Ex-cop tied to Dacer murder hits US ruling
MANILA, Philippines—Former police intelligence officer Michael Ray Aquino is not paying the $4.2 million in damages that the daughters of murdered public relations agent Salvador “Bubby” Dacer won in a civil suit in the United States on Tuesday.
Aquino said on Thursday that the US court that awarded the damages to Dacer’s daughters had “no jurisdiction” in the Philippines.
He also said that the decision of Judge William Alsup of US District Court for Northern California was “flawed.”
“I never had the chance to defend myself because I did not receive any summons and I was barred [from reentering] the United States,” Aquino told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
“The US District Court judge was misled and the lawyer of the complainants misrepresented himself,” Aquino said, but he did not elaborate on the point about the lawyer of Dacer’s daughters.
Local court decision
“I think the judgment was flawed and the decision of the local [court to dismiss] the case should have been considered,” Aquino said.
In December 2012, Judge Carolino Sison of the Manila Regional Trial Court’s Branch 18 dismissed the charges against Aquino in the November 2000 murders of Dacer and the public relations agent’s driver, Emmanuel Corbito.
But the four US-based daughters of the publicist—Carina Dacer, Sabina Reyes, Amparo Henson and Emily Hungerford—brought a wrongful death suit against Aquino, accusing him of authorizing and directing the killing of their father.
According to the official court document, in November 2000 Dacer was called to Malacañang and berated for working for the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada. Aquino ordered agents to investigate and steal documents from Dacer.
When Dacer lobbied against former defendant Panfilo Lacson’s appointment as chief of the Philippine National Police, Aquino was ordered to gather a group of operatives to silence the former.
On Nov. 24, 2000, the court found, Dacer was abducted, interrogated and tortured based on Aquino’s instructions. He was then strangled with a wire and his body was burned in a ravine in Cavite province. Corbito was murdered along with him.
On Dec. 24, at 11 a.m., Aquino sent a text message confirming that Dacer had been taken and gave instructions to “neutralize” him.
On this basis, the Philippine Department of Justice recommended Aquino’s indictment for the murders of Dacer and Corbito, as he “was obviously stage-managing the entire operation by cellular phone.”
Arrested in US
In May 2001 Lacson, by then a senator, learned of a pending investigation of Aquino and advised him to flee to the United States, and he did, the court stated.
Aquino was arrested in the United States in 2005 for illegal possession of classified documents. He pleaded guilty, was imprisoned for 76 months and subsequently extradited to the Philippines.
He was arrested for the murder of Dacer but released on the basis of technicalities.
Aquino filed a motion to dismiss the Dacers’ suit but his motion was denied. He last responded to the proceedings two years ago.
Prove up hearing
After a default prove up hearing on Tuesday, Alsup ordered Aquino, former chief of operations of the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) of the PNP under the administration of Estrada, to pay $4.2 million in punitive damages to the Dacer sisters.
A prove up is a short hearing before a judge when a case is uncontested.
In Aquino’s case, the proceedings went through in his absence because he could not be located by process servers, as he did not leave a forwarding address when he was deported from the United States in June 2011 after serving a jail sentence for espionage.
On Feb. 1, 2013, a trial date was set and Aquino was advised to attend pretrial proceedings. The instructions were sent to the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.
Going to great lengths
Records showed that Aquino failed to attend eight hearings and also failed to provide the court and the Dacers an updated address.
It was also found that he was no longer under Philippine government custody.
On Tuesday, after “going to great lengths to accommodate Aquino,” the court finally entered judgment for “damages proven at trial.”
Alsup also instructed the US Immigration and Citizenship Service to bar Aquino from entering the United States should he attempt to do so.
Aquino, now chief of security at Solaire Resort Hotel in Pasay City, denied that he did not leave a forwarding address.
He explained that when he was released from NBI custody, he signed release papers and wrote down forwarding addresses.
“I left the NBI forwarding addresses and I am sure that if they received [the court] papers, they would have sent them to me,” Aquino said.
He said the US court had no jurisdiction over the Dacer case because “it was supposed to happen here.”
Aquino meant Dacer’s murder was a Philippine case and properly belonged to the jurisdiction of Philippine courts.
Besides Aquino, the Dacers also sued Estrada, now mayor of Manila; Lacson, now President Aquino’s overseer for the rehabilitation of communities destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas last November; Reynaldo Tenorio, former head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.; businessman Dante Tan, and Senior Supt. Glenn Dumlao, a former PAOCTF officer who is now chief of the Public Safety Battalion of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) police.
The Dacer sisters originally demanded $120 million—$20 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages—but they reduced their demand to $60 million.
But Alsup found the Dacers’ claim “excessive” and “insufficient” in evidence, and reduced the damages to $4.2 million, to be equally divided among them.
Rodel Rodis, the Dacers’ San Francisco-based lawyer (and a columnist for Inquirer.net), was disappointed at the reduction of the damages but said the sisters were “vindicated” by the decision.
Don’t know anything
Estrada declined to comment when asked about the decision on Thursday.
“I have nothing to do with that. I don’t know anything about it,” Estrada said.
“Why will I comment when I have nothing to do with that? I don’t want to comment because I might be misinterpreted again,” he said.
Told that he was a defendant in the case, he said, “I don’t know anything about it so I cannot comment on it.”
Asked if he felt vindicated, as he was not ordered to pay damages to the Dacers, Estrada replied, “Why should I be ordered to pay damages when I know nothing about that?”
“Bubby Dacer [was] a good friend of mine, my compadre, that’s all,” he said.
‘It doesn’t affect me’
Lacson, too, declined to comment, as the case, he said, was “something that does not affect” him.
“Further, I do not wish to dignify Mr. Rodis’ propaganda against me by using the media as his outlet for a series of rehashed lies and fabricated stories that have no basis except perhaps the old vilification efforts directed against my reputation and honor by the past regime,” Lacson said in a text message.
Asked whether he remains in contact with Aquino, Lacson replied in the affirmative.
Asked whether Aquino was in the Philippines, he said, “He has nowhere to go except here.”
Tenorio and Tan were not available for comment on Thursday.—With reports from the Inquirer.net US Bureau, Erika Sauler and Christine O. Avendaño