Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Blind Lady: Face-to-Face with Hubert Webb in Bilibid (Last in Series of 3)

November 7, 2010 – At this moment, the memory of that day seems worlds away yet, strangely unfading.

I was invited by social media maven Janette Toral, together with fellow blogger Leira Pagaspas, to a lunch interview with Hubert Webb and family at the Maximum Security Unit of the New Bilibid Prison.

Inside the walls and the bars of the prison was a sort of government housing project made of small cookie cutter blue buildings where men in orange waited for a million tomorrows inside their cells or by getting themselves busy elsewhere in the compound. A few of them chose to wait by the gate. They escorted us down to a building with a façade that bore a Sputnik graffiti. Hubert's place, I thought.

As we entered, I curiously watched an inmate snuggle his tiny infant while his wife looked a few feet away. We crossed the den where a TV listlessly played to an absent audience and eventually reached a makeshift cottage where the Webbs hold their Sunday lunches.

At the head of the table was former Senator Freddie Webb whose features remained handsome despite the years. On his right was his wife, Elizabeth, to whom ABS-CBN news anchor Pinky Webb sat next. Hubert, who was celebrating his 42nd birthday that day, hopped from one spot to another to welcome guests. There were at least a dozen of them; a good mix of relatives and close friends. We said hellos and were led to the other end of the table where Hubert's elder brother Fritz sat down to entertain our questions.

(At this point, it is hard to cite in verbatim the exchange that we had with Fritz, as well as the inputs that Sen. Webb gave from time to time. Allow me to skip this portion as most questions that were brought up involved clarifications and details about the Vizconde Case, which I consolidated with various materials and organized in a table. See Deconstructing Public Opinion: Is Hubert Webb guilty?)

Mrs. Webb joined us and shared a bit about her family's ordeal in the past 15 years.

Nakakaawa talaga si Hubert pero naawa din ako sa pinagdaanan ng asawa ko, ni Jason at Pinky dahil sila ang kilala ng tao, she said as she recalled Sen. Webb's broken political career and the early years of Jason and Pinky's careers in basketball and broadcast media.

Thankfully, the Webbs have somehow gotten past that part of their endless trial. The light conversations amidst the comings and goings around us were in no way reminiscent of those tumultuous years for the Webbs.

We try to keep our anger and sadness from each other. Hindi kami nagpapakitang mahina kami. Hubert's siblings have been very supportive ever since. Siguro pag natapos lahat ito saka namin mafi-feel yung pagod.

Talking to Mrs. Webb felt like talking to a friend's mother. She held no pretenses; no airs. She was warm yet she kept her poise. With a little pasintabi, I asked if she can clarify rumors about Hubert getting the special treatment in Bilibid.

I don't know if you can call this special treatment pero pag mabait ka sa tao, mabait din sila sa'yo. We go here every Sunday to bring him food, we pay for his electricity. Maybe that's why they allow us to go here and spend time together. But I don't know if this is actually special treatment.

Right now, ang gusto lang namin ay malaman ng tao yung totoo and then they decide. These details should make the thinking mind decide.

The last portion of our interview was with Hubert. Aside from the Che-che Lazaro documentary, it was my first time to see Hubert after the historic RTC verdict was rendered more than ten years ago. I silently watched this man as he spoke, trying my best to associate the famous face that I got familiar with as a child who watched the evening news and cut out newspaper clippings for school.

The Hubert Webb in my memory was sketched by the popular notion akin to a bratty politician's son who must be having a hard time adjusting from a life of luxury to a life of limits. Of this, I was corrected.

My siblings and I all rode in one car to school, Hubert explained. Yun ba ang luxury? Marunong akong mag-commute.

Hubert carried a slight inmates' accent. He had aged much at only 42. Yet, as he spoke he bore the aspirations of a man in his 20s. Coming from him, they seemed more like frustrations. Thanks to an eye witness whose credibility was in question. Thanks to a vindictive public that relied mostly on hearsays.

Ang consolation ko na lang ay yung thought na at least, dito buhay pa ako. He recalled the many prank calls and death threats that he himself got many years ago.

Pag labas ko, pa-retire na halos yung mga kaibigan ko pero ako magsisimula pa lang, he expressed with worry.

He drifted to a mindless talk of setting up a hi-tech third party forensic laboratory if he happens to get out. Madami dito ang wala talagang kasalanan, he said.

Sen. Webb emerged from the door to remind Hubert that visiting time will be over in a few minutes. Our group said goodbye to the Webbs and left Bilibid with so much thoughts in our heads. Personally, I wondered if justice had been really served by locking up men whose guilt I seriously doubted.

To this day, with Hubert Webb and others already acquitted, the Vizconde Massacre remains unsolved.

I searched and tried hard to find the words that would best summarize my thoughts that day. It took me more than a month to find them in the column of Randy David:

Each time I look at the crestfallen Lauro Vizconde, I cannot help but share the public’s sympathy for a man who could not find justice in our society. Yet when I look at the faces of Freddie and Elizabeth Webb, I get the strong sense that these are people who will not coddle a son regardless of whether he is right or wrong.

Note: Items in italics have been paraphrased.

* * *

My journey in pursuit of an informed opinion gave me a newfound preference to the Lady Justice without the blindfold.

There is something about this depiction that reminds me of the true essence of justice. The position of the scales of truth and fairness and the sword denotes the primacy of logic over punishment. Sadly, many have been quick with their judgments out of a desire to fulfill the latter.

Most importantly, the absence of blindfold implies the ability to open the self to facts - this and nothing else - which should be everyone's first step to appreciating the beauty and the huge responsibility that comes with justice.

* * *

My first two installments on the Vizconde Case and Hubert Webb had been read more than a thousand times since posted. Among the most popular keyword searches were:

A screencap of the first installment, On Vizconde Massacre, Hubert Webb and the Quest for True Justice was featured at Paparazzi on TV 5 (see 1:09) and was acknowledged by Fritz Webb on ANC Headstart.

Installment 2, Deconstructing Public Opinion: Is Hubert Webb guilty? has gone through two major changes to pave way to criticisms, which I took constructively, and to accommodate fairness and objectivity.

* * *

I suggest readers to go through the following links regarding the acquittal of Hubert Webb and others:

Supreme Court clears Webb, 6 others in Vizconde massacre (BusinessWorld Online).

Babes Romualdez. 'If it doesn't fit, you must acquit' - Babes' Eye View, The Philippine Star.
Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. Fr. Bernas on SC decision Webb case, Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Jomar Canlas. Chronology of Events: The Vizconde Massacre, Manila Times.
Jose C. Sison. Undue media coverage - A Law Each Day (Keeps Trouble Away), The Philippine Star.
Randy David. Justice and public opinion - Public Lives, Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Winnie Monsod. Vindicated - Get Real, Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Winnie Monsod. Vizconde Massacre Analysis, QTV.