Under our justice system, a decision of the Supreme Court on any issue of fact and/or of law cannot be questioned anymore and must be accepted by all once it becomes final whether they agree with it or not. As the court of last resort, there is no more appeal from its final decision. But Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) under her department apparently do not adhere to this principle in the Vizconde massacre case. They believe that they can have the case reinvestigated to disprove or refute the final SC decision acquitting Webb and his co-accused on the ground of reasonable doubt.

Thus de Lima recently announced in a press conference the NBI re-investigation report that six witnesses have told authorities the presence of Hubert Webb in the Philippines during the Vizconde massacre. And she did not stop there. She assumed the role of the court in evaluating the testimonies of said witnesses and authoritatively declared that they have “rebutted, negated, destroyed and shattered” Webb’s defense of alibi. In short the Secretary of Justice says that the SC is wrong when it accepted as true Webb’s alibi. This is a concrete example of a Secretary of Justice undermining the highest court of the land and our justice system.

From any angle, it looks like de Lima accepted as true the mere say so of six witnesses as against the SC findings based on documents and numerous testimonies subjected to rigid cross examination during the trial precisely to test their truthfulness. Assuming that her six witnesses passed the lithograph or lie detector tests, they have not been subjected to cross examination by the adverse parties, which is a requirement for accepting said statements as evidence. How were they able to identify Webb? Do they know him? Are they familiar with his face? Have they met him before? Are they his friends? De Lima did not say whether these and other questions to test their credibility were asked. As a lawyer and Justice Secretary she should know that these statements are hearsay and cannot prevail over the evidence offered and admitted by the court. Yet she accepted and relied on them as sufficient to “rebut, negate, destroy and shatter” Webb’s alibi already found by the SC to be credible and true.

In defending her stance, the Secretary of Justice insists that she came out with such report because the inter-agency task force composed of the DOJ, the NBI and the PNP was mandated to “ferret out the truth” behind the massacre. But the truth to be “ferreted out” invariably has two sides. Thus under our justice system, it must undergo a judicial process to determine which side is really the truth. In this case the Justice Secretary simply relied heavily on the six witnesses interviewed by the NBI who remain unidentified up to now, and immediately concluded that Webb’s alibi is false. Obviously, the truth was not ferreted out but muddled even more. Publishing it and admitting at the same time that even if Webb’s alibi is false, Webb and company cannot be indicted for the same offense anymore because of the principle of double jeopardy only validates the charge of Webb’s camp that these moves have sinister motives — to convict Webb and company before the bar of public opinion than before bench of justice.

Indeed, even assuming that Webb’s alibi is false, it does not really mean that he is the one who perpetrated or masterminded the massacre. The issue here is not whether Webb was in the Philippines during the massacre but whether he is one of those who committed the crime. In this regard de Lima herself admitted that ‘despite serious efforts by the task force, it found no credible and confirmed evidence that would place Webb and co-accused at the scene of the crime; that no witness came out to place any of the suspects at the scene of the crime at the time of the incident. So there is no point at all in stressing that Webb was in the Philippines during the Vizconde massacre. It is not even necessary in “ferreting out the truth”.

Since the Justice Secretary herself admitted that in view of the SC decision acquitting Webb and his co-accused they cannot be charged with the same offense anymore under the rule on double jeopardy, she should have ordered her task force to concentrate in looking for the real culprits excluding Webb and co-accused. This is more in keeping with their mandate to “ferret out the truth”. But as it now turns out, the gist of the inter-agency re-investigation report is still about Hubert Webb. Hence the Webb camp would naturally ascribe some sinister motives behind this report.

To be sure, it would have been more in keeping with their mandate if the task force looked into another angle concerning this case. It must be recalled that to settle the issue of whether Webb was in the Philippines and was one of those who committed the crime, the SC ordered a DNA examination upon his request. Unfortunately, the examination could not be conducted anymore because the DNA samples were missing. The NBI said that the court had custody of said samples but the court pointed to the NBI as the custodian. If the re-investigation just determined how the samples were lost and who was responsible for such loss, it would have easily arrived at the truth because whoever was responsible for such loss did not want the testing either because it would establish the innocence or guilt of Webb. Indeed this is one of the SC’s reasons for acquitting Webb and his co-accused on reasonable doubt.

Even after 20 years, the truth behind the Vizconde massacre remains as elusive as ever. And obviously this is due to the messy and amateurish way of handling the investigation and prosecution of the crime.











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