Judge Bernelito Fernandez of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 79 is facing investigation by the Supreme Court (SC) over allegations
that he received money from businessman Reghis Romero 2nd in exchange for issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) favoring the latter.
The Coalition of Filipino Consumers (CFC) questioned the grant of the 20-day TRO after learning that Fernandez’s wife, San Mateo (Rizal) Regional Trial Court Judge Josephine Zarate, is a cousin of Romero’s common-law-wife, who is also a Zarate.
Court sources also claimed that Josephine and the legal counsels of Romero–Cesar Villanueva and Santiago Gabionza Jr.–were classmates in law school.
Romero’s son Michael said Fernandez should inhibit himself from the case because of the partiality he showed to his father in previous hearings.
The Romeros are locked in a bitter legal battle over control of Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc. (HCPTI). The older Romero is insisting that his two companies, R-II Builders Inc. and R-II Holdings Inc., are the majority owners of HCPTI.
Perfecto Tagalog, CFC secretary general, told The Manila Times in an interview that they would be filing a case against Fernandez if he did not recuse himself from the case, citing “conflict of interest” and “propriety” of his actions as a member of the judiciary as basis of the complaint.
“We do not only center on the Romero case but the entire judiciary. It is our own little way of preserving their credibility and integrity. We will definitely bring this to the SC if Judge Fernandez will not heed the coalition’s call,” Tagalog said.
He added that their group created a fact-finding committee that will look at all reports of “justice for sale” in the judiciary. Among those they have investigated was Fernandez, who allegedly sold his TRO for P10 million.
Earlier, Michael Romero’s camp filed an eight-page supplemental motion to seek Fernandez’s inhibition.
Michael cited the April 29, 2015 and May 19, 2015 hearings where the judge allegedly showed his partiality.
He noted that although the hearing on April 29 was scheduled for the plaintiff’s TRO application, oral arguments that transpired dealt with Michael’s motion to dismiss, in particular the position that jurisdiction over the person of the defendant had not been acquired.
The motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, Michael said, should have been resolved first, given that there would have been no legal basis to proceed without acquisition of jurisdiction by the trial court
Recognizing this, he claimed, Fernandez specifically stated that he would resolve the motion to dismiss first.
“Since the application for a TRO had not yet been heard, the logical assumption was that there would be an order granting or denying the motion to dismiss, and if denied, the [resolution of the]TRO application would proceed,” Michael said.
“This did not happen. Instead, Judge Fernandez ruled on the motion to dismiss not ‘first,’ but simultaneously with the grant of the TRO in the same May 5, 2015 order,” he pointed out.
Michael said the TRO was granted despite the fact that the court’s own records–notably the Officer’s Return and Amended Officer’s Return both dated April 28, 2015–unequivocally confirmed that summons was never served on defendant Harbour Centre Port Holdings Inc.(HCPHI).