The Webb acquittal proves that Senator Panfilo Lacson is right: the Philippine justice system is an absolute failure. No less than a complete overhaul of the system is required to make it work anew. Let me count the reasons:
One, it took 19 long years for the Philippines to finally dismiss the criminal case for the killing of three members of the Vizconde family. This is a very clear breach of the duty of the state to protect and promote the right to life of the three murdered Vizconde family members. The UN Human Rights Committee has consistently held that this duty includes that to provide an adequate remedy under domestic law and the duty to pay compensation to the victims thereof.
In the case of Marcellana v. Republic of the Philippines, the Human Rights Committee declared that a failure of the state to investigate, prosecute and punish the killers of Eden Marcellana et al. for a period of five years (since the killing has occured too long ago) already amounts to a breach of a state obligation.
The recent Supreme Court decision acquitting Hubert Webb and five others is a continuing breach of this state obligation because meanwhile, the true killers have gone scot-free. Hence there was a failure to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of these murders. Needless to say, the failure of the Philippines to punish the killers of Salvador Dacer and his driver is also a breach of the state obligations on the right to life.
Two, it took 14 long years for the Philippine court system to acquit Webb and his co-accused. Under both International Human Rights law and the bill of rights of our Constitution, the accused has the right to a speedy trial. By any standard, 14 years is not speedy. And to think that this was the most sensational case that the country had prior to the Ampatuan massacre. Surely, one may speculate that the process could have taken longer if the case was not reported by the media as widely as it did the Vizconde case, and if it did not have such high-profile respondents. Simply put, 14 years behind bars for a crime that the accused did not commit is arbitrary and cruel punishment itself. Add to this the notoriety that as declared by the UN Human Rights Committee in the case of Wilson vs. Republic of the Philippines that conditions in our prison system are torturous, the 14 years that Webb et al spent behind bars is also tantamount to 12 years of continuing torture. Sure, critics of Lacson will say that he has to go through the process. I can only conclude, though, that Lacson, unlike Webb and the others, is unwilling to spend even a night in jail for a crime that he did not commit, knowing fully well how long it would take to prove his obvious innocence.
Three, we have a sick if not incurable investigative pillar of the criminal justice system. The decision of the Supreme Court was a very strong and clear indictment of the National Bureau of Investigation, which in the olden past, was considered to be more professional than our police force. The court declared that Jessica Alfaro was not credible and that her testimony was unbelievable. Again, if the NBI can coach and present witnesses to give fabricated testimony in a case involving accused who are scions of the rich and powerful, one shudders at what they have been doing to the common man. Can anyone fault Lacson for complaining that evidence against him is fabricated?
Four, there is the prosecution pillar of our criminal justice system that allowed the prosecution of innocent men to proceed even in the absence of credible evidence. In law school, we teach our students that the purpose behind a preliminary investigation is two-fold: to prevent waste of government resources in the prosecution of cases that cannot be won, and to ensure that the innocent do not have to undergo the cost and rigors of a long and protracted trial. Here, the public prosecutors should be taken to task for one, believing a person without credibility and whose testimony is unbelievable; and two, for allowing the long and protracted litigation knowing fully well that meanwhile, the right to liberty of the accused were curtailed. True that Webb and company can recover P10,000 each for their wrongful detention. That amount, though, cannot even come close to compensating even one day that an innocent person spent behind bars.
This I understand is why Lacson has been asking Secretary Leila De Lima to review his case. Simply put, the Senator, unlike the Webbs, will not wait for 14 years before he is declared innocent of trumped-up charges.
Five, we have inept and incompetent inferior courts that lack competence in appreciating evidence. The Supreme Court was very clear on why both the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals were wrong. Aside from believing a person with no credibility and whose testimony was also unbelievable, both lower courts, according to the high court, should have appreciated the defense of alibi where the place of alibi was on the other side of the planet and when the same is fully documented. Maybe we should amend the law and make judges liable for clearly wrong decisions particularly where the accused was made to spend time behind bars.
Six and finally, Jessica Alfaro, the witness whose testimony the court did not believe – was almost certainly a recipient, like Cesar Mancao, of huge amounts of public funds since she was admitted into the Witness Protection Program. No wonder that the likes of professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extralegal Killings, recommended a complete overhaul of the Program. How could the prosecutors behind the WPP believe the tale of one whom the court described as a “a stool pigeon, one who earned her living by fraternizing with criminals so she could squeal on them to her NBI handlers”? In the same vein, how could the WPP believe Cesar Mancao, himself without credibility, and his ever changing testimonies? I certainly hope that Secretary De Lima will be true to her promise to give priority to the overhaul of the WPP before we become even more notorious as a killing filed.
Conclusion: Senator Lacson, you’re correct. As painfully learned by Webb and five others, and the Lauro Vizconde, our justice system sucks.