Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, June 20, 2008

Appeal on Subic rape case heads for restart

It seems the Court of Appeals division handling the petition for review filed by convicted rapist Daniel Smith is not headed for a decision any time soon.

A Makati Regional Trial Court convicted Smith, a corporal with the US Marines, in 2006 for raping a 22-year-old Filipino known only by her alias “Nicole.” Smith, who is detained at the US Embassy in Manila, immediately filed an appeal.

A reason for the long wait on the appeal is related to the mandatory retirement on June 27 of Associate Justice Agustin Dizon, the reviewing justice of the Court of Appeals 16th Division, which is handling the rape case.

With his retirement, sources at the court said a new justice will have to be assigned to review the case. That means the hearings may have to start from the beginning to avoid possible accusations of partiality by the new justice assigned.

“The new reviewing justice can’t just take over the notes and draft report of the case. He or she will have to start from scratch,” the source explained.

The Nicole rape case has become so controversial that appellate justices seem to be avoiding it. One after another, justices assigned to the 16th division have inhibited themselves from the case.

Recently, Associate Justice Vicente Veloso quit as head of that division because his daughter is a member of the law firm defending Smith. The appellate court has designated Associate Justice Noel Tijam to replace him.

Also, Associate Justice Celia Librea-Leagogo inhibited herself from the same case, citing her friendship with one of the lawyers of Smith. Leagogo was replaced by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr., who is also expected to inhibit himself because he wrote a Court of Appeals decision on the custody of Smith.

The third member of the special division is Associate Justice Regalado Maambong, who is reportedly abroad.

Sources earlier said Dizon had already drafted a 55-page decision. But it still needs the signature of the two other justices before it can be made public.

There were talks, though, that the decision would likely turn in favor of Smith because of President Gloria Arroyo’s upcoming US trip, where she is scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush.

Members of Task Force Subic Rape, an organization keeping watch over the controversial rape case, had appealed to the justices’ sense of fairness and independence.

“We got information that a justice is preparing the decision to reverse Judge Benjamin Pozon’s verdict,” said Yuen Abana of the Partido ng Manggawa, a part of the task force. By William B. Depasupil, Manila Times

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