By Jonathan M. Hicap, Reporter
First of two parts
Will Lauro Vizconde finally get the peace of
mind he deserves? And will Hubert Webb finally get his acquittal and
freedom from prison, where he has been languishing in the past 10
It’s been almost 14 years since Vizconde’s
wife, Estrellita, then 57, and two daughters, Carmela, 19, and Anne
Marie Jennifer, 7, were brutally murdered on June 30, 1991, in their
home at 80 W. Vinzons Street, BF Homes, Parañaque.
The case, tagged as the Vizconde Massacre,
became sensational not only because of the way the three were
murdered (Carmela was raped) but because the suspects were sons of
rich and famous families, the most prominent of whom was Hubert, the
son of former senator Freddie Webb.
Tolentino, saying “the trial of the
petitioners is about to end and to assign a new judge to determine
the guilt or innocence of petitioners will not be in the best
interest of justice.”
The Court reminded Tolentino “that our ability
to dispense impartial justice is an issue in every trial, and in
every criminal prosecution the judiciary always stands as a silent
accused. More than convicting the guilty and acquitting the
innocent, the business of the judiciary is to assure fulfillment of
the promise that justice shall be done and is done, and that is the
only way for the judiciary to get an acquittal from the bar of
On August 17, 1999, the Supreme Court overturned
the decision of the Court of Appeals and ruled that Judge Tolentino
did not commit error when she barred the depositions of Bucher,
Farmer, Alston, Smalley and Pavlisin.
On February 6, 1998, the appellate court’s
Fourth Division, however, allowed the five witnesses to make their
testimonies before a consular officer in the US.
The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court
need not get the testimony of the five witnesses regarding the
documents they presented because these had already been admitted as
evidence to bolster Webb’s stay in the US.
The Vizconde trial became a celebrated case in
the country because it had the elements of a soap opera.
On January 6, 2000, or nine years after the
murders of the Vizconde family, Judge Tolentino rendered her
Early in the morning, hundreds of people were
already cramming Branch 274 of the Paranaque Regional Trial Court.
The families of the accused attended to hear the
judgment. Among them were Freddie and Elizabeth Webb. Lauro Vizconde
was already there.
Television and radio stations were on had to
report the proceedings. The press was presented in huge number.
At 8:30 a.m. a clerk of court started reading
the 186-page decision. It would take another clerk of court to
finish reading the verdict, which took almost five hours.
Tolentino sentenced to life imprisonment Hubert
Webb, Peter Estrada, Hospicio Fernandez, Michael Gatchalian, Antonio
Lejano II and Miguel Rodriguez and ordered them to indemnify the
Vizconde family P3 million for the murders of Estrellita, Carmela
and Anna Marie Jennifer.
Gerardo Biong, Paranaque policeman, was found
guilty of burning bedsheets and other evidence in the crime and was
sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Joey Filart and Artemio “Dong” Ventura were
not sentenced because they were not arraigned and escaped
prosecution. They are fugitives.
Webb shed tears when he heard the verdict. His
parents and siblings were inconsolable. It was also the same for the
Case review: Victory for Lauro or Hubert?
Lauro Vizconde told The Manila Times that when
the verdict was handed down against the Webb group, he felt he had
“partially gained justice.”
Since then, Vizconde immersed himself as
anti-crime crusader. He is still active in the Volunteers Against
Crime and Corruption (VACC), an organization which helps victims of
crimes and monitors cases in courts. He is also a director at the
government-owned Intercontinental Broadcasting Corp. (IBC).
Hubert is now a ranking officer of the Sigue
Sigue Sputnik gang inside the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa
City. Senator Webb said they visit Hubert every Sunday and celebrate
with him all occasions, including birthdays, at his cell.
Vizconde visits the grave of his family once or
twice a month. He also visits them during their birthdays or
With the Supreme Court decision directing the
Court of Appeals to review the case, he is quite apprehensive,
saying times are different now.
“My greatest fear is the time element,”
He said the appellate court has six months to
decide the case.
And if the appellate court affirms the
conviction, the case goes automatically to the Supreme Court for
review. He estimates it would take another two years for the High
Court to issue a decision.
Vizconde fears that he may not live longer to
see the final outcome of the review.
It’s been 14 years since the gruesome killing
of his family and Vizconde has learned to pardon Webb and the rest
of the group.
“I was able to forgive them but it doesn’t
mean that I’ve already forgotten (what they did),” he said.
Will Vizconde end up victorious as he did five
years ago or will Hubert Webb walk free and reclaim his freedom?
Questions linger in Vizconde case
The case took a turn in June 1994, when the NBI
filed with the justice department a letter-complaint charging Webb,
Gatchalian, Lejano, Fernandez, Rodriguez, Estrada, Joey Filart,
Artemio “Dong” Ventura and Gerardo Biong, then a Parañaque
policeman, with rape with homicide for the Vizconde murders. Ventura
and Filart were allegedly lookouts during the crime.
The justice department then formed a panel
headed by Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Jovencio Zuno to conduct
a preliminary investigation of the accused.
During the investigation, the NBI submitted the
May 22, 1995, sworn statement of its star witness, Maria Jessica M.
Alfaro, who said she was with Hubert’s group when they killed the
The NBI also presented the sworn statements of
Nerissa Rosales and Mila Gaviola, former household help of the Webb
family; Lolita Birrer, former live-in partner of Biong; and Carlos
Cristóbal, a plane passenger.
The Vizconde maids, Belen Dometita and Teofilo
Minoza; security guard Normal White and engineer Marciano Gatmaitan
also submitted their affidavits. Lauro Vizconde said Gatmaitan, his
brother-in-law, was one of the first persons to find the bodies of
his family when he made an early-morning visit to their home on June
Hubert Webb said he could not have committed the
crime, because he was in the United States from March 9, 1991, and
returned to the country only on October 27, 1992.
His statement was corroborated by several
persons including Honesto Aragon, Sonia Rodriguez and the singer
Gary Valenciano. Aragon said he was with Hubert Webb on June 28-29,
1991, in the US. Rodriguez said she saw Hubert in the US at the
house of Susan Brottman on June 30, 1991. Valenciano said he met
Hubert in Florida between October and November in 1991.
Hubert said that while in the US, he bought a
bicycle and a car and even got his California driver’s license.
On August 8, 1995, the justice department panel
found “probable cause” against the accused through a 26-page
resolution. That same day, it filed the case with the Parañaque
Regional Trial Court where the case was raffled to Branch 258 under
Judge Zosimo Escano.
Three days later, Escano recused himself from
the case because of his previous employment with the NBI.
The case was reraffled to Judge Tolentino of
Branch 274, who issued new warrants for the arrest of the Webb
Webb, avoiding the embarrassment of being
handcuffed, surrendered to the police at Camp Ricardo Papa Sr. in
Taguig. Lejano and Gatchalian also surrendered.
Pinning Webb and coaccused
Alfaro rose to prominence when she became the
prosecution’s star witness to demolish the alibis of Webb and his
In the second affidavit she made on May 22,
1995, she said she was with Webb’s group when they entered the
Vizconde house to rape Carmela.
Webb, Lejano and Gatchalian petitioned the
Supreme Court to dismiss the results of the investigation of the
justice department panel including Alfaro’s testimony.
In their separate pleadings filed with the High
Court on August 11, 14 and 16, 1995, they said Alfaro’s two
affidavits, one on April 28, 1995, and the other on May 22, 1995,
contradicted each other and were full of inconsistencies.
They said, for instance, that Alfaro failed to
describe Hubert’s hair color as semiblond.
They also said her two affidavits did not agree
on her account of the night of the murders. They noted that Alfaro,
in her first affidavit, said she had not met Carmela before June 29,
1991, but in her second affidavit, Alfaro said she met her in
Alfaro earlier said that she failed to see the
bloodied bodies of the three victims and that she just learned about
the murders in the newspaper the following day. In her second
affidavit she said, “I peeped through the first door on the left.
I saw two bodies on top of the bed, bloodied, and on the floor. I
saw Hubert on top of Carmela.”
In her first affidavit she said she didn’t see
Hubert raping Carmela, but her second affidavit described how Hubert
sexually abused the victim.
She said Hubert, who was “with bare
buttocks,” was “on top of Carmela and pumping, her mouth gagged
and she was moaning and I saw tears in her eyes.”
Alfaro also said Webb, Lejano and Ventura
entered the Vizconde house “by jumping over the fence.” Later
she recanted by saying the three “entered the gate, which was
Despite these contradictory statements, the
Supreme Court said, “The [Department of Justice] panel ruled that
these alleged misdescription and inconsistencies did not erode the
credibility of Alfaro.”
Senator Webb, in an interview, said Alfaro also
lied by saying that there was a Meralco lamppost outside the
Vizconde house. There was none.
The Supreme Court, in a decision on August 23,
1995, affirmed Alfaro’s affidavit and dismissed the petitions
filed by Webb, Gatchalian and Lejano.
It said, “Neither can we discredit Alfaro
merely because of the inconsistencies in her two sworn
The Court said that even if “a part of the
witness’s testimony is untrue, such circumstance is not sufficient
to discredit the entire testimony of the witness.”
It dismissed the petition of the accused to
declare illegal the warrants of arrest issued by the Parañaque
It also said that the justice department panel
did not abuse its discretion in conducting the preliminary
The Court also dismissed the petition to discard
Alfaro as a state witness and charge her as a co-conspirator in the
As the trial began, the defense lawyers tried to
picture Alfaro as a liar with a dark past whose credibility was as
questionable as her private life.
The defense described Alfaro as a
“self-confessed drug addict” who also lied about her education.
The lawyers said Alfaro lied by claiming that
she finished second-year college at the Philippine Christian
University, yet her college transcript showed that she enrolled for
only one year, earning nine units.
They said Alfaro told three different versions
of what she had seen on the night of the murders. In fact, they
said, she didn’t know Webb until she asked the NBI special
investigator, Mark Anthony So, in 1995 to identify him in a
During the trial the defense said Alfaro failed
to identify Lejano in court. To test her credibility, the defense
made Lejano wear a vest, pose as a news reporter complete with a
two-way radio, and mingle with the crowd.
The defense said Alfaro was able to identify
Lejano only when someone coached her and pointed out Lejano in the
It also said Alfaro lied about the party and
number of cars on Vinzons Street beside the Vizconde house on the
night of the murders and the exit points of the Pitong Daan
Subdivision, BF Homes, where the Vizconde house was located.
Besides Alfaro, the prosecution also relied
heavily on the testimony of the Webbs’ housemaids, Mila Gaviola
and Nerissa Rosales, who both said Hubert was at home on the night
of the murders.
The Webbs said Gaviola worked for them as a
housemaid until April or May 1991. She testified otherwise.
Mila Gaviola said that at about 4 a.m. on June
30, 1991—the date of the murders—she woke up and entered the
bedrooms to get the Webbs’ 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.
She said she picked up Hubert’s clothes and
took them to the laundry room. After breakfast, she said, she
started washing the clothes.
While washing Hubert’s clothes, she noticed
fresh bloodstains on his shirt. After washing, she went to the
servants’ quarters. She decided to go to the stockroom near
Hubert’s room to spy on him. From a small opening she could take a
peek to see what Hubert and his friends where doing. She said she
saw that Hubert was “quite irritated, uneasy and he walked to and
fro inside the room.”
On the same day at about 1 p.m. Gaviola said
Hubert left the house and came back at 4 p.m. She said it was the
last time she saw Hubert until she left the Webb family.
Nerissa Rosales corroborated Gaviola’s
testimony, saying that she saw Hubert on June 29, 1991, inside his
room together with two male friends. She said Hubert asked her and
Loany, another maid, to bring a glass of juice to his room.
Another prosecution witness who belied Webb’s
claim that he was in the US on March 9, 1991, was Carlos Cristóbal,
who said he was on the same flight Hubert claimed having boarded.
Cristóbal said he was at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at
10 a.m. for his United Airlines flight 808, scheduled to leave at 2
He said he met then-Congressman Webb and a male
companion. He greeted the congressman, who replied “Mabuti naman,
at ito, ihahatid ko ang anak ko papuntang Florida [I’m fine. I’m
seeing off my son who’s bound for Florida].” He said Webb’s
companion was as tall as the congressman.
Cristóbal alleged that while watching the
program Dong Puno Live, he saw Elizabeth Webb, the congressman’s
wife, describe Hubert as moreno (tan) and about 5’7” tall and
that Hubert left for the US on March 9. Cristóbal said what Mrs.
Webb’s description of Hubert, however, didn’t match the features
of the congressman’s companion on March 9.
Lolita Birrer, who said she had an affair with
Biong from February 1991 to September 1993, also testified for the
prosecution. She said that at about 6 p.m. on June 29, 1991, she was
playing mahjong with Biong at the back of the Parañaque municipal
On the early morning of June 30, 1991, she said,
the radio operator of the Parañaque police told Biong he had a
phone call at the radio room. When she followed him, she said she
overheard him saying, “Ano?, Saan? Mahirap’ yan. Paano, o sige,
aantayin kita, O ano?, dilaw na taxi, o sige [What? Where? That’s
difficult. OK, I’ll wait for you. What? Yellow cab? OK].”
Biong told her he was on call to respond to a
crime scene and went out of the house. A yellow taxi, with a male
passenger inside, arrived and parked near the canteen. Birrer said
Biong got into the cab and sped away.
Birrer failed to get a glimpse of the male
passenger. She said Biong came back in the morning and washed his
hands and face. He threw a handkerchief in the trash can because it
smelled of human waste.
She alleged that when she asked Biong what
happened at the crime scene, he replied, “Putang inang mga batang
iyon, pinahirapan nila ako [Those sons of bitches (Webb’s group)
gave me a hard time].”
She said another Parañaque policeman arrived
and told Biong to investigate a crime at the BF Homes. She went with
Biong to the Vizconde house.
At the house she saw Biong take a watch from a
jewelry box in the master bedroom. Biong asked the Vizconde
housemaids for the keys and opened the main door. They entered the
Birrer also alleged that on the following day,
July 1, Biong brought the Vizconde housemaids to her house. She saw
Biong take things out of his pocket. The items included calling
cards, driver’s license, ATM card, a check for P80,000, earrings,
ring, bracelet, necklace and watch—all from the Vizconde
Biong allegedly left the jewelry at a pawnshop
on Santos Avenue, Parañaque.
Birrer said she also saw Biong wearing a leather
jacket, allegedly given by the person who called him up on June 30.
She claimed that since then, Biong had lost interest in the
investigation into the Vizconde murders.
(Next: Senator Webb presents documents and
testimonies from US federal departments to prove Hubert was in the
US at the time of the crime)
Part 2 |