CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is being pushed to inhibit herself from the complaint filed against the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) because the company’s lawyer, retired Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano, is a kumpare and the former mentor of the head magistrate.
Feliciano was one of the principal sponsors or ninongs in the wedding of Sereno’s son, Jose Lorenzo, and Maria Clarissa Buenaventura last Saturday.
The wedding was held at the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus on Marcos Highway, Antipolo City. The reception followed at Velada Estate in Don Juan Street Villa Cecilia Subdivision, Mambugan, Antipolo.
The other principal sponsors were three retired chief justices—Hilario Davide Jr., Artemio Panganiban and Reynato Puno.
Only former chief justice Renato Corona was not tapped as principal sponsor. Sereno almost testified at Corona’s impeachment trial in 2012.
Among the incumbent Supreme Court magistrates, only Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe was invited as a principal sponsor.
Judge Roberto Buenaventura and Dr. Sonia Buenaventura are the new “balae” of the chief justice and her husband, Mario Jose Sereno.
According to a high-ranking official in the Court, Sereno must inhibit herself because of her close association with Feliciano.
“Meilou (Sereno’s nickname) must inhibit because Justice Feliciano is her law partner. And now he is a sponsor in the wedding of her son,” the source said.
Sereno assisted Feliciano in the case involving the Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc. (Piatco), builder of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3.
Observers said Sereno could be violating the Internal Rules of the SC for her failure to inhibit herself from the case filed by several groups questioning the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour rate increase imposed by Meralco last December.
The Court has stopped the implementation of the rate hike and is hearing oral arguments from the complainants and respondents.
Under the Internal Rules, an SC justice must not participate in a case where a former law partner serves as counsel.
Rule 8, Section 3C states that “when a Member of the Division, other than the Member in charge of the case, was counsel or partner or member of a law firm that is or was counsel in the case before the Division, such member shall inhibit himself or herself, unless the Member was no longer a partner or member of the law firm when it was engaged as counsel in the case and the Member votes against the client of such firm.”
Another provision states that “the mandatory inhibition shall cease after the lapse of ten years from the resignation or withdrawal of the Member from the law firm, unless the Member personally handled the case when he or she was a partner or member of the law firm.”
Based on the provision, the 10-year ban covers Sereno since she last worked with Feliciano in the Piatco case in 2008.
Sereno, through SC Public Information Office Chief Theodore Te, had insisted that she and Feliciano were not law partners.
Meralco’s unprecedented rate increase has also come under scrutiny in the Senate. On Sunday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th vowed to look at the books and contracts of Meralco to find out if the utility firm deceived its customers.
Trillanes said it is obvious that the utility company tried to hide its plan to impose another rate increase this month, which would double the bill of its customers.
He said he learned of Meralco’s plan to raise its rate by more than P10 per kilowatt-hour despite assuring the Senate last year that there will be no increase in January.
“They (Meralco) are aware that there will be an increase this month but they are not saying anything, that is why I asked them to submit their financial documents that will justify the increase,” he said.
Trillanes said a contracted price should not be “floating”. He noted that Meralco is allowed to adjust its prices to increase rate but not to lower it.
“This should not be the case, the reason why the government decided to privatize Meralco is for it to be more efficient, but we can clearly see that this is not happening,” he added.
Trillanes noted that a contracted price should be fixed. If there was a supply shortage, the power supplier should shoulder the balance and not pass the burden to consumers.
“These are the things the ERC (Energy Regulatory Board) should be checking to protect the consumers, but obviously they are not doing it, that is why I’m taking on this duty but the government should sack the ERC head,” he said.
He refuted the claim of Malcañang that the President has no power to force Ducut out of the ERC, saying such statement shows the weak leadership of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Trillanes said he is not convinced that the President is powerless to remove Ducut.
“They ganged up on Corona to force him out of the Supreme Court, yet they are now saying that they are powerless to remove the ERC chair?” he said.