Power firm wants judge dismissed

By: Francis Allan L. Angelo

MORE Electric and Power Corp (MORE Power) filed an administrative complaint against the Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge who is hearing its expropriation case against beleaguered Panay Electric Co., Inc. (PECO).

In a 33-page complaint filed on Dec 12, 2019, MORE Power asked the Supreme Court to dismiss Iloilo RTC Branch 35 Presiding Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular for alleged grave misconduct, gross ignorance of the law, and violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

MORE Power president and COO Roel Z. Castro and legal counsel Hector Teodosio acted as complainants in the case.

MORE Power based its complaint on the manner by which Judge Amular handled the expropriation case in a bid to take over PECO’s power distribution assets upon payment of just compensation.

The Enrique Razon-led power distributor filed the expropriation case after securing its congressional franchise to distribute power in Iloilo City via Republic Act 11212 which President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law on Feb 14, 2019.

PECO’s franchise expired in January 2019 but it is allowed to operate within the 2-year transition period on the basis of RA 11212.

Based on the complaint, MORE Power charged Judge Amular of violating Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct “when he held a private conference inside his chamber attended by Roel Castro and Mikel Afzelius (of PECO) but prohibiting the lawyers of MORE and PECO from attending.”

The chamber conference happened on Sept 23, 2019 at the Iloilo Hall of Justice.

The complaint alleged that Judge Amular “threatened and scared MORE Electric that he could delay the proceedings and even advised MORE Officer Roel Castro not to discuss the matter with its counsel.”

The complaint also claimed that Judge Amular “scolded and reprimanded” Castro in open court without giving the latter “the opportunity to know the charge and to explain his side which is in violation of Canon 3 Rule 3.04 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics.”  This refers to the Sept 13, 2019 hearing where the judge reprimanded Castro for allegedly violating the court’s gag order and ordered Castro to apologize for granting an interview with this paper.

Canon 3 states that a judge should perform official duties honestly, and with impartiality and diligence.

The third charge against Judge Amular is the alleged delay in the implementation of the writ of possession (WOP) issued by another judge who previously handled the case in August 2019.

The WOP will empower MORE Power to take over PECO assets. It was issued after MORE Power identified the assets it intends to acquire.

MORE also deposited more than P481 million as just compensation for PECO’s assets in compliance with the expropriation rules.

Instead of enforcing the WOP, MORE Power claimed that Judge Amular sat on the matter.

“Despite the fact that the property sought to be expropriated was already admitted or not denied by Panay Electric, Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular still invited the representative of the Energy Regulatory Commission under the guise that he needs the expertise of ERC. But when ERC representative arrived, equipped (sic) with documents, Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular changed course and did not pursue the implementation of the writ of possession but instead called for that private chamber conference allegedly to settle the case,” the complaint read.

The suit also accused the judge of gross ignorance of the law when “he failed to apply the doctrine of judicial admission.” This refers to the alleged refusal of Judge Amular to implement the writ of possession issued by RTC Judge Marie Yvette Go in August 2019 before she recused from the expropriation case, despite the fact that the identity of the properties sought to be expropriated by MORE Power were not specifically denied by PECO in its Answer, and are thus deemed admitted.

Citing jurisprudence, the complaint claimed that “the authority to issue and implement the writ of possession is ministerial.”

“Instead of implementing the Writ of Possession, respondent Judge issued the Order dated November 18, 2019, and out of the blue suspended the proceeding of the pending case which necessarily includes the implementation of the writ of possession. The grounds cited by respondent court such as, ‘in the interest of judicial fairness, respect to the Honorable Supreme Court, and practical consideration’ are nebulous and bereft of legal basis.”

The complainants asked the Supreme Court “to consider Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular as undeserving to stay on as a Judge and should be removed.”

Judge Amular had denied a petition of More Power to inhibit himself in the case in his Nov 18 ruling.

“The conscience of the Presiding Judge is clear. By performing its mandate under Article 2029 of the Civil Code whereby the Court shall endeavor to persuade the litigants in a civil case to agree upon some fair compromise is not bias or prejudice to disqualify himself,” the order stated.

Amular also defended the chamber meeting with the litigants without their lawyers.

“Indeed, the Supreme Court held that it is not, however, an indispensable prerequisite although it is advisable that efforts to secure an amicable settlement be first made before condemnation proceedings be instituted.”