DOE, court exonerate LPG refilling plant

CEBU, Philippines — The Department of Energy-Legal Services has reversed and set aside the ruling of its regional office that eventually dismissed the administrative case that the latter filed against a refilling plant in Carmen, Cebu.

This developed as the Municipal Trial Court in Cities in Danao City also granted the Motion to Quash filed by the owner of the refilling plant, which in effect dismissed the case without prejudice as the dismissal was due to lack of jurisdiction on the part of the court.

DOE-Legal Services director Arthus Tenazas, in his 11-page Resolution, stated that the order of DOE-Visayas Field Office (DOE-VFO) finding FMZ LPG Center administratively liable for illegal refilling is not in accordance with law.

Tenazas said that the show cause order that its VFO has issued, erroneously imputed different violations against the respondent.

He added that various irregularities have also attended the inspection on January 16, 2022 which resulted in its invalidity.

“Thus, the invalidity of the inspection has rendered the evidence obtained therein inadmissible against the respondent under the proverbial fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine enunciated in Article III, Section 2 and 3 (b) of the 1987 Constitution,” part of the Resolution reads issued on May 23, 2022.

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The Resolution said that considering that the administrative liability of respondent was founded on the January 16, 2022 inspection, a pronouncement of the illegality of that inspection and, in consequence, the corresponding seizure of items means that there is no evidence left to find the respondent guilty of the alleged violation of illegal refilling.

On the other hand, Danao City MTCC Presiding Judge Mae Lizbeth Williams, in her three-page order, granted the Motion to Quash filed by the 11 accused including FMZ LPG Center owner Shiela May Zenith, after it was established that the refilling plant is located in another town, which is in Barangay Dawis Sur, Carmen, Cebu and not in Barangay Dunggoan, Danao City.

However, the motion to release motor vehicles filed by the respondent Zenith was not ruled by the Court for lack of jurisdiction.

But Tenazas, in his Resolution, has directed its VFO to immediately release the confiscated items to FMZ LPG Center and/or to Zenith as well as the confiscated LPG small cylinders.

It can be recalled that DOE-VFO in January this year sued FMZ LPG Center and several individuals for illegal trading in petroleum products as provided for under Batas Pambansa Bilang 33 as amended by Presidential Decree 1865.

These individuals were caught in a surprise inspection with the assistance of Danao City Police Station last January 16, 2022.

The police spot report stated that pieces of evidence recovered at the center include 5,600 empty pieces of LPG Suyle butane canisters; 2,076 empty pieces of butane canisters; 1,568 empty pieces of LPG Botin canisters; and four units of LPG refilling machine including a damage one.

Also confiscated were LPG bullet truck, tanker truck, fire extinguisher, compressors, improvised refillers and generator set.

All these confiscated items were brought by the DOE personnel for their custody.

Zenith, on the other hand, cried foul and sued authorities over a raid for alleged illegal refilling of petroleum products.

Zenith sued DOE-VFO acting regional director Russ Mark Gamallo and its inspectors Barrytone Busi and Christian Kim Po, Danao City Police Station officer-in-charge Police Lt. Col. Fortunato Ecle and two private individuals Edgar Armecin and Ronilio Laruya before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.

Gamallo, Busi and Po were charged for grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, oppression and gross incompetence.

Ecle was charged for grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, and conduct unbecoming of a public officer.

Armecin and Laruya were charged for conspiring and conniving with the said public officers and for usurpation of authority.

Zenith also asked the anti-graft body to put the respondent-public officers suspended from office pending investigation.

Zenith claimed that the authorities forcibly entered the center without any judicial warrant, which is a gross violation of the law while private individuals Armecin and Laruya, conspired and connived with the said public officers and are associated with her competitors.

The complaint stated that if there were indeed reports of violations by FMZ LPG Center reaching the DOE-VFO, the proper action for DOE under its power should have been to issue a show cause order requiring the suspected erring entity to explain why it should not be held accountable and its licenses revoked for alleged violation of the laws and regulations of the industry, which is the administrative way.

It added that if DOE wants to choose the criminal way, it should file an application for a search warrant before the proper court.

“What OIC Director Gamallo and his team did instead, in connivance with the police was to forcibly enter private property at 3:30am over the objections of company security personnel, carting away every piece of equipment and other immobile properties bolted therein. Such acts are patently illegal, palpably arbitrary, and a blatant abuse of power,” read part of Zenith complaint. — GMR (FREEMAN)

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