Fourth judge takes hands off Peco expropriation due to ties; case raffled anew

Citing ties to both parties, the fourth judge assigned to tackle More Electric and Power Corporation’s (More Power) expropriation proceedings against Panay Electric Company (Peco) has inhibited herself—causing the case to be reassigned to a fifth judge.

In a recent order, Iloilo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 33 Judge Ma. Theresa Gaspar said Peco’s owners Jose Marie and Sanda Cacho were her close friends and fellow members in the “Beyond I Do” organization. Additionally, Jose Marie’s wife Diane Cacho is her endocrinologist.

On top of this, the husband of her civil cases clerk staff is the chief project engineer of More Power.

Gaspar’s inhibition came barely a week after the case was reraffled to her sala on January 20.

Following her recusal, the case was raffled off again to the sala of Branch 29 Judge Gloria Madero.

Congress and President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2019 opted to grant the franchise over Iloilo City to More Power, an upstart owned by Enrique Razon that lacked its own facilities, through Republic Act (RA) 11212. This was to replace Peco, the nine-decade distribution utility whose franchise Congress let expire the month before.

Branch 37 Judge Yvette Go was the first judge to handle the case, with Executive Judge Victor Gelvezon acting as pairing judge when she briefly went on leave.

Go inhibited herself from the case as soon as she issued in favor of More Power a writ of possession in August, a month after the Mandaluyong RTC struck down the company’s eminent domain powers as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court (SC) in December issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the effectivity of the Mandaluyong court decision.

She left it to Branch 35 Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular to decide the proper amount of just compensation to which Peco would be entitled. More Power wanted to pay P481.84 million for facilities that Peco valued to be at least P2 billion.

But, More Power wanted Amular to take his hands off the case and went so far as to file a complaint seeking his dismissal from his position.

More Power had accused Amular of partiality in favor of Peco, the city’s distribution utility for the past nine decades whose franchise expired last year.

More Power questioned Amular’s issuance of a November 18 order suspending the proceedings, back when the SC had not yet issued a TRO against the nullification of the eminent domain powers.

It also accused Amular of threatening it into settling the expropriation case with Peco and warning that he could lengthen the hearings on the matter. It argued that Amular’s effort to “force the parties to settle the expropriation case as if it is a simple family dispute is against public policy.”

The company claimed the judge was trying to give Peco a chance to obtain a more acceptable price for the facilities it used to supply Iloilo City with electricity for nine decades.

These allegations by More Power prompted Amular to recuse himself this month, saying whatever judgment he would make “would not be accepted by either the plaintiff or the defendant or maybe tainted with bias.” Yet, he insisted that he performed his duties “in accordance with the conscientious dictate of his conscience and the applicable provisions of law.”

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