Teddy Benigno and His Quest For Truth

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Five years ago, a Filipino journalist by the name of Teddy Benigno passed away. Teddy was an artist as a writer, passionate yet had a keen eye for the truth. Most of all, Teddy was incorruptible, fiercely independent, and a man of great integrity. I now think of Teddy because he would have celebrated the victory of Noynoy Aquino, son of the lady president whom Teddy served and admired to his dying day. Cory Aquino on her part was one of the last visitors of Teddy in his deathbed. Teddy wanted to much to see the end of the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but did not live to see it. I know Teddy regretted so much his initial trust and faith in Gloria whom he helped become a presidential candidate as early as 1996.

But it is more the decision of P-Noy to establish the Truth Commission that would have made Teddy ecstatic. If there was ever a man I knew who would go to great lengths to ferret out the truth, it was Teddy. And he was endowed not only with a journalistic thirst for truth but with an accompanying courage that was almost fatalistic. The idea of a Truth Commission is something up the alley of Teddy, and I know that he would be approaching it today for a question of truth that frustrated Teddy no end. I am referring to the case of Hubert Webb and his alleged role in the Vizconde massacre. To Teddy, Hubert was innocent, exonerated time and again by official documents from US agencies which attested that Hubert was in the United States at the time of the massacre.

As a Filipino interested in global and historical dynamics and, later as a member-founder of the Council On Philippine Affairs, I had always looked at the United States as a country that had wars in its genes. It was, after all, a son of Europe and had picked up the invading, colonizing pattern of its European parents. The Left especially have always accused the United States of controlling and manipulating the Philippines and the leaders who have governed us. Daily when the US Embassy is open, there is a non-ending list of applicants for a US visa. Fil-Ams never miss to say that the United States has a system that works, most notably its justice system. Agencies that are related to the security of the US, like the FBI, the CIA and the INS are not prone to taking orders or illegal requests from foreigners. If at all, it is they who are followed with little or no question at all.

It was absolutely shocking to Teddy how agencies like the INS and the FBI would officially attest that Hubert was, indeed, in the United States during the Vizconde massacre – yet their declarations were, in effect, dismissed as untrue. Since the judge did not accept the documentary evidence from the government of the United States, it was tantamount to declaring that the father of Hubert, then Senator Freddie Webb, was so powerful that he could make the government of the United States lie in favor of Hubert. That is ridiculous, of course, because the United States was and largely remains a master of the Philippines, not a nation who would kowtow to, and break its own laws for, a Filipino senator. It is as though the United States lied in order to accommodate a legal alibi of one Filipino.

It was not Hubert Webb who was on trial but the justice system of the United States as well.  Filipinos by the millions have tried, with some succeeding and others not, to find a new home in the United States because their system worked. The same immigration authorities that Filipinos submit themselves to in order to get visas, ask entry visas for, and leave evidence of exits from US soil are the ones who submitted documents which showed Hubert Webb was in the United States. The FBI got into the picture and added its affirmation that, indeed, Hubert Webb was in the US when the Vizconde massacre was committed, affirming claims by Hubert that there were other parties who saw him just hours apart from the crime.

The intelligence of Teddy could not accept that the preponderance of evidence provided by US authorities about Hubert’s stay and activities while he was in the US could be less in value that statements of one or two witnesses who themselves could not offer proof other than their claims. That was why Teddy went all the way out for Hubert and the efforts of the Webb family to prove Hubert’s innocence.

The Truth Commission, if it had been established and active at that time, would have been a perfect avenue for Teddy and the Webbs. All the more, when requests for DNA testings which the Webbs had made but were never accommodated, they and the Filipino public are now told that the physical evidence is gone. Whoever did not want the truth to be tested or proven simply made sure that technology could not be used one way or the other.

It is good that Teddy Benigno has passed already or he would have a heart attack knowing the government lost or destroyed material evidence, and Hubert Webb whom Teddy believed with all his heart would continue to be a victim as much as the murdered members of the Vizconde family.

Meanwhile, a murderer or murderers roam may be roaming free as the judicial system fixates itself on a Hubert Webb who could be innocent, or absolutely innocent according to the authorities of the United States. I remember a mob two thousand years ago who wanted to crucify an innocent man. History became the Truth Commission and affirmed the innocence of a man called Jesus.

Hubert is not Jesus, but Teddy may be in heaven making a personal appeal.  Remembering how Teddy was and his tenacious character when seeking for truth and justice, he might just succeed.

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