By: Francis Allan L. Angelo & Emme Rose Santiagudo
MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE) wants the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge who is handling the expropriation complaint against embattled Panay Electric Co. (PECO) to inhibit from the case for alleged bias for the latter.
The motion for inhibition which MORE lodged against RTC Branch 35 Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular on Oct 14, 2019 is an offshoot of the tug-of-war between the two firms over electricity distribution services in Iloilo City.
MORE filed the expropriation case, docketed as Civil Case No. 19-34158, in March 2019 after securing its congressional franchise to distribute power in the city via Republic Act No. 11212. The case aims to convince the court to authorize the takeover of PECO assets so that MORE can start operating.
On Aug 14, RTC Judge Marie Yvette Go granted MORE’s application for a writ of possession (WOP) but stopped short of ordering its actual implementation as she recused from handling the case.
The expropriation case was then re-raffled to the sala of Judge Amular who is now hearing the case.
MORE thought Amular will follow through with the WOP but the Razon-led firm claimed that the judge was delaying the proceedings despite fulfilling the requirements for the expropriation such as identifying PECO assets it seeks to take over and depositing over P400 million as payment for just compensation for the said assets.
The motion cited the hearing last Aug 23 where Judge Amular set the case for “further proceedings on September 25, 2019 at 8:30 o’clock in the morning.”
MORE claimed that its doubt in Judge Amular deepened when the latter said that he is “confronted with the issue as to what properties of defendant (PECO) should be included (in the expropriation).”
The judge also claimed that he does not have the “technical expertise” in determining which properties of PECO would constitute distribution assets, thus he summoned representatives of the Energy Regulatory Commission to appear in the Sept 25 hearing to shed light on his concerns.
In its motion, MORE said it began to doubt Judge Amular’s actions when the properties subject for expropriation “were clearly enumerated in the Complaint for Expropriation and that defendants (PECO) in their Answer did not deny these properties.”
“In fact the assessed values of these properties for the purpose of the application for Writ of Possession was already determined, and the value in terms of money already deposited with the Land Bank. The pronouncement of the Presiding Judge regarding the purported need of referring to the ERC on the issue as to what properties shall be included, became doubly unusual, considering that the two previous Presiding Judges, did not express their interest in inviting the ERC during all the time that the incident and the proceeding on the application for the writ of possession were presided by the two Presiding Judges,” MORE’s motion read.
MORE also questioned the judge’s move to ask for evidence on PECO properties that will be taken over by the former saying it only delays the proceedings.
The motion also quoted Judge Amular as saying that he is not inclined “to squabble about legal technicalities and procedural law which can be resolved finally by the Supreme Court.” The judge also said that he will try to find a win-win solution to the case.
MORE’s motion said such utterances are smack of “bias against plaintiff MORE and loss of impartiality” based on jurisprudence and the Rules of Court.
MORE also questioned the judge’s move to meet MORE and PECO officials in his chamber sans the lawyers on Sept 26 saying it also violated the Rules of Court and the Code of Judicial Conduct.
It also questioned the way the judge scolded MORE president and CEO Roel Castro for granting an interview with this paper, in violation of the gag order he issued.
“The above described actuation of the Presiding Judge exposed his bias against MORE. On the other hand, PECO officers kept on releasing press statements and having interviews, but the Presiding Judge seemed to take those actions nonchalant,” MORE alleged in its motion.
MORE also claimed that it finds “unacceptable” the alleged threat of the judge during the chamber conference that the case could drag for 15 years if the two power distribution firms fail to reach a compromise.
“From the afore-going, it is clear that the Presiding Judge is bias and has lost that indispensable requisite of due process where the proceeding must possess that requirement of cold neutrality of an impartial judge.”
Left with no recourse, MORE said that Judge Amular “must inhibit himself from further presiding in the present case and immediately refrain from resolving all pending incidents until this instant motion to inhibit is first resolved.”