CHICAGO (FAXXNA/jGLi) – Judge William Alsup of the United States District Court of Northern California in San Francisco awarded Tuesday (Jan. 21) the four daughters of slain Filipino public relations practitioner Salvador “Bubby” Dacer more than $4-million in compensatory and punitive damages after finding former Philippine police officer Michael Ray Aquino responsible for being a “coordinator, who managed the entire operation via cellular telephone” in the kidnapping, torture and killing of Dacer and Dacer’s driver, Emmanuel Corbito, more than 13 years ago in the Philippines.
Aquino was tried in absentia in the case as he did not leave a forwarding address after he was released from the custody on a murders case by the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila, a mailing address Aquino used when he responded to the cases of violation of Alien Tort Claims Acta (ATCA) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) filed against him. Aquino’s murders case was dismissed by Manila’s Regional Trial Court based on “technicality,” not on the merits.
“This may not be the amount of judgment that we were hoping for. But this is certainly a vindication for our clients considering what we are up against,” Dacer siblings’ San Francisco-based Filipino American lawyer Rodel Rodis told the Fil Am Extra Exchange in a phone interview shortly after Judge Alsup handed down the 11-page decision. The other plaintiffs’ lawyer in the case is Errol Zshornack.
Judge Alsup entered $4,205,000 judgment against Aquino by splitting the award to Carina Dacer, Sabina Dacer-Reyes, Amparo Dacer-Henson and Emily Dacer-Hungerford at $1,051,250 each.
In his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law After Default Prove-Up Bench Trial, Alsup instructed the clerk of court to send “this order to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the recommendation that Michael Ray Aquino not be allowed to enter the borders of the United States, unless (in addition to other conditions that may be imposed), he pays in full this judgment.”
The Dacer siblings initially filed a $120-Million ($20-M in compensatory and $100-M in punitive) damage suit against Aquino and other co-accused, including former Philippines President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, former Senator now Rehabilitation Czar Secretary Panfilo M. Lacson, Aquino’s subordinate officer Glenn G. Dumlao, former Pagcor big boss Reynaldo Tenorio and businessman Dante Tan, but the siblings reduced the amount when Aquino was the only one, who was served the summon and answered the civil suit.
PROCESS SERVERS AFRAID TO SERVE ON ESTRADA, LACSON
Rodis told Judge Alsup that summon process servers in Manila would not even accept his payment to serve the summons on others, notably Messrs. Estrada and Lacson, for fear of their lives. Other respondents “have just disappeared and nowhere to be served.”
As the case against Aquino as the only one to prosper after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Dacer siblings lowered their claims against Aquino to $60-million, including $10-million in compensatory damages and $50-Million in punitive damages.
But because Judge Alsup finds the “damages requested — $60 million – excessive,” he whittled the award of damages down to $4,205,000. Alsup found Carina Dacer’s “estimates that her father provided to them at $192,400 a year” for each of the four them to live in the Philippines and the United States for 13 years at a cost of $5,002,400 as “insufficient” of evidence. The Judge said Dacer might not have made enough “income to provide such a sum to his daughters or that such a large sum was indeed provided.”
Judge Alsup lowered the compensable expenses to the Dacer siblings for housing $25,000 a year for 13 years at $325,000; living expenses at $8,000 a year for 13 years; Holidays and Birthdays at $4,000 a year for 13 years; transportation at $82,000; medical expenses at $156,000; education, $112,000 and funeral, $10,000 for a total of compensatory damages of $841,000. Out of the $841,000, Judge Alsup multiplied the amount into four for the siblings at $3,364,000 as punitive damages.
The award is believed to be the first and only such award since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling last April, narrowing recognition of private claims by federal courts to “violation of safe conducts, infringement of the rights of ambassadors, and piracy” in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, 621 F. 3rd 111.
But when Rodis told the court that the Dacer case applies as an exception to the Kiobel ruling, invoking the concurring opinion of Justice Breyer and concurred in by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, which says, “Congress has enacted other statutes, and not only criminal statutes, that allow the United States to prosecute (or allow victims to obtain damages from) foreign persons, who injure foreign victims by committing abroad torture, genocide, and other heinous acts,” Judge Alsup gave the Dacer case a new lease of life.
USED U.S. AS SAFE HARBOR
Rodis said when Aquino fled the Philippines in July 2001 following the November 2000 murders in the Philippines after learning from Defendant Panfilo Lacson in May 2001 that a warrant of arrest was issued for him in connection with his central role in the murders of Dacer and Corbito, Aquino used the United States as safe harbor to escape prosecution.
The situation fit the case against Aquino to a T as the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) used against Aquino gives a federal jurisdiction if one of the following elements are found: 1) the alleged tort occurs on American soil, (2) the defendant is an American national, or (3) the defendant’s conduct substantially and adversely affects an important U.S. interest, including preventing the United States from becoming ‘a safe harbor (free of civil as well as criminal liability) for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind.’”
The court exercised jurisdiction over the case as “Defendant (Aquino) who not only resided in the United States until he was sentenced to a jail term in New Jersey and eventually extradited to the Philippines but also because he submitted to the jurisdiction of this Court when he filed his Answer to the Complaint on September 7, 2011. This Defendant has also availed himself of the security and/or sanctuary of the United States.
Besides one of the plaintiffs is a U.S. citizen and defendant Aquino lived in the U.S. for years and was found guilty of illegally possessing classified government documents. The alleged conduct involves torture and murder for political ends” whose gravity “and potential violation of international law make this matter a universal concern.”
According to court documents, as a Deputy Director of the Philippine National Police, Aquino “authorized and directed the extrajudicial killing of Salvador Dacer” because “certain officials suspected Salvador Dacer of political dealings.” Aquino instructed agents to investigate and steal documents from Dacer as Dacer lobbied against former defendant Panfilo Lacson’s appointment to the Chief PNP post and ordered to convene a group of operatives to silence Dacer, who was in good health at the time.
On Nov. 24, 2000, Dacer and his driver, Corbito, were abducted and interrogated based on instructions provided by Aquino. Dacer was then strangled with a wire and burned in a dry creek in Cavite, Philippines, where Dacer’s and Corbito’s charred remains were later found.