PARTY-list Rep. Michael Romero is not immune from arrest even while Congress is in session, a House leader said Monday.
At the same time, the House is set to probe the Securities and Exchange Commission for allowing the transaction between Romero and Ramon Ang-owned San Miguel Corp. on the sale of the Romero-owned Manila North Harbor Port Inc. while there was an ongoing ownership dispute between Romero and his father Reghis Romero II.
“Mikee (Romero) loses his immunity from arrest because the arrest warrant was issued over a non-bailable offense. Even if the House is in session, the leadership cannot stop authorities from serving the warrant for his arrest.
“The congressmen and senators’ immunity from arrest works only when the offenses are punishable by imprisonment of six years and one day and below. Therefore, the House cannot protect Mikee,” the source, who requested anonymity, told the Manila Standard.
Congress resumes its sessions on Monday, Jan. 16, after a month-long holiday break.
The Standard tried but failed to reach Romero for comment since Sunday. Even his congressional staff claimed not to know Romero’s whereabouts.
On Jan. 6, a Manila regional trial court issued an arrest warrant against Romero for allegedly stealing P3.4 million from his family-owned Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc.
The two-page order was issued by Manila RTC Branch 11 Judge Cicero Jurado Jr., who did not allow bail for Romero and two of his co-accused, Edwin Jeremillo and Felicia Aquino, for qualified theft.
On Jan. 5, A Quezon City Regional Trial Court also issued a ruling barring Romero from claiming ownership of his family-owned HCPTI.
Romero has lost the protracted legal battle to his father, construction magnate Reghis Romero II, who sued his estranged son for allegedly falsifying ownership of the port facility.
In a 12-page order, Branch 222 Presiding Judge Edgar Santos ordered Romero and his affiliates, as well as their agents, employees and successors-in-interest to stop acting on behalf of HCPTI as shareholder or member of the board of directors of the MNHPI.
The order exposes some possible challenges in the ownership of Manila North Harbor Port Inc., which has been taken over by conglomerate San Miguel Corp.
SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang said the group now controls a 78.33-percent interest in the contested port terminal firm.
Prior to the transaction, MNHPI was 65 percent owned by HCPTI and 35 percent by San Miguel-owned Petron Corp. SMC eventually acquired an additional 43.44-percent stake.
Santos, in his Jan. 5 order, also prohibited Romero and other respondents in the case from exercising any rights as the board of HCPTI and from representing themselves as the duly authorized representatives, with the power to act for and on behalf of Harbour Terminal, including any sale, transfer or disposition of its assets and shares.
The court said it was inclined to believe that the 2011 deeds of assignments, which were used by the younger Romero’s camp to represent themselves as the rightful majority shareholders of Harbour Terminal, were forged.
“Such infirmities create serious doubt at this stage as to the authenticity of the said deeds. In view thereof, the Court deems at this stage that plaintiffs R-II Builders Inc. and R-II Holdings Inc. [of Reghis Romero], as the majority holders prior to the execution of the deeds of assignment, have established clear rights to be protected,” read Santos’ order.
The House leader chided the SEC “for sleeping on the job” and would be compelled to come up with strategies that would protect all stakeholders and stockholders of publicly listed SMC and Petron that would be affected by the court ruling.
“The SEC was sleeping on the job. It has a lot of explaining to do. They better make sure that no workers and stakeholders will be displaced by the transaction that was apparently consummated while the ownership dispute was ongoing. It is the job of the SEC to protect the interests of the public that would be affected by the sale transaction,” the source said.
The source said the House leaders would meet and discuss on Monday on how to handle the immunity case of Romero. “However, it is very clear that parliamentary rules say Romero is not immune from arrest. The House has to abide by the rules,” the House leader said.
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