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QC judge asked to inhibit from port dispute

By: - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ
/ 05:20 AM May 25, 2015
FACELIFT WORK STARTING SOON  The Manila North Harbour Port Inc. will present to the Philippine Ports Authority board the North Habor’s modernization master plan this week and once it is approved, refurbishment work may start. Jay Morales/Malacañang Photo Bureau

FACELIFT WORK STARTING SOON The Manila North Harbour Port Inc. will present to the Philippine Ports Authority board the North Habor’s modernization master plan this week and once it is approved, refurbishment work may start. Jay Morales/Malacañang Photo Bureau

The camp of businessman Michael Romero has sought the inhibition of a Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QCRTC) judge from handling a case filed by his father, Reghis II, regarding their ownership dispute of the Harbour Center Port Terminal Inc. (HCPTI), the company that operates the Manila Harbor Center.

In an eight-page supplemental motion filed last May 18 by his lawyers, Earl Hans Santos and Agnes Maranan, the younger Romero sought the inhibition of Judge Bernelito Fernandez, presiding judge of QCRTC Branch 79, for his alleged biased judgment.

Romero also asked the judge to suspend the proceedings until he rules on the motion to inhibit.

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The younger Romero specifically cited the April 29, 2015, and May 19, 2015, hearings conducted by Judge Fernandez on the injunction petition filed by his father.

He noted that although the hearing on April 29 was scheduled for the application for a temporary restraining order by the other side, the oral argument that transpired dealt with his camp’s motion to dismiss, in particular their position that jurisdiction over him and his company Harbour Centre Port Holdings, Inc. (HCPHI) as defendants, had not been acquired by the court.

The motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, Romero argued, necessarily had to be resolved first, given that there would have been no legal basis to proceed if the jurisdiction of the trial court was still in question.

“This did not happen. Instead, Judge Fernandez ruled on the motion to dismiss not ’first’, but simultaneously with the grant of the TRO (temporary restraining order) in the same May 5, 2015 order,” he added.

In the 20-day TRO issued on May 5, Fernandez basically stopped HCPHI from exercising ownership or rights, directly or indirectly, over the port terminal facility in Manila.

The judge granted the elder Romero’s petition seeking the issuance of a TRO barring his son from taking control of the facility. The elder Romero sought the nullification of the deeds submitted by his son, alleging they were fakes, and insisting that his two companies R-II Builders Inc. and R-II Holdings Inc. remained the majority stockholders of HCPTI, contrary to his son’s claim.

The young Romero said Fernandez also showed alleged bias in favor of his father during the first injunction hearing on May 19, when his lawyers were disallowed from cross-examining witnesses.

The younger Romero noted that the judge did not allow his camp to cross-examine witnesses, proposing instead that the parties just submit simultaneous memoranda on the application for a preliminary injunction.

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“Either this was a mere lapse on Judge Fernandez’ part, which then raises the issue of judicial competence in the conduct of trial, or it reveals an over-zealous desire to rush the matter of injunction … which raises an entirely different set of worrying concerns,” Romero said in his motion.

The younger Romero complained that the TRO was dated May 5, 2015, but Fernandez scheduled the first injunction hearing 14 days after the issuance of the TRO, giving his camp practically no time to cross-examine witnesses, much less a fair period within which to present his own witnesses.

“Each of the above events singly would have been sufficient to raise the suspicion of bias; collectively, they define a pattern of partiality that solidifies defendant’s belief that the chance of obtaining a fair trial with Judge Fernandez presiding is a pipe dream,” the younger Romero said.

In the first injunction hearings, the judge extended the TRO to May 31. The next hearings are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

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TAGS: court, Harbour Center Port Terminal, Manila Harbor Center, Michael Romero, port dispute, QC judge, reghis romero ii
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