SC rejects Peco bid to move outside Iloilo expropriation case filed by MORE

THE Supreme Court has rejected Panay Electric Co.’s (Peco) petition to transfer the expropriation case filed by More Electric and Power Corp. (MORE) to any court outside Iloilo City. 

In a two-page notice of resolution dated December 4 and signed eight days later, the SC Second Division resolved “to deny the petition to transfer the venue of Civil Case 19-34158 from the RTC (Regional Trial Court) Branch 35, Iloilo City, Iloilo, to any court in Metro Manila or, in the alternative, that it be consolidated with Civil Case R-MND-19-00571, pending before the RTC Branch 209, Mandaluyong City for lack of merit.”

Deputy Division Clerk of Court Teresita Aquino Tuazon signed the resolution.

Peco wanted the case transferred to another court “on the possibility that the judge handling the subject case may be subjected to public pressure since all his/her actions are under close scrutiny.”

However, the SC said, “The mere possibility of prejudice is not sufficient to justify a transfer of venue, as aptly argued by MORE.”

The High Court also said Peco failed to present “adequate proof that the accompanying publicity may cause prejudice to it.” 

Moreover, Peco “failed to prove that a miscarriage of justice would arise in the event of that the subject case continues to be heard in the RTC of Iloilo City.” 

As to the argument that there is a possibility that the two coequal courts—Iloilo City RTC and Mandaluyong City RTC—would render conflicting decisions, “the same had been rendered moot and academic by the fact that the Mandaluyong RTC has already rendered its judgment on July 1, 2019, and the decision has been elevated by MORE through a petition for review on certiorari before this Court and, thus, the consolidation…is no longer possible.” 

The SC resolution came a month before Iloilo City Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular suggested to the SC that the expropriation case, which he was handling, be transferred outside Iloilo City after he was charged with bias by MORE officials.

 Reacting to the SC decision, MORE President Roel Castro said, “the SC order denying the petition of Peco to transfer venue of the case is self-explanatory. Anyone who reads it will understand the meaning of it.”

The SC resolution arose from Peco’s opposition to the expropriation proceedings initiated by MORE with the Iloilo City RTC in March 2019 as the latter invoked Sections 10 and 17 of Republic Act 11212 to expropriate the distribution assets of Peco in exchange for about P500 million in line with its 25-year congressional franchise to distribute electricity in Iloilo City.

The December 4 resolution came a day after the SC imposed a temporary restraining order, stopping the Mandaluyong RTC and Peco from implementing the Lower Court’s decision declaring Sections 10 and 17 of RA 11212 unconstitutional.

Sections 10 and 17 of RA 11212 granted MORE, as the new distribution utility in Iloilo City, the powers of eminent domain and the authority to expropriate any asset, including existing distribution assets in the city.

MORE had secured the franchise after both chambers of Congress ignored Peco’s application to renew its franchise, which expired last January 18, 2019.

Image Credits: Aerous

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