JUDGE WON’T BUDGE: Expropriation case vs PECO suspended

By: Francis Allan L. Angelo and Emme Rose Santiagudo

Calling it an extraordinary case, Iloilo Regional Trial Court Branch 35 Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular refused to inhibit from the expropriation case filed by MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE) against Panay Electric Co. (PECO).

In an order dated Nov 18, 2019 relative to Civil Case No. 19-34158, Amular said his conscience is clear despite accusations by MORE that he is a biased judge.

He also ordered “to suspend further proceedings in this case in the interest of judicial fairness, respect to the Honorable Supreme Court and for practical considerations.”

“Moreover, the motion to inhibit the Presiding Judge is denied for lack of factual basis,” the order reads.

MORE Power asked Amular to inhibit from the case for allegedly showing bias in favor of PECO. Among the bases cited by the Razon-led firm is Amular’s attempt to amicably settle the expropriation case for the sake of consumers.

Amular took over the case when RTC Branch 37 Judge Marie Yvette D. Go inhibited from hearing the case right after granting MORE’s motion for the issuance of a writ of possession against PECO’s power distribution assets.

MORE is attempting to wrest power distribution services from PECO after securing a congressional franchise late last year. The franchise was signed into law (Republic Act 11212) in February 2019.

In his order, Judge Amular cited various factors which made the case interesting and imbued with public interest.

“The consumers of lloilo City have filed their complaint-in-intervention which has been admitted by this Court. The parties (MORE and PECO) have yet to file their answer-in-intervention. The complainants-in-intervention have the right to be heard,” the order reads.

Amular also cited the review on certiorari filed by MORE before the Second Division of the Supreme Court seeking to nullify the decision of RTC-Mandaluyong City which declared Sections 10 and 17 of Republic Act 11212 as void and unconstitutional.

Sections 10 of the franchise delegated to MORE the power of eminent domain which allows it to seize PECO assets after just compensation while Section 17 refers to the transition of operations from PECO to MORE.

Amular said the SC case “has placed this Court (RTC Branch 35) in a situation as to whether or not to proceed with the implementation of the writ of possession or to hold it in abeyance.”

The judge said the SC decision will have an impact on the expropriation case.

“According to the Supreme Court, the issue of constitutionality would be like a prejudicial question to the expropriation as it would be a waste of time and effort to appoint evaluation commissioners and debate the market value of the property sought to be condemned if it turned out that the condemnation was illegal.”

Considering the “novelty of the case,” Amular said that “the question of constitutionality is of paramount importance in the interest of legal and procedural fairness.”

“Indeed, the ruling of the Honorable Supreme Court will guide this Court whether the authority conferred upon the plaintiff (MORE) as a quasi-public corporation by Congress has been correctly or properly exercised by it.”



Amular also nixed MORE’s claims that he was biased when he attempted to broker an amicable settlement between the two warring firms in a chamber conference months ago. He said the law actually empowers judges to encourage civil case litigants to compromise.

“The conscience of the Presiding Judge is clear. By performing its mandate under Article 2029 of the Civil Code whereby the Court shall endeavor to persuade the litigants in a civil case to agree upon some fair compromise is not bias or prejudice to disqualify himself. The chamber conference was transparent to enable the parties to talk. The date of the chamber conference was even posted in the bulletin board outside the courtroom.”

While the SC has ruled that compromises or amicable settlements are not an indispensable prerequisite to civil cases, “it is advisable that efforts to secure an amicable settlement be first made before condemnation proceedings be instituted.”