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Judge hearing controversial injunction case inhibits self

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KALIBO, Aklan—Branch 7 Judge Ronald Exmundo of the Regional Trial Court here who is hearing the injunction case filed by owners of 10 structures in Boracay probably couldn’t stand the heat which involves the President’s Task Force mandated to implement regulations and sanctions to reverse the degradation of the island.

In his order issued on Monday following the Motion for Leave of Court to Intervene filed by Solicitor-General Jose Calida, Judge Exmundo penned the order “to avoid perception of bias and partiality.”

“A Motion for Leave of Court to Intervene was filed by the movant-intervenor Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) which the Court has granted. On the said motion, movant alleged that by the Court issuing TRO in favor of plaintiff indicates bias against the government,” Exmundo stated in his order.

In the motion, Calida stated that “It is irresponsible, if not outright reprehensible, for any party to seek the restraint of the demolition of illegally built structures after the Supreme Court affirmed the authority of the task Force and its partner agencies to conduct rehabilitation works, including demolition, on the island.”

It maybe recalled that owners of the 10 structures only named the local government of Malay as defendant to the case which eventually was granted a TRO on October 15 by Judge Exmundo. In the order, he directed Malay Mayor Frolibar Bautista to cease and desist from implementing the government’s demolition in the Bulabog area.

The issuance of the TRO had shocked the Task Force which was caught by surprise for being unaware of the case.

“The Honorable Court should be on guard of the present suit which conveniently disregarded not only the higher authority of the Task Force, pursuant to a presidential directive, but also the ruling of the Supreme Court via Zabal, by plaintifs’ non-inclusion of the DENR ad defendant, Calida saidn in the motion.

“It is hard to imagine the Honorable Court unaware of both the presidential directive and the Supreme Court decision,” part of the motion stated.

The Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force was created through Executive Order No. 53 on May 2018 and is composed of various government agencies including the local government of Malay which DENR sits as the lead agency.

The Task Force’s action officer, Natividad Bernardino, earlier said that the clearing and demolition of illegal structures due to violation of the easement in the island was legal and is done in a fair manner.

“We have to show the government’s resolve in establishing order in Boracay and we have been fair enough in the enforcement of regulations here,” she said.

Bernardino said that the owners of the 10 structures were part of the 52 non-compliant in the Bulabog area, in which 42 of them had self-demolished to abide by the government’s regulation of the easement law.

She also earlier underscored that Boracay Island serves as the model of President Duterte in restructuring damaged tourism destinations. “If this case drags on, this will become a bad precedence for other destinations that are badly needing major uplift and repair,” she said while citing El Nido and Coron in Palawan as well as Panglao in Bohol and Siargao in Surigao Del Norte being the next line after finishing with Boracay.

Judge Exmundo’s inhibition came as a surprise and effectively delayed some more the resolution of the case while the demolition of the structures has been ongoing at the Bulabog beach.

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