There’s this old saying: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” It’s a favorite in the Philippines because it almost always happens, and the Vizconde verdict affirms it.
It all went downhill on April 23, 2010, when the National Bureau of Investigation admitted that it did not have the semen samples taken from the body of Carmela Vizconde, and the Parañaque City Regional Trial Court did not have it either. More than that, it all went downhill when it took the court almost nine years to convict Hubert Webb and co., and another 10 years for the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling and free them. It’s all downhill for Hubert, who spent almost two decades in prison, for a crime that – according to the decision – he did not commit. More than that, it’s all downhill for poor old Lauro Vizconde, who lost everything in a crime where, as of right now, the true murderers of his family are yet to be convicted.
The real problem with the Vizconde Massacre trial is not the verdict. The court justice system should not – and cannot – make a decision solely on the merits of Hubert et al. being in prison for far too long. The justice system should not – and cannot – make a decision because it pities Lauro Vizconde and his situation, having lost everything and growing ever more sickly in his advanced age. The justice system should not – and cannot – make a decision based on the results of a trial by publicity, either.
What the justice system did not – and should have – done was to fulfill something so fundamental: the right to a fair and speedy trial. It is that guarantee that was deferred – for almost two decades – in the Vizconde verdict.
The heartbreak and the outrage over the Vizconde verdict, for me, is less about what the verdict should have been, but why it took too long for the verdict to come into being. From the get-go, the mishandling of the evidence meant that there was nowhere else for the case to go but a long and winding road to reasonable doubt, punctuated by the inconsistencies of one Jessica Alfaro who, right now, no longer has to pay or much less care for the case that she made famous in the first place.
During the time, the investigative process was glorified – or glorified itself – in the light of “true crime” action movies in the 1990s as an aftermath of the Vizconde Massacre, it certainly cannot bask in the glow of cinematic PR today. It took too long to look for damning evidence, to process that damning evidence, to investigate that damning evidence, and to bring that piece of damning evidence before the court for that fair and speedy trial to be guaranteed.
Anyone who would have wanted to keep Hubert Webb in jail and vindicate the heartaches of Lauro Vizconde would have done everything in his power to collect, document, and protect the evidence. But that task falls upon the investigative process, which failed.
The justice system, as slow as it is, worked on that failure. It took almost two decades for them to say that Hubert Webb was wrongfully convicted and therefore should be acquitted. It took almost two decades for them to say that Lauro Vizconde’s quest for justice stopped at a dead end and, for the moment, that’s not available in the Supreme Court because the evidence is nowhere to be seen.
While justice isn’t something to be rushed, a certain measure of competence is required to make sure it’s done. Yet while we bank on justice to be done in God’s time, there is every reason for us to realize that in our time. Especially when that time is measured by a man’s grip on iron bars, or a man’s grip on the memories of his murdered family.
In a long process that took two decades, cost millions, made movies, and captured the imagination and outrage of the people, justice wasn’t done. It was deferred.