December 20, 2010

A tale of two families

A DAY after Hubert Webb and five other coaccused were freed by the Supreme Court, acquitted of culpability in the decades-old Vizconde massacre case, a Twitter account — @iamhubertwebb — was set up and started tweeting about Webb’s supposed reflections on his new life outside the New Bilibid Prison.

Of course, it wasn’t the real Webb who was tweeting but some anonymous Pinoy trying to find some humor in the otherwise tragic loss of 15 years in the young man’s life.

According to an ABS-CBN story, some of “Webb’s” tweets include:

“Damn! Need to buy batteries for my Discman. It’s skipping again.”

“killing time with my brickgame”

“Gonna plan an eyeball for my MIRC chat mates!”

“Guys, Freedom Party for me tonight! See you at Mars disco!!!!!”

“on way to Virra Mall to trade in my beeper”

“Why are all the guys wearing Sperry Topsiders? It’s so ’80s! Baduy, man.”

“Hey, what happened to the ACA video ’round the corner? Wanted to get the new TGIS movie.”

The tweets were hilarious, for sure, but no less biting. In fact, it was jarring even for me to read the SC decision where in one portion, it referred to the old Faces Disco at the corner of Makati Avenue and Pasay Road, which has long been replaced by a boutique hotel.

How does one exactly reintegrate into society after waking up to the same bartolina for the past 15 years, seeing the same tired old faces across the mess hall while eating meals that probably don’t even qualify for a poor man’s basic meal of rice and a tin of sardines, reliving one’s past loves and experiences with his ka-cosa while basically doing nothing the entire day?

Sure, there was basketball and tennis, along with the TV to keep Webb and his fellow inmates entertained for a bit, but you can’t do that every day in the hopes of keeping oneself from brooding and missing the things one did when he still had his freedom. A mother of one convict who spent time in Bilibid once told me that the most frightful time usually comes at night, just before a prisoner goes asleep and he is alone in his thoughts. It is a time when everyone has settled in his own cot, it is all quiet and there are no more distractions. It is a time one has to face one’s internal conflicts alone. These are thoughts that one cannot simply switch off, with sleep—when it comes—providing the only refuge from the pain.

The ages between 27 and 42 is the prime period in any young adult’s normal life, when he or she would have been working, moving up in his/her career, and making a name for himself/herself among one’s peers. It is also a period in one’s life that most young adults get married, have kids and start learning to give back to society either through the occasional charity work and volunteerism. Webb may have made a name for himself and his family, but it was in the most despicable way possible, accused of a crime he didn’t commit having been away in the US when it happened. It’s really heartbreaking to think of what might have been and what should have happened instead, but as some wise man told me once, you just need to play the hand you’ve been dealt with and make the most of your cards.

What Hubert Webb underwent in these last 15 years changes a man forever. He may even find that life outside Bilibid jarring and chaotic. In Bilibid, there is a semblance of order, and respect is accorded to certain prisoners, such as the head of each prison cell (the mayor). Outside Bilibid, there is no respect for authority with people sowing mayhem constantly. It’s each man for himself, with people cutting in line just to buy a lotto ticket.

Webb is luckier than most who have been released from prison because he has a supportive family and friends to go home to, and an actual roof over his head. He will not have to worry when his next hearty meal will come from.

I am glad that he has chosen to be an educator who will try to help kids stay out of jail. But for now, there is a Christmas to look forward to with all his relatives and friends around him to celebrate with. Although his parents and siblings have been spending Christmas with him every year since he had been incarcerated, this particular one has taken a more significant meaning because now he will truly be home.

I salute Hubert Webb and his family’s courage and the love that has kept them together through this most trying period in their lives.


While I am happy that Hubert Webb is now with his family in time for the Christmas celebration, I cannot help but grieve along with Lauro Vizconde.

It was heartwrenching seeing him cry out in anguish over the SC decision, his companions around trying to comfort him. Despite the 15 years in jail that Webb and his companions—whom Vizconde continues to believe as the real perpetrators of the crime against his family—he has really not been able to move on.

He is a lonely man who lives in a virtual mausoleum with the bedrooms of his wife Estrellita and their children Carmela and Jennifer unchanged and made up to look like he is still waiting for his girls to come home and sleep in their beds again. The furniture is unchanged, except for some repainting done in parts of the home, and he continues to live there despite the bittersweet memories.

You hear him speak on TV and read his interviews in newspapers, and you can sense a hopeless and defeated man. He no longer has the desire to live among the living. As he said himself, he has lost his “inspiration”. And when you surround yourself with people like that loser who kept on shouting “P. I. nyong lahat!” repeatedly on TV after the SC released its decision on the rape-murder case, I’m not surprised why Mang Lauro has not been able to find any more meaningful challenges in his life. Misery begets misery.

But how else can we expect him to behave? The last time Mang Lauro saw his wife and two girls together was actually in 1988, three years before that grisly crime occurred. In the time that he was away in the US making a living for his family, there were only once- or twice-a-month phone calls to keep each other abreast of life’s unfolding.

Mang Lauro has said he blames himself for not being around to defend his helpless family. In a society such as ours, much is expected of a man—as a father, he is supposed to be the larger breadwinner in the family, and the main defender of the household. Failing at the latter shakes a man to his very core. This is why perhaps Mang Lauro sounds and appears like he has yet to forgive himself even if the circumstances were beyond his control.

This Christmas, as in the past 19 years, he will be spending the day at the cemetery. Maybe his nieces will accompany him, or maybe he will be alone again. He will be sitting by the tombs of his Estrellita, his Carmela, and his Jennifer, lighting candles and arranging the flowers he has brought for them. He will be making his supplications to the Lord, and alternately talking to his dead family members in his thoughts, and hoping they will let him know how they are doing.

This Christmas, as we gather with our own family members and partake of the noche buena before us, let us please remember these two families in our thoughts. Please pray that the real perpetrators of the crime be finally brought to justice. Pray as well for forgiveness, the courage to move on, and peace of mind.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos by Nonie Reyes)

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