The House of Representatives will not provide parliamentary immunity to embattled 1-Pacman Rep Michael Romero after a Manila court issued an arrest warrant against the billionaire.
House Majority Floor leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the House leadership cannot guarantee parliamentary immunity from arrest and would respect and abide by the orders of the court.
“The House of Representatives will protect the rights of its members as well as those of any person, but will respect and obey the laws and legal orders promulgated by the duly constituted authorities,” Fariñas said.
Fariñas was reacting to reports on the two-page order issued in January 6 by Manila RTC Branch 11 Judge Cicero Jurado Jr., who recommended no bail for Romero and twoof his co-accused, Edwin Jeremillo and Felicia Aquino, for qualified theft.
Romero allegedly stole money from his family-owned Harbour Centre Port Terminal, Inc. (HCPTI).
In issuing the statement, Fariñas stressed the parliamentary immunity of members of Congress is clearly defined under the Constitution.
“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) states that no bail has been recommended, it is obviously for an offense not covered by the immunity,” Farinas explained.
Congress resumes its sessions on Monday, January 16, after a month-long holiday.
On January 5, a Quezon City Regional Trial Court also issued a ruling barring Romero from claiming ownership of his family-owned Harbor Centre Port Terminal Inc.
Romero has lost the protracted legal battle to his father, construction magnate Reghis Romero II, who sued his estranged son for allegedly falsifying ownership of the port facility.
In a 12-page order, Branch 222 Presiding Judge Edgar Santos 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 board of directors of the Manila North Harbor Port Inc. (MNHPI).
The order exposes some possible challenges in the ownership of Manila North Harbor Port Inc., which has been taken over by conglomerate San Miguel Corp (SMC).
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.
Romero did not reply to queries sent by this reporter.
Manila RTC Branch 11 Judge Jurado recommended no bail for Romero and two of his co-accused.
Jurado also denied Romero’s motion for re-determination 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 father, businessman 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 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 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 the 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 re-raffling of the case to Branch 11.
“The court rules to deny the urgent Motion for Re-determination of Probable Cause, considering that there is really no re-determination 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 re-determine,” 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 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 NHA but by Aquino