The Supreme Court has junked the petition filed by old utility Panay Electric Co. (PECO) seeking to transfer outside of Iloilo City the expropriation case filed by the new distribution utility More Electric and Power Corp. (MORE).
In a resolution dated Dec. 4, 2019, the SC denied the appeal by PECO to move the hearing of the expropriation case to any court in Metro Manila, or as an alternative, to consolidate it with the case pending then with the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court questioning the constitutionality of the expropriation powers given to the new utility by Congress.
The Dec. 4 SC resolution came a month before the suggestion of Iloilo City Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular to the Supreme Court that the expropriation case which he was handling be transferred outside Iloilo City after he was charged with bias by officials of the new distribution utility before the Supreme Court.
In its resolution, the SC rejected PECO’s premise that public scrutiny could affect the judge who handled the expropriation proceedings as not valid as “the mere possibility of prejudice is not sufficient to justify a transfer of venue, as aptly argue(d) by respondent MORE.”
The tribunal also said that PECO failed to present “adequate proof that the accompanying publicity may cause prejudice to it.”
Besides, the SC stressed that PECO also “failed to prove that a miscarriage of justice would arise in the event of that the subject case continues to be heard in the RTC of Iloilo City.”
The Supreme Court also said that “to the argument that there is a possibility that the two co-equal courts (Iloilo City and Mandaluyong City RTCs) would render conflicting decisions, the same had been rendered moot and academic by the fact that the Mandaluyong RTC has already rendered its judgment” which is now pending review by the Supreme Court on petition of MORE.
Reacting to the SC decision, MORE President Roel Castro said “the SC order denying the petition of PECO to transfer venue of the case is self-explanatory. Anyone who reads it will understand the meaning of it.”
The SC resolution arose from PECO’s opposition to the expropriation proceedings initiated by MORE with the Iloilo City RTC in March 2019 as the new utility invoked Sections 10 and 17 of RA 11212 to expropriate the distribution assets of PECO in exchange for about P500 million in line with its 25-year congressional franchise to distribute electricity in Iloilo City.
The Dec. 4 resolution comes a day after a December 3, 2019 resolution by the High Court imposing a Temporary Restraining Order against the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court and PECO from implementing the lower court’s decision declaring Sections 10 and 17 of Republic Act No. 11212 as unconstitutional.
Sections 10 and 17 of RA 11212 granted More Electric and Power Corp. (MORE) as the new distribution utility in Iloilo City the powers of eminent domain and to expropriate any asset, including existing distribution assets in the city.
MORE had secured the franchise after both chambers of Congress ignored PECO’s application to renew its franchise which expired last January 18, 2019.
Earlier, PECO had filed a petition with the Mandaluyong RTC questioning the constitutionality of Sections 10 and 17 of RA 11212. Unable to convince Iloilo City RTC Judge Marie Yvette D. Go to stop the expropriation proceedings because of its petition with the Mandaluyong RTC, PECO petitioned the SC to transfer the case to another court in Metro Manila or to consolidate it with the case pending then with the Mandaluyong RTC.
Judge Go subsequently issued in August last year an order for the issuance of a Writ of Possession (WOP) for PECO’s distribution assets, but she inhibited herself from the case right after issuing the order.
In the re-raffle of the case, Judge Amular took over and immediately ordered a gag on all parties involved while ignoring Judge Go’s order for the issuance of a WOP and announcing his own plans to conduct further hearings. On Nov. 28 last year, Judge Amular suspended the expropriation proceedings citing the Mandaluyong RTC’s adverse decision and the ongoing SC deliberations on its legality.
A week after, the SC issued on its December 3 resolution imposing the TRO on the Mandaluyong RTC and PECO which the SC said would remain in effect until it renders a decision on the issue.
MORE has asked the Supreme Court to remove Amular as the judge handling the case because of his alleged bias in favor of PECO when he allegedly ordered MORE in a conference in his chambers with officials of the two companies to settle with PECO, citing other cases allegedly where parties in dispute agreed to share ownership of the new company.
Amular subsequently released a statement calling for the transfer of the case outside Iloilo City because it has been “too politicized.”