Appellate court lifts arrest warrant vs lawmaker

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 21 2017 02:34 PM

MANILA - The Court of Appeals (CA) has lifted the warrant for the arrest of 1-Pacman Partylist Representative Michael Romero in connection with a case for qualified theft filed against him before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC).

In a 20-page decision by the CA Fifth Division obtained by ABS-CBN News, the appellate court found that Manila RTC Branch 11 Judge Cicero Jurado Jr. had committed grave abuse of discretion for denying on Jan. 6 the Department of Justice’s motion to withdraw the criminal case against Romero, his mother Felicia Aquino, and another accused Edwin Jeremillo, as well as to lift the issuance of a warrant for their arrest.

The appellate court, through the ponencia of Associate Justice Magdangal De Leon dated Nov. 16, granted the consolidated petitions of Romero and Aquino, as it nullified the assailed orders and directed the withdrawal of the qualified theft case without prejudice to its re-filing.

The CA said the trial court should have granted the DOJ’s motion for the withdrawal of the case filed by Senior State Prosecutor Peter Ong. 

Ong granted Romero and Aquino’s motions for reconsideration of the earlier resolution finding probable cause against them.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by lawyer Jerome Canlas, who has represented himself as the authorized representative of Harbour Center Port Terminal, Inc (HCPTI). Canlas alleged that the petitioners and Jeremillo stole P3.41 million from HCPTI in 2007 using their positions of trust and confidence.

In its motion to withdraw criminal information, the DOJ cited insufficiency of evidence and the existence of a prejudicial question pertaining to a controversy over the ownership of HCPTI pending before the courts.

Respondent Manila judge, however, denied the DOJ’s motion.

“Clearly, respondent judge (Jurado) gravely abused his discretion when he denied the DOJ’s motion to withdraw information. In denying the motion to withdraw, he further abused his discretion when he determined the existence of probable cause and worse, he issued a warrant of arrest against petitioners," the appellate court said. 

“[C]onsistent with our ruling that the DOJ’s motion to withdraw information should be granted, the suspension of the criminal proceedings before the Office of the City Prosecutor-Manila will result in the withdrawal of the information for qualified theft but without prejudice to its re-filing… in the event that the prejudicial question is resolved with finality,” the decision read.

The CA said the decision will apply to Jeremillo even as he did not lodge his own petition.