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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 7, 2005

Ex-House aide gets favorable ruling

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau


A committee of the United Nations' high commission for human rights has found that the Philippines arbitrarily arrested and failed to provide a fair trial to a Hawai'i man who was convicted of child abuse and spent eight years in Philippine jails.

According to a letter sent to Leon Rouse, the U.N. high commission's human rights committee also found that Rouse, a former gay-rights activist, was deprived of his right to cross-examine the alleged victim and suffered cruel and inhuman treatment because he was denied proper medical care while in custody.

Rouse, who appealed for help from politicians in Hawai'i and across the nation while he was in jail, had maintained his innocence since his 1995 arrest and said he was set up by Philippine police in an extortion scheme.

The human rights committee said the Philippines has an obligation to provide Rouse with a remedy, including compensation, for his detention and imprisonment. The Philippine government has 90 days to respond.

"I always knew I was innocent, and now the unanimous decision by the United Nations has proved that," said Rouse, who learned of the July 25 decision when he opened his mail yesterday morning.

Rouse's past cost him his job earlier this year as an office manager for state Rep. Rida Cabanilla, D-42nd (Waipahu, Honouliuli, 'Ewa).

Rouse resigned in April when rumors about his conviction swirled at the state Capitol amid news reports about whether he received special treatment from state lawmakers after he was fired last year as a cabin steward at Norwegian Cruise Line on allegations of sexual harassment. Rouse admitted he did not tell Cabanilla or the cruise line about his conviction.

The Hawai'i State Ethics Commission is examining whether state Sen. Brian Kanno, D-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), acted properly when he met with Norwegian about Rouse and signed a letter with other lawmakers asking the cruise line to pay Rouse travel expenses and restitution. Kanno was also among the lawmakers who proposed resolutions that would have forced Norwegian to disclose its sexual harassment policies and studied whether the cruise line should pay the state's hotel room tax. Norwegian complained to Senate leaders that the resolutions seemed punitive and they never advanced.

Several state and federal lawmakers had also written letters to U.S. and Philippine diplomats on Rouse's behalf while he was in prison. Rouse and his family and friends had mounted an aggressive letter-writing campaign in what turned out to be a vain attempt to win his freedom. Rouse appealed his case through the Philippine court system but was unsuccessful.

Rouse was released from prison in 2003 — after complaining of medical problems — on a conditional pardon that required him to pay his own way back to the United States and to promise never to return to the Philippines.

Rouse said the United Nations was his last hope at vindication but worried that the nature of his conviction might work against him. He was convicted of having sex with a teenage boy, which he has denied, insisting his arrest was elaborately orchestrated by a man he knew and an undercover police officer who brought the boy to his hotel room.

"They're banking on the fact that they are going to scare you and you are going to pay," Rouse said. "Why would I fight this for so long if I was not innocent?"

The human rights committee reviewed Rouse's case under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines has signed.

The committee found that Rouse was arrested and detained without a warrant. It also found the trial court admitted the victim's original statement alleging the crime as evidence but did not accept his later retraction. Rouse's attorneys were also never allowed to cross-examine the boy — who never appeared at the trial but was the sole eyewitness to the alleged crime.

The committee also determined that there were undue delays in Rouse's appeals and that he suffered from severe pain from kidney problems but was not given adequate medical care by prison authorities.

Rouse, who said he plans to sue the State Department for failing to defend his right to a fair trial, said he expects an unconditional pardon from the Philippines.

It is unclear what kind of financial compensation is available to Rouse, however. According to the Web site of the Philippine Department of Justice, people who are unjustly imprisoned and later released or acquitted are entitled to no more than 1,000 pesos — about $18 — for each month of incarceration. People who are arbitrarily or illegally detained are eligible for up to about $179. People must file claims within six months of their release.

A duty officer at the Philippine Embassy in Washington said last night that the embassy could not comment on the case until tomorrow morning at the earliest.

Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa, vice consul at the Philippine Consulate General here, said she could not comment because she had not seen the U.N. ruling.

But she said Americans visiting the Philippines can expect due process under the law. "Any visitor would have the right to a fair trial and due process and access to their embassy," she said.