the unit before he was wrongfully convicted.

The certificate will be forwarded to the PNP-Directorate for Finance and the Directorate for Logistics, which will allocate funds for the police officer’s benefits.

In giving pensions, Lañada pointed out that PNP considers the years of service of a police officer.

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged the SC to arrest Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) chairman Dante Jimenez for publicly criticizing the magistrates in the ruling by using vulgar language.

Enrile said that he would have immediately taken action against Jimenez if he were a member of the High Court.

Shortly after last Tuesday’s SC ruling that acquitted the convicts in the Vizconde massacre, Jimenez held a press conference where he repeatedly hurled invectives at the magistrates for their decision.

“You do not say that. I do not know whether he is a lawyer. Is Jimenez a lawyer? If he is then he should be disbarred,” Enrile said in Filipino.

Enrile said every individual is free to criticize the high tribunal over its ruling but to use vulgar language in doing so is uncalled for.

“No one is beyond criticism, but you have to use language that is not vulgar,” Enrile said.

The SC has indicated Jimenez could be cited for contempt for using foul language.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said if any of the magistrates felt offended by what Jimenez had said, then the VACC chief could be cited for contempt or disrespect.  –With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Helen Flores, Marvin Sy

ANTONIO LEJANO

BIONG

CASE

CRIME

ENRILE

JIMENEZ

VALTE

VIZCONDE

WEBB

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