THE battle is over for 11 Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) collectors who filed a case against their transfer to the Customs Policy Research Office (CPRO), a policymaking body under the Department of Finance (DOF).
In a four-page decision dated Oct. 21 handed down by presiding judge Felicitas Larion-Cacanindin, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 17 denied the petition for a writ of preliminary injunction filed by the collectors on Oct. 18.
In Civil Case No. 13-130820, the court ruled that the petitioners’ argument that their rights as tenured civil servants were violated was doubtful, and that there was no clear damage done to them with their transfer to the CPRO. The court further said it cannot prevent the BOC from performing an act within its authority.
It said the “irreparable damage” cited by petitioners as a result of the transfer order were “not yet material and substantial” because a “damage is irreparable where there is no standard by which their amount can be measured with reasonable accuracy.”
The petitioners claimed the transfer order caused them grave injustice and resulted in the diminution of their rank, status and functions as collector of customs.
The court ruling noted that for the court to grant a writ of injunction, the petitioners must show that “(1) there exists a clear and unmistakable right to be protected; (2) this right is directly threatened by an act sought to be enjoined; (3) the invasion of the right is material and substantial, and (4) there is an urgent and paramount necessity for the writ to prevent serious and irreparable damage.”
Controversial Customs order
The case stemmed from the issuance of Customs Personnel Order No B 189-2013, which ordered the transfer of the 27 collectors to the CPRO, an office under the DOF created by virtue of Executive Order 140.
In its ruling, the court cited the case of China Banking Corp. et al vs. Benjamin Co, et al, which noted that “when the complainant’s right is thus doubtful or disputed, he does not have a clear legal right, and, therefore, the issuance of injunctive relief is improper.”
The court also said it cannot “enjoin an agency from performing an act within its prerogative, except when in the exercise of its authority it gravely abused or exceeded its jurisdiction.”
Following the court decision, the collectors will now have to report to the CPRO or they will be considered absent without leave.
Biazon lauds decision
Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon welcomed the court decision. “While this issue may have caused a temporary setback in the reform efforts of the DOF and the BOC, it has also shown that the initiatives can withstand legal challenges. We hope that this resolution will compel all parties to move in the same direction towards reform in the BOC,” he said.
“The CPRO is a crucial part of the reform initiative for the Bureau of Customs. It is necessary to ensure that we have sustainable, relevant and effective changes at the BOC to enhance trade facilitation, border security and public safety. As the Philippine economy continues to grow, we want and need a Bureau of Customs that serves as a vital agent for the continued progress of our country.”
The Manila RTC on Oct. 1 granted a 72-hour temporary restraining order stopping the implementation of CPO No B 189-2013. Before the TRO expired on Oct. 4, the order was extended for 17 days.
Initially, 15 out of the 27 customs collectors ordered to move to the CPRO went to court to fight their transfer. Later, three of the 15 collectors — Arafiles Carreon, Edward dela Cuesta and Carmelita Talusan — withdrew before the group filed for a writ, while a fourth, Imelda Cruz, resigned on Oct 2.
The 11 remaining collectors on Oct. 18 filed for a writ of preliminary injunction three days before the expiry of the TRO on Oct. 21. The 11 collectors are Atty. Arnel Alcaraz, Atty. Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, Atty. Ma. Liza Torres, Ronnie Silvestre, Rogel Gatchalian, Lilibeth Sandag, Raymond Ventura, Francis Erpe, Marietta Zamoranos, Atty. Carlos So and Romalino Valdez.
Collectors Carreon and Dela Cuesta have reported to CPRO, along with 12 other BOC officials, including Cebu Port Collector Ricardo Belmonte, younger brother of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. –– Roumina M. Pablo