Hold order issued vs party list lawmaker

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The Manila regional trial court issued a hold departure order against billionaire and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Michael Romero for allegedly stealing P3.4 million from his family-owned Harbor Center Port Terminal, Inc. (HCPTI).

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The two-page order was issued by Manila RTC Branch 11 Judge Cicero Jurado Jr. against Romero and one of his two co-accused, Edwin Jeremillo.

“Furnish the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Bureau of Immigration a copy of this Order (HDO) together with the pertinent pictures and documents for their information and guidance,” Jurado sid in his order.

Jurado in January issued an arrest warrant against Romero, Jeremillo, and Felicia Aquino for qualified theft. Romero has been evading arrest for close to six months now.

“Despite the issuance of the warrant of arrest, both accused have evaded arrest. It was also pointed out that accused Michael Romero is currently the vice chairman of AirAsia Philippines, a low-cost airline based in Manila and an affiliate of AirAsia in Malaysia. Ergo, it was argued that it was easy for him to leave the country should he wish,” read the ruling, which approved the motion for the issuance of a HDO filed by the private prosecutor.

The public and private prosecutors earlier tagged Romero – whose last known places of residence were at 7 Warbler St. Greenmeadows Subdivision in Quezon City and at Oracle Residences Katipunan Avenue, also in Quezon City – as a “flight risk.”

Prior to the issuance of the arrest warrant, Romero has been very active in the House of Representatives and was a member of at least 15 committees.

Earlier, House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the Congress leadership could not guarantee parliamentary immunity to Romero as it would have to respect the court’s orders.

“The immunity from arrest applies only while the Congress is in session ‘in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment.’ Since (the order) stated that no bail has been recommended, it is obviously for an offense not covered by the immunity,” Fariñas said.

The Court of Appeals has also upheld the validity of the arrest order against Romero, Jeremillo and Aquino.

The neophyte lawmaker has been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with his own father, businessman Reghis Romero II, for the control of HCPTI, which operates the Manila North Harbor terminal.

Jerome Canlas, the corporate secretary of Romero’s father, has accused the lawmaker of conspiring with Jeremillo and Aquino in stealing corporate funds by issuing 18 checks on April 27, 2007 to non-existent payees.

Each cheque bore the amount of P200,000 for a total of P3.4 million – supposedly for “marketing expenses” and payable to the “National Food Authority and/or Felicia Aquino.”

It was Romero and Jeremillo who signed and issued the checks, which in turn were cashed not by the NFA but by Aquino herself.

In January, Romero was also barred by a Quezon City Regional Trial Court from claiming ownership of HCPTI, a move that exposed possible challenges in the ownership of the Manila North Harbor Port Inc., which has been taken over by conglomerate San Miguel Corp.

Quezon City Branch 222 Judge Edgar Santos also ordered Romero and his affiliates, as well as their agents, employees and successors-in-interest, to stop acting on behalf of HCPTI as shareholder or member of the MNHPI board of directors.

SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang earlier said their group now controls 78.33-percent interest in the contested port terminal firm. Prior to the transaction, MNHPI was 65 percent owned by HCPTI and 35 percent by San Miguel-owned Petron Corp. SMC eventually acquired an additional 43.44-percent stake.

JING VILLAMENTE

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