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Truth and Inductive Reasoning:

Revisiting the Vizconde Massacre

[W]hen "it is no longer the reasoning which determines what the conclusion shall be, but the
conclusion which determines what the reasoning shall be" the inevitable result will be "a rapid
deterioration of intellectual vigour: "man loses his conception of truth and of reason," and
comes to think of reasoning as
"merely decorative, until
"the truth for him is that for which he fights."1
Charles Sanders Pierce, Collected Papers
"[T]o say of what is that it is,
or of what is not that it is not, is true."2
Aristotle, Metaphysics
______________________________________________________________________
INTRODUCTION
WHEREFORE, the Court REVERSES and SETS ASIDE the Decision dated
December 15, 2005 and Resolution dated January 26, 2007 of the Court of
Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. 00336 and ACQUITS accused-appellants Hubert
Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio Lejano, Michael A. Gatchalian, Hospicio Fernandez,
Miguel Rodriguez, Peter Estrada and Gerardo Biong of the crimes of which they
were charged for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable
doubt. They are ordered immediately RELEASED from detention unless they are
confined for another lawful cause.3

Charles Sanders Peirce, 1878 (qtd. in Haack, 14, 2004) The original source as cited by
Haack: Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, Papers, eds. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss,
and Arthur Burks (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931-58), 2.635. References are
by volume and paragraph number; the passage is dated 1878.
1

Aristotle, Metaphysics (trans. Christopher Kirwan, Oxford: Oxford University Press,


1971), Book Gamma, Chapter 7, 1011b2 qtd. in Susan Haack, The Unity of Truth and the
Plurality of Truths (Cooper Senior Scholar in Arts and Sciences, Professor of Philosophy, and
Professor of Law, University of Miami. Copyright 2003 Susan Haack)
3

Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 176389; People Of The
Philippines Vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb et al., G.R. No. 176864, December 14, 2010 (Supreme
Court en banc).

This is the dispositive portion of the Supreme Courts decision on the case People of the
Philippines vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, et al., notably known as the Vizconde Massacre Case, a
nearly two-decade-old case that captured the attention of the country. It was a sensational case,
especially so that after years of battle with the law and jurisprudence, the father of the victims,
Lauro Vizconde, expressed losing hope with regard to the countrys justice system for the only
considered accused of the said crime were acquitted due to suspicious details of evidence
presented by the witnesss testimony.4 In his motion for reconsideration, Vizconde questioned the
Courts appreciation of the evidence and the assessment of the prosecution witnesses credibility,
yet, the Supreme Court denied said motion, arguing that the judgment acquitting Webb, et al. is
final and can no longer be disturbed.5 Implicitly in its response, the Supreme Court find
Vizcondes motion grounded on superficial justifications, to wit:
In other words, private complainant wants the Court to review the evidence anew
and render another judgment based on such a re-evaluation. This is not
constitutionally allowed as it is merely a repeated attempt to secure Webb, et al.s
conviction.6
Public opinion with respect to the case has fallen into whoever could be Webb, et al.s or
Vizcondes sympathisers, debates on guilty or not guilty verdict, disputations as to whether or not
the decision stemmed from a corrupted justice system. Nevertheless, it could be a miscarriage of
justice leaning on either of the conflicting sides, definite innocence accused of guilt or actual
guilt, but on the other hand, resting beyond reasonable doubt. For whichever face, truth is indeed
perplexed with uncertainty and its determination is undeniably a painstaking task.
Although, logic-wise, legal adjudication involves facts plus law is equal to decision, in
Goldmans, is true and accurate judgment7 which means that following all the rules and given
4

Lejano vs. People of the Philippines, supra, note 4.

Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines G.R. No. 176389; People of the Philippines
vs. Hubert Jeffrey Webb, et al., G.R. No. 176864, January 18, 2011.
The dispositive portion of the decision of the Supreme Court: WHEREFORE, the Court
DENIES for lack of merit complainant Lauro G. Vizcondes motion for reconsideration dated
December 28, 2010.
6

Lejano vs. People of the Philippines, supra, note 4.


7

Alvin Goldman, Knowledge in a Social World (New York: Oxford University Press,
1999) 289. Traditions, at least in Alvin Goldmans terms, are the rules of procedure in legal
adjudication.

evidence, reparation for a legal wrong is justified. However, the judicial department has still
have to rest on the probability of the innocence or guilt of the accused. It could not pronounce
with certainty its decision absent concrete details or on shady aspects of the case for it needs to
concretely satisfy itself that it is without any reasonable doubt that the parties are accorded the
justice that they deserve.
Overall, in legal battles especially in criminal prosecution, the logical formula for a
decision present itself as an easy grasp procedure but the minuscule of all of its facets has to go
through a rigorous scrutiny in order for the conclusion to be substantial, more so full-proof.
Therefore, should there be any cast of qualm, the reasoning process is flawed.
Frome these, it is the reasoning process called inductive presents its strength and
significance because it is detail-specific and a definitive inference could not be arrived at if a
clear picture is wanting for accusations are still constitutionally protected. And this is the error
that could no longer be reversed in the Vizconde case, the failure to establish the very
foundation, the premise to secure the favourable conclusion on the part of the victims.
TRUTH AND CREDIBILITY OF THE WITNESS
The Supreme Court, in its final decision of the case, rests heavily on the matter of the
witnesss credibility. As in all cases, the narrative on how the matter came to be is dependent on
the eye-witnesses account on what happened. In logic, the latter comprises the premises that
would become the building blocks of entire case.
In the Vizconde case, the only witness was conceded to be an NBI asset, yet, the Supreme
Court found it plausible that the entire testimony was indeed a concocted account opening the
witnesss vulnerability to perjury for the reason that there exist discrepancies.
Accordingly, for testimonial evidence to be called trustworthy in guaranteeing light in the
abyss of the almost dead end lead, Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, in her concurring opinion,
quoted Tick Chong v. Republic:
Jurisprudence has consistently summoned, however, that for testimonial
evidence to be worthy of belief, it must firstly proceed from the mouth of
a credible witness. A person may be credible where he is without previous
conviction of a crime; who is not a police character and has no police record; who
has not perjured in the past; whose affidavit or testimony is not incredible; who
has a good standing in the community; and who is reputed to be trustworthy and
reliable. Secondly, the persons testimony must in itself be credible.8
.Tick Chong v. Republic, No. L-22151, March 30, 1970, 32 SCRA 253, 258 qtd. in
Lejano, supra, note 4. Justice Carpio Morales concurring.
8

However, the definition of a credible witness provided by the precedent leads to the dominant
view of situationalism, which holds that, in fact, people's actions are situation-specific, rather
than reflecting stable dispositions constitutive of character. 9 More often than not, predictive
damaging inferences from the character of the witness may be drawn with reference to previous
acts10 hence disrupts the integrity of the testimony even prior to giving it. It is not an assurance
that previous conviction or good standing in the community would indicate a significant impact
with regard to the witnesss dependability on the witness stand. Reminiscent of the records of the
case, the fact that the Vizconde witness is admittedly an NBI asset provides a pre-fashioned
conviction that her testimony is far from being accurate.
In the dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Martin S. Villarama, Jr., he provided that
[t]he determination of the competence and credibility of a witness rests primarily with the trial
court, because it has the unique position of observing the witness deportment on the stand while
testifying.11 (Underscoring supplied) What could have prompted Justice Villarama to dissent,
was the apparent categorical, straightforward, spontaneous, and frank testimony of the witness
undamaged by grueling cross-examinations.12 Hence, with the firm demeanor of the witness, it
would be improbable to infer that her statements during the proceedings are untrue.
For Goldman, stratagems employed by lawyers could almost certainly tilt witnesss
testimony to false impressions toward the decision-making of the trier-of-fact, camouflaging the
truth instead of bringing it into clearer focus.13 In contrast, the records of the case (as embodied
under the annotated Supreme Court decision) itself show that the Vizconde Massacres starwitness was never tamed by the arduous questions thrown to her in testifying that what had
transpired is true to her personal knowledge. Of course, the strong personality coupled by

Qtd. in Allen and Leiter (2001)


10

Allen and Leiter, op. cit., 70-71.


11

People v. Comanda, G.R. No. 175880, July 6, 2007, 526 SCRA 689. qtd. Lejano, supra.
Justice Villarama dissenting.
12

Lejano, supra.
13

See Goldman, Knowledge in a Social World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)

unyielding conviction is without a doubt a manifestation of what seems to be a credible


witness.
The importance of demeanour as an indicator of credibility is commonly cited as
a premise of the general requirement of live testimony, the hearsay rule, and the
right of confrontation. The importance placed upon demeanour information is
highlighted by the strict limits traditionally placed upon trial use of depositions
and transcribed testimony taken in other proceedings. The opportunity of the trier
of fact to observe the demeanour of witnesses is a principal basis for the deference
accorded by reviewing courts to factual determinations of trial courts and hearing
officers. The assumption that demeanour provides highly useful information plays
an important role in other procedural doctrines.14
If the Supreme Court centered its attention to the witnesss deportment, it could have
been a victory on the side of the prosecution. The thing is the demeanor itself is not a sufficient
justification to establish her credibility as witness. Corroborated by the study of Allen and Leiter,
they expressed that, [i]n fact it appears that demeanour evidence has little instrumental value as a
maximizer of veritistic value. "[T]he experimental evidence indicates that ordinary observers do
not benefit from the opportunity to observe nonverbal behaviour in judging whether someone is
lying." 15 In addition, "a good body of experimental evidencecannot tell whether a witness's
perception and memory are accurate[N]either verbal nor nonverbal cues are effectively
employed"16
At the instance of the case, credibility is premised on the search for truth or justified
reason along in the veritistic standpoint. In its (truth) determination, it does not suppose to
recline on the demeanour or the situationality of the witnesss character. Both provide a glaring
invitation to foregone conclusion that taints the truth. In the primacy of all things, in arriving at
the accuseds final conviction, at least on the Vizconde Massacre is the (testimonial) evidence
although for purposes of vehement manipulation, it can be fictitious but more often than not
does not lie. Hence, in order to be believed, Daggers v. Van Dyck illuminates that [it] must not
only proceed from the mouth of a credible witness, but it must be credible in itself such as the
Olin Guy Wellborn III, Demeanor, 76 CORN. L. REV. 1075 (1991) qtd. in Ronald
Allen and Brian Leiter, Naturalized Epistemology And The Law Of Evidence, Forthcoming in
Virginia Law (2001), 60.
14

15

Olin Guy Wellborn III, Demeanor, 76 CORN. L. REV. 1075 (1991) qtd. in Allen and
Leiter (2001)
16

Ibid.

common experience and observation of mankind can approve as probable under the
circumstances. We have no test of the truth of human testimony, except its conformity to our
knowledge, observation, and experience. Whatever is repugnant to these belongs to the
miraculous and is outside of judicial cognizance.17 (Emphasis supplied)
Daggers vs. Van Dyck finds its culmination in Haack: [h]ow supportive evidence is of a
claim depends on how well it anchors the claim in experience, and how well it integrates it into
an explanatory account; i.e., on how good the circumstances of any relevant observations were,
and how well the claim in question fits into an explanatory story with the other relevant facts
presumed known. But supportiveness alone is not enough; the warrant of a claim also depends on
how warranted the reasons that support it are, independent of the claim itself. This avoids a
vicious circle, for eventually we arrive at sensory evidence, which neither has nor stands in need
of warrant; without leaving the whole mesh of evidence dangling in mid-air, for sensory
evidence anchors it in the world. Even supportiveness and independent security together are not
enough; the warrant of a claim also depends on how much of the relevant evidence the evidence
includes - for however supportive and secure the evidence is won't give strong warrant to the
claim in question if it omits some essential facts. It is because, as per inductive method,
comprehensiveness is one determinant of quality of evidence that thorough inquiry requires not
only sifting and weighing the available evidence, but also, when necessary, seeking out
additional evidence.18
Is it possible then that the prosecution failed to necessarily seek additional evidence to
evince a strong foundation of the testimony significant to convict the accused? Or, on the
precedents, could it be possible that the High Court committed lapses of judgment as regards the
testimonial evidence presented? The public is convinced that the accused indeed were the
perpetrators of the crime that prior to the final conviction, the truth of the matter is clear.
However, it seems that their exoneration has all the more made truth stranger than fiction. If not
them, who took lives of the poor victims? The case is closed but the search for the ultimate truth
Cited in Salonga, Philippine Law on Evidence, 774 (1964) and VIII Francisco, The
Revised Rules of Court in the Philippines, 458-459 (1997), qtd. in Lejano vs. Republic, supra,
note 4. (37 N.J. Eq. 130, 132) Cited in Salonga, Philippine Law on Evidence, 774 (1964) and
VIII Francisco, The Revised Rules Of Court In The Philippines, 458-459 (1997).
17

18

Susan Haack, Epistemology Legalized: Or, Truth, Justice, And The American Way
presented at Notre Dame Law School in The Olin Lecture in Jurisprudence, October 2004.

is not yet over. Phrasing Weigened, [a]t most, one could say that the criminal process was
formally resolved by a final judgment, but even this result is doubtful.19
IMPARTIALITY, RESOLUTION AND SUB JUDICE
The ensuing courtroom saga involved sons of prominent families which scenario escorted
the matter to the status of a high profile case, to become the most controversial case in recent
history as the entire nation awaited its long-delayed closure.20 The question is, what if the suspect
is merely a Juan Dela Cruz, will the nation dare to get involved? Popularity and prominence
certainly have their means of riveting the nations eye.
Quoting Justice Brion, Vizconde Massacre is one of the most sensational criminal
cases in Philippine history in terms of the mode of commission of the crime and the personalities
involved. From the time the charges were filed, the case has captured the publics interest that an
unusual amount of air time and print space have been devoted to it. Of late, with the publics
renewed interest after the case was submitted for decision, key personalities have again been
unabashedly publicizing their opinions and commenting even on the merits of the case before
various forms of media.21 (Italics supplied)
Out of the public outcry for truth and the clamour for justice, the Supreme Court decision
is rumoured to have stood on the pillars of publicity and prominence. Obviously, the public
closed its doors to considering that there is no grimmer reality than to rest its eye on the
seemingly beckoning truth. Propensity to truth is not always anchored with what the mass has to
say for the truth must always rest on substantial justifications.22
We are not saying that the accused are innocent or that the High Court delivered its final
verdict basing on familial reputation or public opinion. The point is the truth of the matter is
clouded by the fervent outlook of the mass on both sides. In other words, as further
supplemented by Justice Brion, [c]omments on the merits of the case may refer to the credibility
of witnesses, the character of the accused, the soundness of the alibis offered, the relevance of
the evidence presented, and generally any other comment bearing on the guilt or innocence of the
19

Weigened, Ibid.

20

Lejano, supra, Justice Villarama dissenting.


21

Lejano, supra.
22

See Goldman, Knowledge in a Social World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

accused. The danger posed by this class of speech is the undue influence it may directly exert on
the court in the resolution of the criminal case, or indirectly through the public opinion it may
generate against the accused and the adverse impact this public opinion may have during the
trial.23
We may be branded to be less sympathetic about the case in considering the rule on sub
judice.24 The principal purpose of the sub judice rule is to preserve the impartiality of the judicial
system by protecting it from undue influence. 25 It may be superficially understood that the rule is
a direct attack on the role of the mass media in bringing to the public the details of the case;
however, it is with utmost sense to note that the public knowledge is not that which appears to be
a full grasp of the truth. Quoting directly Justice Brion, [i]f we do not apply at all the sub judice
rule to the present case, the reason is obvious to those who have followed the case in the media
both parties are in pari delicto as both have apparently gone to the media to campaign for the
merits of their respective causes. Thus, the egregious action of one has been cancelled by a
similar action by the otherTheir common action, however, cannot have their prejudicial effects
on both; whatever the results may be, doubts will linger about the real merits of the case due to
the inordinate media campaign that transpired.26
Then again, as Justice Brion said, this of course, is not meant to stifle all forms of
criticism against the court. As the third branch of the government, the courts remain accountable
to the people. The peoples freedom to criticize the government includes the right to criticize the
courts, their proceedings and decisions. This is the principle of open justice, which is
fundamental to our democratic society and ensures that (a) there is a safeguard against judicial
arbitrariness or idiosyncrasy, and that (b) the publics confidence in the administration of justice
23

Lejano, supra.

24

According to Jusctice Brion, in essence, the sub judice rule restricts comments and
disclosures pertaining to pending judicial proceedings. The restriction applies not only to
participants in the pending case, i.e., to members of the bar and bench, and to litigants and
witnesses, but also to the public in general, which necessarily includes the media. See Lejano,
supra.
25

Qtd. in Lejano, supra. Original source: Law Reform Commission New South Wales,
Discussion
Paper
43
(2000)

Contempt
by
Publication,http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lrc.nsf/pages/dp43chp02.
26

Lejano, supra.

is maintained.27 In Tiongco vs. Savillo, [t]he criticism must, however, be fair, made in good
faith, and "not spill over the walls of decency and propriety." 28 And to enhance the open court
principle and allow the people to make fair and reasoned criticism of the courts, the sub judice
rule excludes from its coverage fair and accurate reports (without comment) of what have
actually taken place in open court.29
Verily, sub judice could be seen as an otherwise than inductive as the latter does not
concentrate on public opinion but the propriety of what composes a justified reason or truth. It
would not be fair, on either parties if litigations are simply concluded as to who evinces more
convincing rhetoric than evidence. As previously discussed, people could get corrupted by all
sorts of pressures and social image therefore they are vulnerable or susceptible save their grace
rather than speak of the truth. But then, if it is clear that other justification like physical evidence
plus its legal pillar are apparent, pronouncements are given more weight than that mere
grandiloquence.
ON JUSTICE
For almost 20 years, the Vizconde Massacre has always been there on the limelight
providing suspense to the spectators on what could be a drastic finale, yet a supposedly happy
ending. Nevertheless, every definition of its end is always inclined to the two sides of the coin.
Truth could be the accused innocence; truth could be the accused conviction, that the outcome is
always a point of losing and winning. The dilemma remains at large the truth remains
concealed or justice has already been served. As penned down by the Supreme Court, [i]n our
criminal justice system, what is important is, not whether the court entertains doubts about the
innocence of the accused since an open mind is willing to explore all possibilities, but whether it
entertains a reasonable, lingering doubt as to his guilt. For, it would be a serious mistake to send
an innocent man to jail where such kind of doubt hangs on to ones inner being, like a piece of
meat lodged immovable between teeth.30 On the other side, it is as well be serious a mistake to
27

Lejano, supra.
28

Tiongco v. Savillo, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1719, March 31, 2006, 486 SCRA 48, 64. qtd. in
Lejano, supra.
29

Lejano, supra.
Lejano, supra.

30

let a guilty man free and strip the victims off the justice they deserve. Case close as it seems but
the task along the veritistic standpoint continues.
Thomas Weigened said that [m]ost people know that the search for the truth equals the
task of Sisyphus. Yet they expect their courts and lawyers to undertake that task-to move the rock
upward toward that elusive summit of knowledge. If the people feel that an honest effort has
been made to find the truth, they will mostly be happy to accept as justice whatever is offered as
a result.31 He further states that [i]t does not matter who is charged with collecting and
presenting evidence, nor does it matter whether the judgment relies on party consensus or is the
result of a contested trial-the essential element is a visible, honest effort to collect and introduce
facts on which the decision-maker can base a rationally defensible verdict. 32 Perhaps, this is an
ideal account of Weigened with respect to the search for truth apropos justice, though the core is
viable for veritistic purposes.
According to Thomas Weigened, [f]inding the truth is a difficult task under any set of
circumstances, but finding the truth in the context of crime and punishment is almost impossible.
Even if we assume that an objective reality exists and that human beings are generally able to
determine and to describe it in some adequate form so that we can reasonably distinguish
between truth and falsehood, there is hardly an arrangement less likely than the criminal process
to bring out the truth.33
Consequently bringing the truth into the category of make-believe, at least in case laws,
contradicts the goal of society in keeping its stability through the implementation of laws. The
evident paradox, convicting the innocent or emancipating whoever is on the wrong side of the
law, disrupts the faith of the people towards the rules apropos justice. In Wigeneds words, [t]he
difficulty of determining the truth about crime stands in marked contrast with society's strong
interest in doing so: crime, especially serious crime, disturbs the peace of the community and, if
unresolved, raises the threat of repetition. 34 For that reason, [k]nowing exactly what has
31

Weigened, Ibid.
32

Ibid.
Thomas Wigened, Is the Criminal Process about Truth: A German Perspective,
Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, (2003): 1.
33

34

happened, who the culprit is, and why he committed the offense, is a necessary prerequisite for
any attempt to re-establish social peace through justice. The determination of truth is
indispensable for yet another reason -criminal sanctions are society's most severe expression of
moral blame.35
Whatever the truth may be, it must not rest upon baseless speculations. Nor may it be
influenced in any way by bias, prejudice, sympathy, or by a desire to bring an end to
deliberations or to avoid an unpleasant duty. If the judges are not convinced beyond a reasonable
doubt that the defendant is guilty of a charged crime, then they must find the defendant not guilty
of that crime. If they are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of a
charged crime, then they must find the defendant guilty of that crime.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court, logic-wise, applied what it deemed as necessary in
coming up with its final pronouncement of the case. If only there are other details gathered to
strengthen the case, then, perhaps, the pronouncement could have been a victory on the part of
the victims. The sad thing is, the guilt of the accused cannot be placed simply on just one witness
whose testimony could not hold water and especially so that the Constitutional guarantee to
innocence until proven guilty prevails or is above all other.

Group Members:
Calde, Marie Frances Denise
Domalig, Diana
Benito, Charlotte
Bulos, Mabelen
Antido, Sherryl
Ngalob, Rocky Jake
Wigened, Ibid.
35

Qtd. in Wigened, 2003, 1. The original sources are Joel Feinberg, The Expressive
Function of Punishment, In Doing and Deserving: Essays in the Theory of Responsibility
(1970); Andrew Von Hirsch, Past or Future Crimes: Deservedness and Dangerousness in the
Sentencing of Criminals (1985).