AFTER several months on the run, 1-Pacman Partylist Rep. Michael Romero can now come out from hiding.
Court of Appeals’ 5th Division issued a ruling granting his petition to drop a qualified theft case against him and Felicia Aquino.
In a 20-page decision dated November 16 and penned by Associate Justice Magdangal de Leon, the court found no probable cause against Romero and Aquino for the non-bailable offense.
The lawmaker has been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with his own father, businessman Reghis Romero 2nd, for control of Harbour Center Port Terminal Inc., which operates the Manila North Harbor terminal.
Aquino first filed an appeal before the appeals court and was followed by Michael Romero. Their cases were consolidated.
The appeals court junked the findings of probable cause by Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Cicero Jurado Jr. from the complaint filed by Harbour Center, represented by lawyer Jerome Canlas.
The ruling effectively quashed the warrants of arrest against Aquino and Romero.
Aside from de Leon, Justices Franchito Diamante and Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles concurred.
Abuse of discretion
The appellate court ruled that Jurado committed grave abuse of discretion when he ignored the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) filing of a motion to withdraw the case.
“Clearly, respondent Judge gravely abused his discretion when he denied the DoJ’s Motion to Withdraw Information. In denying the motion to withdraw, he further abused his discretion when he determined the existence of probable cause and worse, he issued a warrant of arrest against petitioners,” the ruling states.
The court also pointed out that the ownership of Harbour Center had been in dispute for years prior to the filing of criminal case. Hence, a prejudicial question lies and has to be resolved first with finality before any criminal case.
The qualified theft case was filed before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila by Canlas on April 12, 2016 against Romero, Aquino and Edwin Jeremillo.
They were accused of stealing from Harbour Center the aggregate amount of P3,409,844.10 through the issuance of 18 Bank of Commerce checks drawn against the company’s account and were payable to the National Food Authority or Aquino.
On July 1, 2016, the prosecutor issued a resolution indicting the accused for 18 counts of qualified theft.
This was raffled to Manila RTC Branch 28 Judge Jean Marie Bacorro-Villena.
On October 28, 2016, Villena inhibited from the case, which was re-raffled to Branch 11 Judge Jurado, who made a similar ruling and was assailed before the CA.
Aquino and Romero questioned this before the appeals court, and the DoJ withdrew the information against them.