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v 

 
The v 

  was the multiple homicide of members of the Vizconde family on June


30, 1991 at their residence in BF Homes, Parañaque, Metro Manila, Philippines.[1] Estrellita, 47,
had suffered thirteen stab wounds; Carmela, 18, had suffered seventeen stab wounds and had
been raped before she was killed; and Jennifer, 7, had nineteen stab wounds.[1] Lauro Vizconde,
Estrellita's husband, and the father of Carmela and Jennifer, was in the United States on business
when the murders took place.

The lead suspect was Hubert Webb, whose father Freddie Webb was famous as an actor, former
basketball player, and former Congressman and Senator. The other defendants were Antonio
Lejano II, Hospicio Fernandez, Michael Gatchalian, Miguel Rodriguez, Peter Estrada, Joey Filart
and Artemio Ventura.[2] In the Trial Court (°   °

     ,
G.R. No. 176864), it became one of the most sensational cases in the Philippines, becoming the
"trial of the century". The men were convicted by the Parañaque Regional Trial Court which the
Court of Appeals affirmed. Except for Filart and Ventura who had been convicted in absentia,
the men were later acquitted by the Supreme Court on December 14, 2010 for failure of the
prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

V

The case remained unsolved for almost four years until eyewitness Jessica Alfaro, a self-
confessed former drug addict, came forward on April 28, 1995 to shed light on the killing of the
Vizcondes. Alfaro implicated the children of wealthy and prominent families including Hubert
Webb, Antonio Lejano II, Hospicio Fernandez, Michael Gatchalian, Miguel Rodriguez, Peter
Estrada, Joey Filart and Artemio Ventura.[3]

Alfaro's testimony coincides with the angle that was being explored by Supt. Rodolfo Sison, the
police investigator originally assigned to the case in 1991. Sison was ordered to desist from
further investigating that angle by then Philippine National Police Capital Region Commander
Marino Filart after six members of › ››››(burglars) were arrested by Regional Police
Unit in October 1991.[3][4][5] The suspects said they were tortured and forced to confess to the
crime before they were presented by Filart to the media.[6] They were acquitted by a trial judge in
September 1993 for insufficient evidence. [6]

 
 
 

The trial began in August 1995 before Paranaque RTC Judge Amelita Tolentino. Alfaro had
testified that she knew the suspects and was at the Vizconde house when the crime was
committed. By Alfaro's account, after a drug session with the group, Hubert Webb allegedly had
hatched his plan to rape Carmela Vizconde. Webb wanted Alfaro, the then girlfriend of one of
the accused men, Peter Estrada, to join them because Estrellita Vizconde only allowed her
daughter to go out and entertain female visitors.

Alfaro testified that as Webb followed Carmela into the dining room, she decided to step outside
for a smoke. From there she allegedly saw Lejano and Ventura take a knife from the kitchen
drawer, while the rest of the gang acted as lookouts. Alfaro said Estrellita was killed before
Webb began to rape Carmela. Jennifer woke up and, seeing Webb violating her sister, jumped on
him and bit him. He then hurled the little girl to a wall and started stabbing her.

Alfaro said that when she went back to the house, she saw the bodies of Estrellita and Jennifer on
the bed and Webb raping Carmela on the floor. Lejano and Ventura also took turns raping
Carmela, before finishing her off with numerous stabs.[1] Alfaro said that policeman Gerardo
Biong "was instructed by Webb, in my presence, to take care of the house where the incident
happened". Alfaro also said that she bumped into Biong at the Faces Disco in Makati in March
1995 and relayed to her the offer of the group to give her a free ticket to the United States to shut
her up. She added that suspect Miguel Rodriguez warned her to "shut up or you're gonna get
killed" in the same disco on April 8, 1995 prompting her to voluntarily submit herself to the
National Bureau of Investigation(NBI) for protection.[7] According to the footage of the trial,
Alfaro had been able to identify all the defendants by their names. The defense questioned
Alfaro's credibility noting that she admitted to being under the influence of drugs when she
allegedly witnessed the crime and had made inconsistent statements on her two affidavits. Alfaro
said she was then having reservations when she first executed the first affidavit and held back
vital information due to her natural reaction of mistrust.[8]

Alfaro's testimony was corroborated by other witnesses including: Lolita Birrer, a former live-in
partner of policeman Gerardo Biong, who narrated the manner of how Biong investigated and
tried to cover up the crime. Birrer said she had accompanied Biong to the Vizconde house to
destroy the evidence and to retrieve Webb¶s jacket and the murder weapon. She also testified that
Biong received money at a house that she later learned belonged to then Parañaque Congressman
Freddie Webb; the Webb family's maids, Mila Gaviola and Nerissa Rosales, who both testified
that Hubert Webb was at home on June 30, 1991. At about 4 a.m. on June 30, 1991, Gaviola
woke up and entered the bedrooms to get the Webb's dirty laundry and wash it as part of her job.
She said that when she entered Hubert¶s room, she saw him wearing only his pants, awake and
smoking in bed. While washing Hubert Webb's clothing, Gaviola said she noticed fresh
bloodstains on his shirt. After she finished the laundry, she went to the servant's quarters. But
feeling uneasy, she decided to go up to the stockroom near Hubert's room to see what he was
doing. In the said stockroom, there is a small door going to Hubert's room and in that door there
is a small opening where she used to see Hubert and his friends sniffing on something. She
observed Hubert was quite irritated, uneasy, and walked to and from inside his room.[1][9]Security
guards Justo Cabanacan and Normal White. Cabanacan said Webb had entered the
subdivision(where the Vizconde house was located) a few days before the massacre and that he
even identified himself as the son of then Congressman Webb. White, on the other hand, said he
saw the three cars enter the subdivision on the night of June 29, as Alfaro had testified; White
also testified that policeman Gerardo Biong was the first to arrive at the crime scene.[10][11]
Other prosecution witnesses were: Carlos J. Cristobal who alleged that on March 9, 1991 he was
a passenger of United Airlines Flight No. 808 bound for New York and who expressed doubt on
whether Hubert Webb was his co-passenger in the trip; NBI medico-legal Dr. Prospero
Cabanayan, Belen Dometita and Teofilo Minoza, two of the Vizconde maids; and Manciano
Gatmaitan, an engineer.[12]

þ


The defense produced documents and presented 95 witnesses, including Hubert Webb himself
and his father, along with other relatives and friends to support Webb¶s alibi that he was in the
United States from March 9, 1991, to October 26, 1992. On October 1, 1996, Judge Amelita
Tolentino admitted only 10 of the 142 pieces of evidence the defense presented.[9] (Under
Philippine law, generally, alibi is the weakest defense, especially where there is direct testimony
of an eyewitness, duly corroborated by another. People vs. Bello, G.R. No. 124871, May 13,
2004.)

Among evidence that was not admitted by Judge Tolentino, was the note verbale from the United
States Embassy in Manila claiming that Webb entered the United States in March 1991 and left
in October 1992. This coincided with his passport and Philippine Immigration records but were
dismissed by Tolentino due to belief that these documents can possibly be falsified.[à › 
  ]
.(The Philippine Rules of Evidence require official attestation of the authenticity of any
public document presented in evidence; as per Sec. 24, Rule 134, R. Evid.)

Moreover, Judge Tolentino also denied Webb's request to subject semen samples to DNA testing
on the belief that the samples may no longer be intact.[à ›   ] The accused alleged that by
rejecting 132 of the 142 pieces of evidence, Tolentino had set the tone for their conviction.[9] On
July 24, 1997, the Supreme Court noted that Tolentino erred when she refused to admit the 132
pieces of evidence presented by the defense, although these were later admitted in court through
an order issued by Tolentino.[9][13]

Among the defense witnesses was Artemio Sacaguing, a former, now deceased NBI official who
testified that Alfaro was an NBI asset who only volunteered to assume the role of the eyewitness
when she could not produce the actual witness to the Vizconde killings.

Former NBI official Pedro Rivera however dismissed as lies the testimony of Sacaguing saying
that ³Agent Sacaguing had a record of notoriety in the NBI which prompted his transfer to
remote places of assignment« until his early retirement´. According to Rivera, Sacaguing was
never part of the NBI team assigned to investigate the Vizconde massacre and that his former
colleague took Alfaro¶s statement in April 1995 without the presence of a lawyer. ³Sacaguing
broke the guidelines in taking affidavits from witnesses. His intention was very, very dubious,´
he said. [14]

þ


On January 6, 2000, Judge Tolentino rendered her decision, finding Hubert Webb, Peter Estrada,
Hospicio Fernandez, Michael Gatchalian, Antonio Lejano II and Miguel Rodriguez guilty
beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape with homicide. They were sentenced to life
imprisonment and ordered to indemnify the Vizconde family Php 3 million for the murders.[1]
Two of the accused remain fugitives from the law: Joey Filart and Artemio Ventura. Former
Paranaque City policeman Gerardo Biong was found guilty as an accessory for burning
bedsheets and tampering with other evidence in the crime. He was sentenced to eleven years in
prison. Biong was released from jail on November 30, 2010 after serving his sentence.[15]

In her decision, Tolentino described the testimony of defense witnesses as full of inconsistencies
and biased. She said the US-based defense witnesses, most of whom are relatives or friends of
the Webb family suffered from "incorrigible and selective memory syndrome". She cited the
testimony of Alex del Toro, husband of Webb's relative, who said he hired Hubert Webb as an
employee at his pesticide company in California. Both Webb and del Toro could not describe in
court what Hubert's work was, Tolentino said. Tolentino also found it hard to believe that Webb
was working with a pesticide company because he was asthmatic and allergic to various
substances. Webb's testimony was also contradicted by other US-based defense witnesses who
said they usually saw him "going to the beach, malling, bar-hopping or playing basketball.
Tolentino also said, the photographs and videotapes purportedly showing Webb in the United
States appeared to be tampered.[1] Tolentino said the certificates issued by the US Immigration
and Naturalization Service and the Philippine Bureau of Immigration "could have easily been
obtained by the powerful Webb family". [16]

V 


The Court of Appeals' Third Division voted 3-2 to deny Webb's motion for reconsideration and
upheld the ruling of Judge Tolentino on December 16, 2005.[1][17]

The court ruled that the Parañaque RTC was correct in sentencing Webb 

due to
"overwhelming evidence that showed Webb and the other accused had conspired to rape
Carmela and, in the process, kill her and the rest of the family." The court also amended the
award of damages from 100,000 pesos to 200,000 pesos, and also upheld the conviction of Biong
as accessory to the crime ›     à à 

àà› ›   à› 


 à   àà › ›    à 
 à›  à ›à › à› à › ›àà 
[18]

ð V 




The Supreme Court acquitted Webb and the others tried by the court: seven justices voted to
acquit, four dissented, two inhibited, one did not participate in the deliberations and another was
on official leave.

In April 2010, the Supreme Court approved DNA testing to be performed on the semen specimen
obtained during autopsy from Carmela Vizconde. This has resulted in the revelation by the
National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that they no longer had the specimens as these were
remanded to the Parañaque courts.[19]
On October 8, 2010, Webb filed an urgent motion for acquittal.[20] On November 26, 2010,
Lauro Vizconde voiced his concern to media about the purported lobbying of Senior Associate
Justice Antonio Carpio for the reversal of the guilty verdict. Carpio testified for the defense
during the trial. The v ›  ›   (VACC) asked Justice Antonio
Carpio and his cousin Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales to take a leave while the case is being
decided to avoid undue influence on the court's decision.[21] This was categorically denied by the
Supreme Court as Justice Carpio had in fact inhibited himself from the case and was not going to
take part in the deliberation.[22][23]

On December 14, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the earlier judgment of the lower court and
Court of Appeals and acquitted seven of the nine accused, including Hubert Webb, finding that
the prosecution failed to prove that the accused were guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The High
Court put to question the quality of the testamentary evidence furnished by the witnesses. No
acquittal has been made as to the two accused, Filart and Ventura, who remain at-large. Of the 15
Justices, 7 voted for acquittal while four dissented and four Justices, including Carpio, did not
participate.[24]

V   

Seven justices based its decision on the following points:

1.‘ Loss of DNA evidence not a ground for outright acquittal


2.‘ Unreliability of Jessica Alfaro's testimony:
|‘ Alfaro had prior knowledge on the facts of the case having been an asset of the
National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)
|‘ Alfaro was not able to explain why the house was ransacked if robbery was not
Webb and company's motive
3.‘ Unreliability of testimony from other witnesses
4.‘ Webb's strong alibi that he was in the United States
|‘ Alfaro's testimony will fall apart if Webb was not in the crime scene and will
relieve the other accused of the crime

ß

þ  

Webb, citing › 


› › , said "that he is entitled to outright acquittal on the ground of
violation of his right to due process given the State¶s failure to produce on order of the Court
either by negligence or willful suppression the semen specimen taken from Carmela." The court
argued that the cited case has been superseded by  ›
   , 


   › à  ›à 
›      ›àà     › › › › ›
à   à .

The court considered the accused's ›à   ›  à    à
àà  ›› à›   ››  à›    
 àà ›    .[25]
  

 

The court ruled that Alfaro was "a stool pigeon, one who earned her living by fraternizing with
criminals so she could squeal on them to her NBI handlers." The court also said that it was
"possible for Alfaro to lie" on the details of the case. Alfaro, who had "practically lived" at the
NBI's offices, would have been able to hear about the details, and gain access to the documents,
without difficulty. The court noted the inconsistency between Alfaro's testimony of Webb being
Carmela's girlfriend, who had no reason in breaking the glass panel of the house's front door to
enter the house; Alfaro said that Webb  à   ›       ›
 ››    . Alfaro, upon explaining on how the house was ransacked, (the
Parañaque police had earlier blamed house robbers as suspects), said that Ventura was looking
for the front-door key and the car key.

The court said the   ›››  ›àà › à› 


 à››à    adding that  ››    à à
›  ›  ››  à›  ›  .
The court also said the same for the issue of the garage light: she claimed that Ventura climbed
the car's hood, using a chair, to turn the light off. But, unlike the house robbers, however the
court points out that ›     ››   › ›  
››
[25] In general, the court said that Alfaro's story "lacks sense or suffers from inherent
inconsistencies."[25]

V    




The court held that security guard Normal E. White, Jr.'s testimony was unreliable. White was
mistaken in saying that Gatchalian and company went in and out of the gated community many
times, since they only entered once.[25] Justo Cabanacan, the security supervisor of the gated
community, said that he saw Webb enter the gated community, although he did not record Webb
entering in his log book.[25]

The court also held that the testimony of the Webb's maid, Mila Gaviola, was also unreliable
since she was not able to distinguish if it was Hubert whom she saw on June 30, 1991, nor 
› › ››     › .[25]

2
  

The court said that ››àà   ›  . The lower courts,
however, reasoned that ›  à›› ››  ›     à› 
 
The court said that Alfaro was not a credible witness and that her ›
› ›  ›   à  .[25]

For the alibi to be established ›àà     à ›› › ›à
 à

›››› ›à› › à › 


› › à›     ›àà  . The lower courts, the
Supreme Court said, held that ››à ›  ››› v à   
 ›à . However, the court pointed out that while Webb or his parents may be able to ››
 à›   ›  ››à ! ! › › ›› ›
"à#$! #› › › , they could not fix a foreign airlines¶ passenger manifest, and
the U.S. Immigration¶s record system. The court also said that if Webb was in the U.S. when the
crime was committed, the Alfaro's testimony would not hold together:     à
››  à› ›
[25]

V V 


The court maintained that for a person to be convicted there should not be "a reasonable,
lingering doubt as to his guilt." As a result, the court reverses the decision of the Court of
Appeals, and acquits Webb, et al.[25]

V þ

   

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Villarama argued that the claim of Webb that he could not have
committed the crime because he left for the United States on March 9, 1991 and returned to the
Philippines only on October 26, 1992 was correctly rejected by the Regional Trial Court and
Court of Appeals. Given the financial resources and political influence of his family, it was not
unlikely that Webb could have traveled back to the Philippines before June 29±30, 1991 and then
departed for the US again, and returning to the Philippines in October 1992. Webb's travel
documents and other paper trail of his stay in the US are unreliable proof of his absence in the
Philippines at the time of the commission of the crime charged. Webb's reliance on the
presumption of regularity of official functions, stressing the fact that the US-INS certifications
are official documents, is misplaced. The presumption leaned on is disputable and can be
overcome by evidence to the contrary. In this case, the existence of an earlier negative report on
the NIIS record on file concerning the entry of appellant Webb into and his exit from the US on
March 9, 1991 and October 26, 1992, respectively, had raised serious doubt on the veracity and
accuracy of the subsequently issued second certification dated August 31, 1995 which is based
merely on a computer print-out of his alleged entry on March 9, 1991 and departure on October
26, 1992. Villarama noted that the alleged Passport, Passenger Manifest of United Airlines Flight
and United Airline ticket of accused Webb offered in evidence were mere photocopies of an
alleged original, which were never presented. He adds, this Court takes judicial notice of
reported irregularities and tampering of passports in the years prior to the recent issuance by the
Department of Foreign Affairs(DFA) of machine-readable passports.[26]