On June 30, 1991 Estrellita Vizconde and her daughters Carmela, nineteen years old, and Jennifer, seven, were brutally slain at their home in Parañaque City. Following an intense investigation, the police arrested a group of suspects, some of whom gave detailed confessions. But the trial court smelled a frame-up and eventually ordered them discharged. Thus, the identities of the real perpetrators remained a mystery especially to the public whose interests were aroused by the gripping details of what everybody referred to as the Vizconde massacre.
Four years later in 1995, the National Bureau of Investigation or NBI announced that it had solved the crime. It presented star-witness Jessica M. Alfaro, one of its informers, who claimed that she witnessed the crime. She pointed to accused Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio “Tony Boy” Lejano, Artemio “Dong” Ventura, Michael A. Gatchalian, Hospicio “Pyke” Fernandez, Peter Estrada, Miguel “Ging” Rodriguez, and Joey Filart as the culprits. She also tagged accused police officer, Gerardo Biong, as an accessory after the fact. Relying primarily on Alfaro’s testimony, on August 10, 1995 the public prosecutors filed an information for rape with homicide against Webb, et al.
The Regional Trial Court of Parañaque City tried only seven of the accused since Artemio Ventura and Joey Filart remained at large.
For their part, some of the accused testified, denying any part in the crime and saying they were elsewhere when it took place. Webb’s alibi appeared the strongest since he claimed that he was then across the ocean in the United States of America. He presented the testimonies of witnesses as well as documentary and object evidence to prove this. In addition, the defense presented witnesses to show Alfaro’s bad reputation for truth and the incredible nature of her testimony.
But impressed by Alfaro’s detailed narration of the crime and the events surrounding it, the trial court found a credible witness in her. In contrast, the trial court thought little of the denials and alibis that Webb, Lejano, Rodriguez, and Gatchalian set up for their defense. They paled, according to the court, compared to Alfaro’s testimony that other witnesses and the physical evidence corroborated. Thus, on January 4, 2000, after four years of arduous hearings, the trial court rendered judgment, finding all the accused guilty as charged and imposing on Webb, Lejano, Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, and Rodriguez the penalty of reclusion perpetua and on Biong, an indeterminate prison term of eleven years, four months, and one day to twelve years. The trial court also awarded damages to Lauro Vizconde.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, modifying the penalty imposed on Biong to six years minimum and twelve years maximum and increasing the award of damages to Lauro Vizconde.
In the main, all the accused raise the central issue of whether or not Webb, acting in conspiracy with Lejano, Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, Ventura, and Filart, raped and killed Carmela and put to death her mother and sister. But, ultimately, the controlling issues are as follows:
1. Whether Alfaro’s testimony as eyewitness, describing the crime and identifying Webb, Lejano, Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and two others as the persons who committed it, is entitled to belief; and
2. Whether Webb presented sufficient evidence to prove his alibi and rebut Alfaro’s testimony that he led the others in committing the crime.
1. No, Alfaro was not an ordinary subdivision girl who showed up at the NBI after four years, bothered by her conscience or egged on by relatives or friends to come forward and do what was right? She was, at the time she revealed her story, working for the NBI as an “asset,” a stool pigeon, one who earned her living by fraternizing with criminals so she could squeal on them to her NBI handlers. She had to live a life of lies to get rewards that would pay for her subsistence and vices. There is another thing about a lying witness: her story lacks sense or suffers from inherent inconsistencies. An understanding of the nature of things and the common behavior of people will help expose a lie. And it has an abundant presence in this case.
2. Yes, not all denials and alibis should be regarded as fabricated. Indeed, if the accused is truly innocent, he can have no other defense but denial and alibi. There is only one way. A judge must keep an open mind. He must guard against slipping into hasty conclusion, often arising from a desire to quickly finish the job of deciding a case. A positive declaration from a witness that he saw the accused commit the crime should not automatically cancel out the accused’s claim that he did not do it. A lying witness can make as positive an identification as a truthful witness can. The lying witness can also say as forthrightly and unequivocally, “He did it!” without blinking an eye.
To establish alibi, the accused must prove by positive, clear, and satisfactory evidence that (a) he was present at another place at the time of the perpetration of the crime, and (b) that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime.
If the Court were to subscribe to this extremely skeptical view, it might as well tear the rules of evidence out of the law books and regard suspicions, surmises, or speculations as reasons for impeaching evidence. It is not that official records, which carry the presumption of truth of what they state, are immune to attack. They are not. That presumption can be overcome by evidence. Here, however, the prosecution did not bother to present evidence to impeach the entries in Webb’s passport and the certifications of the Philippine and U.S.’ immigration services regarding his travel to the U.S. and back. The prosecution’s rebuttal evidence is the fear of the unknown that it planted in the lower court’s minds.