THE Court of Appeals granted the petition Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp stopping a Manila court from scrutinizing its book of accounts to determine their violation in the Oil Deregulation Law.

In a 39-page decision penned by CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr., the CA's First Division said Judge Silvino Pampilo of the Manila RTC Branch 26 abused his authority when he denied the motion filed of Shell seeking the dismissal of the suit filed by Social Justice Society, an advocacy group monitoring the spate of oil price increases.

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Pampilo likewise issued an order in April 2009 granting SJS's petition for the three big oil industry players - Shell, Petron and Chevron - to open up their books to be examined by the Commission on Audit, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs to prove their claim that the oil firms had violated the law against monopolies.

Covered by Pampilo's assailed ruling were the examination of the oil firms' cash receipts, cash disbursement books, the purchase order on the petroleum products, delivery receipts, sales invoices and other related documents on the purchase of petroleum products covering the period January 2003 to December 2003.

The RTC order however was never implemented as the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on September 14, 2009 based on the petition filed by the three government agencies.

The CA said the SJS' petition lacked all the requisites of a special civil action for declaratory relief and must be dismissed for lack of sufficient cause of action, nor does it have the legal standing to file the petition.

The appellate court noted that SJS' petition for a declaratory relief basically inquires whether the three oil firms violated Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code and Section 11 of RA 8479.

"We may have the unusual and unjust situation where petitioner can be declared to have committed a crime under Article 186 of the RPC and possibly held liable for it. This cannot be so. It is fundamental that, 'no person can be held to answer for an offense without due process," the CA explained.

The CA further said that SJS also failed to show that it has legal standing, being a registered political party, by satisfactorily showing in what manner their members as registered voters stand to suffer from petitioner's alleged acts if its petition was not resolved.

It added that the issue raised by the SJS is not yet ripe for judicial determination as the issue of whether or not the price increases of the three oil firms violate RPC can be addressed by a criminal investigation or prosecution.

On the other hand, the issue of whether or not these price increases violate RA 8479, the same has already been resolved by the DOE-DOJ Joint Task Force.

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Vicente Veloso and Jane Aurora Lantion.

Last April 27, Pampilo issued the assailed decision, citing strong public interest involved in the case and considering that there is a need to uncover the mystery surrounding the frequent increase in petroleum products.

Shell assailed the Manila RTC's April 27, 2009 Order for being "patently contrary to law" as it directs the BIR, BOC and COA to open the books of respondents to determine if they are guilty of violating the Revised Penal Code and the Oil Deregulation Law.

The oil firm said that the review of their records is beyond the jurisdiction of these government agencies. (JCV/Sunnex)