By Mae Singuay
The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 42 dismissed the civil case filed against the board of directors of the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) and a Primelectric Holdings Inc. official.
A civil case was filed for declaratory relief and declaration of nullity of the joint venture agreement (JVA) with application for the issuance of a preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order (TRO) by petitioners Pepito Pico, Rommel Pido and Aaron Sorbito, consumers and representatives of the Negros Consumers’ Watch, and convenors of the Anti-Ceneco JVA Coalition.
“The Court, on August 10, 2023, directed the counsel to submit within 10 days from the date of hearing the position papers relative to the court’s lack of jurisdiction over the case,” the order dated September 1 said.
Primelectric and Ceneco filed their position papers through e-mail on August 17 and 22, respectively.
For their part, the petitioners filed their position paper on August 22, through counsel which alleged that this court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the petition.
“Based on the foregoing, the court is indeed bereft of jurisdiction. This case is, as it should be, dismissed without prejudice,” part of the order by presiding judge Maria Lina Gonzaga said.
In this case, the ultimate allegations in the petition for declaratory relief pertain to the nullification of the JVA by the fact that the petitioners’ rights as member-consumer-owners were violated and the same contravene declared national policy and contrary to law.
Petitioners through counsel further alleged that this case is a special civil action for declaratory relief, which is an action incapable of pecuniary estimation, and as such, lies within the RTC’s exclusive original jurisdiction, Gonzaga said.
The court refrains from settling a dispute when the issues call for the exercise of a well-informed administrative judgment which involves specialized knowledge, experience and the services of an administrative tribunal to decide technical factual matters.
Declaratory relief in this case is premature, and clearly not ripe for judicial determination as there is still adequate relief available through other means, such as submitting to the National Electrification Administration (NEA) the technical competence.
RTC Branch 42 further said judicial intervention should only be availed after all administrative remedies had been exhausted.
“A perusal of the JVA in question does not show any ambiguity, which requires judicial construction. If the terms and conditions of the agreement are being questioned for being disadvantageous to the consumers and the Ceneco members, declaratory relief is not the remedy. The issues are best raised before the NEA, which is equipped with the proper legal and technical team to address the loopholes,” Gonzaga said.
“Petitioners contend that the allegations in the petition, the issues raised and the relief sought do not involve the issuance of orders, rules, regulations, investigations, referenda and other similar actions, or the suspension or appointment of directors of all of the board of directors and officers of Ceneco or the appointment of independent directors,” part of the order also said.
It added that the petitioners stressed that the NEA has no jurisdiction over declaratory relief or the issuance of a TRO or a permanent injunction.
“While the claim is true, the action for declaratory relief was prematurely filed,” the court added.
The TRO issuance or the preliminary injunction had also become moot due to supervening events, the NEA’s intervention relative to the questioned plebiscites, with the results already out and counted. Hence, there is nothing left for the court to restrain, the order said.
The JVA entered between Primelectric and Ceneco will soon be called the Negros Electric and Power Corporation, which aims to improve power distribution services in the cooperative’s franchise areas, covering the Negros Occidental cities of Bago, Talisay and Silay; and the municipalities of Murcia and Don Salvador Benedicto; and capital Bacolod City./MS, WDJ