By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada

A trial judge must always stick to the strict rule of impartiality in presiding over a case. And any behavior or utterances that creates a perception of bias or partiality are grounds for voluntary inhibition from further handling a case.

In sum, this is what MORE Electric & Power Corp. raised in its motion filed on Oct. 16 to bar Presiding Judge Daniel Antonio Amular of the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo Branch 35 from continuing to hear the expropriation case it had filed to seize the distribution assets of Panay Electric Co. (PECO).

Atty. Hector Teodosio, counsel for MORE Power, said the actions of Judge Amular puts into doubt his impartiality, or even displayed outright bias in favor of PECO, and urged him to re-raffle the case to another sala in the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo.

For one thing, Judge Amular didn’t have much to do when the case was reassigned to his sala but to execute the writ of possession already issued by Judge Marie Yvette Dedel-Go, according to Teodosio.

All the requisites for the execution of the writ of possession, including the deposit to cover the value of the distribution assets listed in the complaint, have already been satisfied, he added.

Judge Amular, however, appeared disinclined to fulfill his mandate to carry out the writ of possession, Teodosio said. Instead, Judge Amular dwelled into issues that were not relevant to the case, he added.

It didn’t stop there, Teoodosio said.

Judge Amular summoned MORE president Rodel Castro and PECO corporate communications officer Mikel Afzelius to his chambers for a conference with instructions to exclude the lawyers.

This violates the Rules of Court because judges are prohibited from holding in-chamber meetings with the parties without the presence of their lawyers, Teodosio pointed out.

In particular, Teodosio cited a Supreme Court decision that dismissed a trial court judge precisely for conducting a mediation conference without the counsels of the parties being present.

In that decision, the Supreme Court said such conduct could compromise the integrity of a judge’s office even if it is done in the pretext of seeking a settlement of a case.

Teodosio also decried the action of Judge Amular in confronting Castro for supposedly violating the gag rule causing embarrassment to the MORE top executive in open court where he directed the latter to apologize.

Teodosio said the article that Judge Amular based his allegation against Castro showed that the latter did not make any comment to the reporter. The story said that “when asked about the on-going expropriation case and transition period, Castro refused to answer.”

With the apparent bias shown by Judge Amular against MORE, Teodosio said the presiding judge has a duty to relinquish jurisdiction over the case.

The motion for inhibition is set to be heard on Wednesday, Oct. 23.