US court awards $4M to Dacers
Joseph Lariosa (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2014 - 12:00am

CHICAGO – A United States court has ordered former Philippine police officer Michael Ray Aquino to pay more than $4 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the four daughters of Salvador “Bubby” Dacer after finding him responsible for “coordinating” the kidnapping, torture and murder of the publicist and his driver 13 years ago.

Judge William Alsup of the US District Court of Northern California in San Francisco issued the ruling on Tuesday.

Aquino was tried in absentia in the case as he did not leave a forwarding address after his release from the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.

A Manila court ordered his release in 2012.

“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,” 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.

Rodis represented the Dacer sisters. The other lawyer of the plaintiffs is Errol Zshornack.

The $4,205,000 awarded would be equally distributed among Carina Dacer, Sabina Dacer-Reyes, Amparo Dacer-Henson and Emily Dacer-Hungerford.

In his decision, Alsup instructed the clerk of court to send “this order to US 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 million in compensatory and $100 million in punitive) damage suit against Aquino and other co-accused in the double murder case, including former president now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, former senator now rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson, Aquino’s former subordinate Glenn Dumlao, former Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.) boss Reynaldo Tenorio and businessman Dante Tan.

The Dacer siblings reduced the amount to $60 million because only Aquino had received summons and answered the civil suit.

Fearful

Rodis told Alsup that summons process servers in Manila would not even accept his payment to serve the summons on Estrada and Lacson, for fear of their lives.

Other respondents “have just disappeared and nowhere to be served.”

Finding the $60-million damage claim by the Dacers “excessive,” Alsup whittled it down to $4,205,000.

Alsup found Carina Dacer’s estimate that her father had provided them $192,400 a year was “insufficient” of evidence.

He said the Dacer siblings failed to offer proof that their father had earned enough to provide them with such an amount.

The award is believed to be the first and only one of its kind since the US 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” based on the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum.

Alsup handed down the decision anyway after Rodis told the court that the Dacer case should be treated as an exception to the Kiobel ruling.

Aquino fled to the US some eight months after the November 2000 murders.

Rodis said Aquino used the US as “safe harbor to escape prosecution” and came under federal jurisdiction based on the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).

The TVPA applies if and when “the defendant’s conduct substantially and adversely affects an important US 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.’”

In exercising jurisdiction over Aquino’s case, the court also cited his having resided in the US until he was sentenced to a jail term in New Jersey for illegal possession of classified government documents and eventually extradited to the Philippines.

A MANILA A UNITED STATES ALSUP AQUINO CARINA DACER DACER MICHAEL RAY AQUINO RODIS SAN FRANCISCO UNITED STATES
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