THE Supreme Court (SC) has allowed the continuous operation of Meridien Vista Gaming Corp. (MVGC) despite the revival of the appeal filed by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA).
Earlier, the SC’s Second Division granted the petition for review filed by CEZA as it set aside the August 13, 2010 and December 9,2010 resolutions of the Court of Appeals (CA) affirming the March 4, 2010 resolution of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 7 in Aparri, Cagayan.
“The petition for relief from judgment filed by petitioner [CEZA] is granted. Accordingly, the [CA] is ordered to give due course to its Notice of Appeal,” the High Court’s January 27, 2016 ruling pointed out.
CEZA’s appeal was in connection with its earlier directive ordering the MVGC to stop all its gaming operations including the testing of softwares and telecommunication infrastructure.
On March 31, 2009 the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) issued an opinion clarifying its opinion regarding the authority of CEZA to grant a franchise to operate jai alai, stating that the state agency could not grant a franchise to operate jai alai in the absence of an express legislative franchise.
Thus, CEZA directed MVGC to stop its gaming operations, among others, prompting the firm to file a petition before the RTC, which sided with the gaming company.
On December 9, 2009, the RTC denied the notice of appeal filed by CEZA on the ground that the 15-day reglementary period within which to appeal had already lapsed. The ruling was affirmed by the appeals tribunal.
However, in its verdict penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, the SC sided with the argument of CEZA stressing that its case is an exception of the general rule that the negligence of counsel binds the client because what lawyer Edgardo Baniaga did was “so gross, reckless and inexcusable as it systematically deprived the state firm of its right to appeal and fully ventilate its cause”.
In the 13-page ruling that was concurred by Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Arturo Brion, Mariano Del Castillo, and Marvic Leonen, the SC opined that “CEZA should not be made to suffer the consequences of its counsel’s gross negligence.”
“Time and again, this court has stressed that rules of procedure are not to be applied in a very strict and technical sense.”
The High Tribunal also ordered to forward a copy of the records of the case to the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) “so it may conduct the appropriate investigation regarding Atty. Baniaga’s fitness to remain as a member of the Bar.”
MVGC is owned by convict Charlie “Atong” Ang who was allegedly in dispute with another gambling operator Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda.