MANILA – An Iloilo-based judge caught up in the legal saga between power firms Panay Electric Company (PECO) and MORE Electric and Power Corporation (MORE) has spoken up: he wants the expropriation case filed by MORE moved out of Iloilo.
In a press statement, Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular, presiding judge of Iloilo City Regional Trial Court Branch 35 said the case has become “too politicized,” suggesting that it might be in the “best interest” of the parties for a judge outside the Iloilo RTC to try and hear the case.
This comes as MORE’s president, Roel Castro, and its lawyer, Hector Teodosio, filed an administrative complaint against Amular in December last year, accusing him of delaying the implementation of a writ of possession covering PECO’s distribution assets.
MORE filed the expropriation case on August 14 last year seeking to take control of PECO’s assets, following two provisions under its franchise, Republic Act 11212.
But these provisions have been declared unconstitutional by a Mandaluyong RTC in July 2019 “for infringing on PECO’s rights to due process and equal protection of the law.”
Sections 10 and 17 of the law allow MORE to expropriate PECO’s private assets currently being used for distributing electricity in the province.
Section 10 also allows MORE to immediately possess and operate PECO’s assets upon the filing of a petition for expropriation in court and depositing in a bank the full amount of the assessed value of PECO’s properties.
MORE questioned the ruling before the Supreme Court.
Despite its pending petition, MORE filed the expropriation case in Iloilo and RTC Judge Yvette Marie Go immediately issued a writ of possession in MORE’s favor before she inhibited from the case on August 15.
PECO had sought to hold Go and MORE in contempt of court and the Supreme Court had asked them to comment.
Amular took over the case and on November 18 last year, suspended the expropriation proceedings citing the pendency of the issue on the constitutionality of take-over, a prejudicial question that needs to be settled before ruling on the expropriation case.
MORE asked for Amular’s inhibition, which the judge denied.
JUDGE PUSHES BACK AGAINST ‘BLACKMAIL’
In his letter, Amular disclosed Teodosio’s “blackmail” attempt before the filing of the administrative complaint against him.
He said that Teodosio approached him on December 3 showing a copy of the temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Supreme Court preventing the Mandaluyong court from implementing its ruling voiding MORE’s take-over provisions.
Teodosio allegedly pleaded with him to inhibit from the case, citing pressure from his client.
MORE’s lawyer also supposedly invoked his friendship with the judge during a conversation inside the staff room and when Amular refused to inhibit, Teodosio allegedly showed a copy of the unsigned complaint addressed to the Supreme Court.
“Are you trying to blackmail the Presiding Judge?,” Amular recalled asking Teodosio. The judge warned the lawyer he will file a disbarment case against him.
Teodosio pushed through with filing the complaint against Amular on December 12, accusing him of grave misconduct, gross ignorance of the law and violation of the Code of Judicial Ethics.
Amular revealed he has written Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez regarding the complaint on December 17 and before that, he has sought the Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta’s guidance on December 11 on whether he can proceed with the expropriation case despite a pending petition in the Supreme Court.
The judge noted that he has disposed of numerous expropriation cases promptly in the past but the PECO-MORE case is different because of the factual circumstances of the case.
“So many legal issues confront the court, hence it is most unfair to charge the court that it is delaying the case,” Amular said.
“Moreover, complainants should also bear in mind that an administrative complaint is not the appropriate remedy for every irregular or erroneous order or decision issued by a judge where a judicial remedy is available, such as a motion for reconsideration, an appeal, or a petition for certiorari,” he added.
Amular said he was forced to come up with a statement because of reports in the media about the administrative complaint against him without any attempt to get his side.
PECO had been operating as Iloilo’s power distributor for 95 years. But its franchise expired on January 18, 2019 and efforts to extend it in Congress have not prospered.
In contrast, MORE filed its bill in August 2018 and was immediately acted upon by the House and the Senate, with President Rodrigo Duterte signing it into law in February 2019.
ABS-CBN's sister company, First Philippine Holdings, is a minority stakeholder in PECO.