What was De Lima up to?
WHAT DID Leila de Lima expect to achieve when she announced that the NBI reinvestigation of the Vizconde massacre showed that Hubert Webb was in the Philippines when it took place, thus “rebutting, negating, destroying and even shattering” (all her words) his defense of alibi?
Certainly it was not to prove that Webb was guilty of the murders after all (although that is how the public seems to have interpreted it), because almost in the same breath (give or take a few minutes) she was very careful to say not only that there was no evidence that could put him at the scene of the crime, but that the main “eyewitness” to the crime, Jessica Alfaro, may not have been there at all (something about a Black Maria).
If the main purpose of her press conference was to state that the NBI reinvestigation brought out certain new leads/suspects that would not be constrained by the 20-year prescription period, why then did she even mention Hubert Webb at all?
In any case, she has been excoriated for her performance, not only by Webb’s lawyers, who went to bat for their client with an enthusiasm that was not just pro-forma but indicated honest outrage, but by the likes of Theodore Te, among other people, who I know has no axes to grind.
Which is a pity, because I think that she has, except for this fiasco, done very well in her job, indeed. And it is an even greater pity, because had she just spent half an hour, or 45 minutes, tops, reading the Supreme Court (SC) decisions on the case—all of these could have been avoided. “These” referring not only to the criticisms leveled at her, but even more importantly, the pain and anguish of Webb (and his family) who, after having spent 15 years of his life living a nightmare, has been plunged headlong into another nightmare. At the very least, she would have been able to understand—and counteract—what the National Bureau of Investigation was up to.
How does the NBI come in? It was the NBI that not only insisted that Webb was here on June 30, 1991, when the crime was committed, but produced the eyewitness (NBI “asset” Jessica Alfaro) who “saw” him commit it. More accurately, it was the post-Epimaco Velasco NBI, because the NBI under Alfredo Lim (1989-1992) and Velasco (1992-1995) had both investigated and crossed off Webb from its list, having asked for and received FBI help in determining his whereabouts at the time of the crime.
And to be fair, even the post-Velasco NBI officials were not unanimous. During the trial, NBI head agent Artemio Sacaguing gave testimony—unrefuted—to the effect that Alfaro just made up her story. However, Sacaguing was obviously in the minority.
The Supreme Court decisions not only made mincemeat out of the evidence produced by the prosecution (read NBI), but also took them to task for prosecutorial misconduct. Justice Lourdes Sereno’s separate concurring opinion cited chapter and verse instances of “mishandling and/or withholding of evidence” on the part of the NBI, as well as its “failure to preserve evidence”—resulting in the failure of Webb to secure a just trial. Would you believe that NBI officials suppressed (by refusing to show the original) a lawyer’s signature on an Alfaro affidavit, so that they could claim that the affidavit should not be recognized because it was signed without an attorney? When the original copy was produced (by court order—but not by the Tolentino court), lo and behold, it had the attorney’s signature.
The bottom line here is that the high court decision brought to light the misconduct of the NBI. And had De Lima read it, she would have realized that the NBI, in its reinvestigation, may have been up to its old tricks, in its desperate attempt at vindication and to save face.
Moreover, De Lima, had she read what the ponente, Justice Roberto Abad, had to say, would not have been so quick about pronouncing Webb’s alibi “destroyed” and “shattered.” Wrote Abad:
“The courts below held that, despite his evidence, Webb was actually in Parañaque when the Vizconde killings took place; he was not in the US from March 9, 1991 to October 27, 1992; and if he did leave on March 9, 1991, he actually returned before June 29, 1991, committed the crime, erased the fact of his return to the Philippines from the records of the US and Philippine Immigrations, smuggled himself out of the Philippines and into the US, and returned the normal way on October 27, 1992. But this ruling practically makes the death of Webb and his passage into the next life the only acceptable alibi in the Philippines. Courts must abandon this unjust and inhuman paradigm.
“If one is cynical about the Philippine system, he could probably claim that Webb, with his father’s connections, can arrange for the local immigration to put a March 9, 1991 departure stamp on his passport and an October 27, 1992 arrival stamp on the same. But this is pure speculation since there had been no indication that such arrangement was made. Besides, how could Webb fix a foreign airlines’ passenger manifest, officially filed in the Philippines and at the airport in the US that had his name on them? How could Webb fix with the US Immigration’s record system those two dates in its record of his travels as well as the dates when he supposedly departed in secret from the US to commit the crime in the Philippines and then return there? No one has come up with a logical and plausible answer to these questions.”
Certainly not the NBI. Will De Lima be woman enough to admit her mistake?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.