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MYSTERY EXIT

2 former CIS teachers leave the country, dodge criminal case


How did Susan Rigby, one of five teachers indicted for the accidental drowning of two Cebu-based students, get away?

The Canadian national left the country on July 8 despite a “lookout bulletin” issued by the Department of Justice to immigration offices and all ports.

Details of her quiet exit were sketchy.

By slipping out, Rigby may have successfully avoided a criminal trial for charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide filed against her and four others for the death of 13-year-old Kyle Weckman-Gullas and a Korean student of the Cebu International School (CIS).

Her departure came to light only after the Inquirer reported that this was the “last straw” that irked President Aquino and led to the resignation of Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. four days after on July 12.

The two boys were part of a school-supervised field trip for 42 CIS students in Sept. 12, 2012 to Bataan province. The group, accompanied by teachers, went on a trek, stopped by the Tambangan Waterfalls and went swimming.

The two boys were caught in the strong undercurrents of the waterfall and drowned, prompting their parents to sue the school and some of the teachers.

NO LONGER CONNECTED

Reached for comment, CIS lawyer Edmund Villanueva yesterday expressed suprise at Rigby’s departure.

“I only read about it in the Inquirer last Wednesay that Rigby left the Philippines,” he said.

Villanueva said Rigby was “no longer connected” with the private school.

Last July 1, however, Villanueva accompanied Rigby and other accused parties to Danao City to post P30,000 bail each following the issuance of an arrest warrant by a court in Bataan province in Northern Luzon where the criminal charges were filed.

“I’m representing CIS. Rigby’s lawyers come from the Divina Law office in Makati,” said Villanueva.

The first time Rigby tried to leave the country days after the Sept. 12, 2012 drowning, an angry Rep. Eduardo Gullas of the 1st district intervened and complained to the Department of Justice, which issued a “lookout order” for agencies to watch out for the Canadian in case she tried to flee from the Philippines.

The 13-year-old Kyle was the grandson of Gullas’ brother Jose “Dodong” Gullas, president of the University of the Visayas and publisher of the Freeman.

The boy’s mother Jacqueline Weckman-Gullas was the chairman of the CIS board of trustees at the time. She and her husband David have a separate civil case for damages against CIS superintendnet Diedre Fisher and several teachers.

SECOND TEACHER GONE

None of the Gullas family members were immediatley available for comment yesterday.

Their lawyer Sylvia Almase-Suarez said they all were surprised to read about Rigby’s exit in online news reports.

“We were informed that a hold-departure order was issued earlier against the five teachers. We are still finding out why she was able to depart,” she said in a text message to CDN.

Suarez said a second CIS teacher accused in the case, Tyler Herbst, also left the country last December 2012 and hasn’t returned to the Philippines.

Since the time the criminal charges were filed, three of the five CIS teachers accused in the case have left the private school, she said — Rigby, Herbst and Leah Joy Cabanban.

Only two local counterparts are still employed with CIS, Socorro Laplana and Geronimo Alguno.

The accused posted bail on July 1 in Danao City and were supposed to be scheduled for arraignment before Judge Remigio Escalada Jr. of the Regional Trial Court Branch 3 in Balanga, Bataan.

The judge had issued arrest warrants against them on June 27 and denied their requests to cancel arraignment or quash the information filed against them.

FREE TO TRAVEL

Villaneuva, legal counsel of CIS, said that even if a hold departure order (HDO) is issued, the accused can still secure the court’s permission to leave the country.

“If there’s no HDO, an accused can leave the country anytime because everyone has the right to travel. That’s freedom of abode and travel. On the other hand, in case there is an HDO, an accused can still ask the court’s permission to travel,” he explained, “for justifiable reasons like health concerns.”

No arraignment has been held yet – the stage where an accused is formally read the charges against him and enters a plea of not guilty or guilty — which means the court has not acquired full jurisdiction over him, according to legal sources.

This also means that if Rigby and Herbst don’t return to the Philippines, the criminal trial for both of them can’t proceed, and their P30,000 bail bond will be cancelled.

In the case filed in court, prosecutors said the CIS teachers had deviated from the itinerary which was to go trekking, with no mention of swimming.

The teachers who accompanied the students had local guides as they were unfamiliar with the waterfalls, which they visited for the first time.

The court noted that they did not bring any life saving equipment and that some of the teachers jumped into the water fully clothed, and encouraged other students to jump in and swim, fully clothed with their hiking shoes on.

CABINET MEETING

Rigby’s flight was the latest in a series of foreign nationals who managed to slip out of the country despite a pending criminal case.

At a Cabinet meeting last week, a peeved Justice Secretary Leila Delima reported to President Aquino the departure of Rigby.

He reportedly told her he was ready to replace the immigration commissioner.

Commissioner David, in resigning on Tuesday, said the task of ridding the immigration bureau of corrupt and inefficient personnel had been a very challenging and difficult one. He said that as head of the agency for over two years he took responsibility for the lapses.

“I thank the President for giving me the opportunity to serve the bureau,” he said in a statement on Tuesday, hours after Malacañang announced it had accepted his resignation contained in a letter dated July 12.

Last year, during the bureau’s 72nd anniversary celebration, David and his subordinates received a dressing down from Aquino for the disappearance of South Korean Kim Tae Dong and the escape of the Reyes brothers who were wanted in connection with the January 2011 killing of environmentalist Gerry Ortega.

Kim, whose extradition had been sought by South Korea for an $8-million embezzlement case, escaped while under guard by immigration agents from St. Luke’s Medical Center two years ago. Ador Vincent Mayol With Correspondent Joy Cherry Quito and Inquirer


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