MANILA – The Department of Justice (DOJ) lost its P6 billion smuggling case against Phoenix Petroleum Philippines before the Court of Appeals (CA).
In its decision, the CA nullified the resolutions issued by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima which found probable cause to charge Phoenix Petroleum president and chief executive Dennis Uy and its customs broker Jorlan Cabanes for violating the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines (TCCP).
The CA granted two separate petitions filed by Uy and Cabanes, and ruled that the two were deprived of due process when de Lima issued the April 24 resolution, which overturned an earlier resolution issued by Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III recommending that the smuggling case be dismissed.
"Mindful of these considerations, this Court holds that Cabanes and Uy's right to due process has been disregarded by the Secretary of Justice when she did not require the petitioners to comment or respond to the new allegations and new documents embodied in the BOC's reply before she issued the assailed resolution dated April 24, 2013," the CA said.
The appellate court also questioned why new documents were welcomed by de Lima when this was already denied.
"This Court cannot simply shut its eyes to the obvious fact that new arguments and allegations, much more new documents, were improperly raised in the BOC's reply since these matters substantially amended the charges and accusations against Cabanes and Uy," the CA said.
The CA also said that the justice secretary committed grave abuse of discretion when she held that there was probable cause to indict Cabanes and Yu for smuggling.
“Upon this Court's review of the records of the preliminary investigation attached to the instant petitions, it is evident that the BOC failed to adequately show the purported fraudulent acts of Cabanes and Uy... The records of the case are bereft of any competent evidence showing that there was a finding of fraud or fraudulent practice committed by Cabanes and Uy," it said.
The 70-page ruling was penned by Associate Justice Ramon M. Bato Jr. and concurred by Associate Justices Florito Macalino and Samuel Gaerlan.
De Lima, in her April 24, 2014 resolution, found probable cause to file smuggling charges against Uy and Cabanes over fraudulent importations of gasoil, unleaded gasoline and other petroleum products at the ports in Davao and Bauan, Batangas from June 2010 to April 2011.
It reversed the earlier dismissal of smuggling charges against Uy, which was handed down by the same agency in November 2011.