Judge lets go of Apas case
As the judge who convicted Ruben Ecleo Jr. of parricide last month, he’s known to be tough and decisive.
But yesterday Regional Trial Court Judge Soliver Peras surprised parties by delaring that he would no longer handle the eviction case affecting 168 families in barangay Apas.
He cited “personal circumstances” in his order of inhibition and and sent the case records back for reraffling to another judge.
“Considering that portions of the camp, as indicated by the court sheriff (and) based on the sketch attached to the case records are included in this case, the undersigned deemed it necessary to inhibit from this case,” said the judge of Branch 10.
Peras did not elaborate.
His reference to a “camp” was clearly Camp Lapu-Lapu where the judge resides.
Peras is an Army reservist or a civilian who belongs to the military reserve force.
Many occupants in the private lot dispute are retired military and police personnel who settled in the area near the military camp since 1960.
The awkward situation was first pointed out by Benjamin Militar, lawyer of the settlers, who questioned how the judge could rule against neighbors by upholding an earlier court decision affirming the ownership of Mariano Godinez’ of the 4.7 hectare property.
“We feel he has done a grave injustice,” Militar said.
“He is living in the camp with the help of the people who live there. The residents whom he asked to leave are the same persons who secured him and tried hard so he can live inside the camp,” said the lawyer.
RTC Executive Judge Sylvestre Maamo Jr. still has to decide whether to grant the inhibition.
Roberto Palmares, lawyer of the land owner, said this develop ment would delay the demolition of houses on the property which was earlier set for May 7 then posptoned.
“Sayang kaayo. (It’s very unfortunate.) Judge Peras is an independent, competent and very efficient judge. This won’t be good for us. I’m sad but what can I do?” he told Cebu Daily News.
Nontheless, he said he would not oppose the judge’s decision.
“Samok na kaayo. (It would be a hassle)”
“The bottomline is why should the RTC resolve the issues when it has no jurisdiction over the case? It’s now the Court of Appeals that should decide,” he said.
Palmares said the settlers certainly want another judge who would rule in their favor.
“We can’t tell. Maybe the new judge will have another opinion (of the issues),” he said.
Militar said he’s hoping the case will be raffled to a new judge on Monday.
“We hope the new judge (who shall handle the case) will hear the arguments of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG),” Militar said.
The OSG wanted to intervene in the case and asked for a 30-day delay of the write of demolition.
However, its “urgent motion to stay execution of the writ of demolition ” , a last-ditch move on behalf of the settlers, wasn’t acted upon by Peras because only a faxed copy reached him on Monday.
The judge didn’t consider the fax a genuine pleading and decided to”note without action” the faxed document.
The settlers, Militar said, would have intervened in the case filed by Godinez against the Republic of the Philippines when it was still with the lower court.
But the motion for intervention filed by the settlers was denied by the court.
Last April 20, Judge Peras gave the go signal for the court sheriff to demolish structures built in Godinez’ property. In 2002, RTC Judge Benigno Gaviola earlier ruled that Godinez was the “absolute and exclusive owner” of the lot.
The lot also housed a regional police training center and part of Camp Lapu-Lapu.
The families through their association, the Archangels Residents Mergence Inc. (ARMI) filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals (CA). It was dismissed for lack of merit.
Residents said they were not parties to the case or included in the judgment of the civil case.
They said they believed the government had expropriated the land and that the lot was identified as a socialized housing site under Cebu City Council Resolution 99-4771 on June 30, 1999.
The regional police are coordinating with the Central Command on the scheduled demolition.
Chief Supt. Marcelo Garbo, regional police chief, said they are taking every effort to ensure that no violence would occur if and when the demolition pushes through.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma also shared Garbo’s sentiment, saying the rights of the families should also be respected.
He said he ordered some parish priests to study the situation of the Apas families.
”All works, actinos project or events should be seen in the context of the particular circumstances and with the background of faith,” said Palma.
He said people are free to act “as long as in principle, we say it is according to their consitutional rights and as long as there is no violence. That’s part of democracy,” he told reporters. /With Correspondents Chito Aragon and Fe Marie D. Dumaboc
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