Buying time

Court grants reprieve to Port Irene cars anew

SANTIAGO CITY–Dealers of imported used cars at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZF) on Monday managed to get a 17-day extension of a court order blocking the implementation of a ban on car importation at Port Irene in Santa Ana town.

The court ordered the prolonged suspension until Oct. 28 of the implementation of Executive Order (EO) 156, signed by President Arroyo in 2002, which prohibits the importation of used vehicles into the country.

Judge Rolando Velasco of the Regional Trial Court Branch 6 in Aparri, Cagayan granted the 20-day reprieve, following Monday’s one-hour hearing that saw lawyers from the law firm of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, representing the petitioners, exchange arguments with government counsels.

Lawyer Alexis Medina of the Pecabar Law Office welcomed the court decision, citing the “irreparable damage” that might be caused by the non-extension of the 72-hour TRO, which lapsed on Saturday.

“The court justly ruled in extending the TRO, because if the enforcement of EO 156 is not restrained while trial is ongoing, the petitioner might soon go under and cease operation, and will lead to the layoff not only of its 30 employees, but also of about 700 who are working in the industry,” he said.

Lawyer Tomas Laragan III of the Office of the Solicitor General, representing the government side, could not be reached for comment. Court employees said he left immediately after the 9 a.m. hearing.

The TRO effectively blocked orders from Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales and Administrator Jose Mari Ponce of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) for the cancellation of all import permits and registration papers of imported vehicles for sale at Port Irene in Santa Ana, Cagayan.

The two government agencies issued the directives after the Office of the Solicitor General declared that a Supreme Court decision, which involved the importation of second-hand vehicles at the Subic Freeport
Zone, also covered the CSEFZ in Cagayan.

This prompted members of the Automotive Rebuilding Industry of Cagayan (Aric) to file a petition with the court assailing the constitutionality of EO 156, signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on December 2, 2002.

The petitioners presented to the court about 30 employees of Forerunner Multi-Resources, Inc., one of only two car importers licensed by Ceza, who were supposed to affirm that the lifting of the TRO would lead them to lose their jobs.

“Aside from this, we cited the possible loss of revenues for the government if this industry will be stopped,” lawyer Mitzell Arthur Magdaong, also of Pecabar, said.

Lead petitioner Jaime Vicente, Aric president, denied speculations that they filed the case before the courts in Cagayan allegedly to get favorable ruling from the local judges in the province, where Enrile
is said to wield strong influence.

“We rely more on the merits, not on what Senator Enrile can do about the case,” he said.

Vicente said they decided to file the case before the RTC in Aparri, instead of the higher courts, because of the local courts’ relative nearness to their local offices in Santa Ana.

“We would have wanted to file in Makati City because all the concerned agencies are in Metro Manila. Besides, by having it in Cagayan, it’s quite more expensive to be attending the hearings and sending notices and summonses. But Cagayan is the place of the business,” he said.

He said he engaged the services of Pecabar law office because Medina was his former lawyer, denying reports that it was a form of assistance given by Senator Enrile.

“I call it a pleasant coincidence,” he said.

Court sources said the case had to be raffled off for a second time as Judge Andres Cipriano of RTC Branch 9, also based in Aparri, earlier inhibited himself from the case because his wife is said to be a relative of lawyer Eleazar Reyes, a Pecabar senior partner.

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