SC won’t heed Peco bid to transfer expropriation case to Metro Manila
ILOILO CITY—The Supreme Court has denied a petition of the Panay Electric Company (Peco) to transfer the venue of an expropriation case filed by a rival company to Metro Manila.
In a resolution adopted on Dec. 4, 2019, the High Court’s second division denied for lack of merit Peco’s petition to transfer the venue of the civil case pending at the Iloilo Regional Trial Court (RTC) to any court in Metro Manila or to be consolidated with a related case at the Mandayaluyong City RTC.
Peco, in its petition, had sought the transfer of the venue of the case to ensure the “objectivity and neutrality of the court handling the case.”
It cited the exhaustive and intensive media coverage of the case which it claimed could influence the court.
In its petition, Peco said “such pressure may affect the way” that justices would handle and treat the case. It said the RTC Iloilo “itself is a stakeholder in the expropriation case being a consumer of electricity.”
But the High Court refuted Peco’s argument.
“The mere possibility of prejudice is not sufficient to justify a transfer of venue,” said the SC ruling.
It said Peco “has not presented adequate proof that the accompanying publicity may cause prejudice to it.”
The High Court added that Peco also “failed to prove that a miscarriage of justice would arise” if the case continued to be heard in Iloilo City.
Peco had also argued that the transfer of venue or consolidation of the cases is also necessary “for expediency and judicial consistency” and to avoid conflicting decisions of courts, citing a related case pending at the Mandaluyong City RTC.
The Supreme Court, however, pointed out that the issue has become “moot and academic” due to a decision issued by the Mandaluyong RTC and a pending petition for review on certiorari filed by More Power, a company owned by billionaire ports tycoon Enrique Razon, at the High Court.
The Iloilo RTC, which is hearing an expropriation complaint filed by More Power Electric Corp. (More Power) against Peco, has issued a writ of possession for Peco’s distribution assets worth at least P481,842,450.
But on Nov. 18, 2019, Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular, of the Iloilo City RTC Branch 35, directed the suspension of the proceedings “in the interest of judicial fairness, respect to the Supreme Court and for practical considerations.”
The judge said in his order that the case was “extraordinary” noting that it not only involved procedural rules but also Republic Act No. 11212 which granted More Power 25-year franchise to distribute electricity in Iloilo City.
The Mandaluyong RTC’s July 1, 2019 ruling had declared as void and unconstitutional Section 10 (right of eminent domain) and Section 17 (transition of operations) of RA 11212. It said the provisions infringed on Peco’s rights to due process and equal protection of the law.
But in an en banc resolution issued on Dec. 3, 2019, the High Court ordered the issuance of a temporary restraining order that stopped Peco and the Mandaluyong RTC from enforcing the RTC’s July 1 order.
Peco’s franchise expired on Jan. 18 but the Energy Regulatory Commission granted a provisional Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to Peco to continue distributing power in Iloilo City to prevent the disruption of power supply to consumers.
Edited by TSB
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.