A MANILA Regional Trial Court (RTC) over the weekend ordered the immediate arrest of 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Michael Romero over allegations that he stole P3.4 million from his family-owned Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc. (HCPTI).
A two-page order to effect the arrest for qualified theft and dated January 6, 2017 was issued by Manila RTC Branch 11 Judge Cicero Jurado Jr., who recommended no bail for Romero and two of his co-accused, Edwin Jeremillo and Felicia Aquino.
Jurado also denied Romero’s motion for redetermination of probable cause, with an appeal to withhold the issuance of arrest warrant and to dismiss the case outright or suspend proceedings
The lawmaker has been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with his own father, businessman Reghis Romero 2nd, for the control of HCPTI, which operates the Manila North Harbor terminal.
Jerome Canlas, the corporate secretary of Romero’s father, has accused the estranged son of conspiring with Jeremillo and Aquino in stealing corporate funds by issuing 18 checks – with each bearing the amount of P200,000 for a total of P3.4 million – supposedly for “marketing expenses” and payable to the “National Food Authority [NFA] and/or Felicia Aquino.”
In a resolution dated July 1, 2016, Manila city prosecutors found probable cause to hold the three accused liable for qualified theft for issuing the checks on April 27, 2007 to non-existent payees.
But in September last year, the Department of Justice reversed a resolution to indict Romero and his co-accused before the Manila RTC Branch 28.
Canlas then appealed for the presiding judge of Branch 28 to inhibit from the case, which was granted in October and led to the reraffling of the case to Branch 11.
“The court rules to deny the urgent Motion for Redetermination of Probable Cause, considering that there is really no redetermination to be spoken of because the RTC of Manila has not yet issued a [previous]warrant of arrest against accused. Hence, there is nothing to redetermine,” Jurado said in his order.
“The urgent motion is denied. Let a warrant of arrest be issued,” the judge added.
It was Romero and Jeremillo who signed and issued the checks.
Manila prosecutors, in their earlier resolution, noted that the transactions for which the checks were issued appeared to be bogus because no evidence was presented to show that NFA had any transactions with Harbour Centre.
The prosecutors also found that all checks were encashed not by the NFA but by Aquino herself.
Reporters tried but failed to get a reaction from Rep. Romero.