Chevron wants to keep Big 3's books closed

MANILA, Philippines – Chevron Philippines Inc. (formerly Caltex Philippines Inc.) yesterday asked the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) to issue a new order, one that would reverse an April 27 ruling ordering the country’s three largest oil firms to open their books of account.

Judge Silvino Pampilo Jr. ordered the Commission on Audit (COA), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and Bureau of Customs (BOC) “to open and examine the cash receipts, cash disbursement books, the purchase orders on the petroleum products, delivery receipts, sales invoices and other related documents on the purchases of the petroleum products” from January to December 2003.

He said he will issue a separate order giving the COA, BIR and the BOC three months to form panels of examiners.

“The three panels would have to conduct an examination on the books and to submit their reports within three months to determine if there was monopoly or cartel in the prices of oil. In the event that there would be discrepancies in their findings, I would call the three panels to a conference so they could explain,” Pampilo said.

In its motion, Chevron said the court failed to see that the issue raised in the petition is not declaratory relief but whether or not the petitioner, the Social Justice Society (SJS), has a cause of action against defendants for violating the oil deregulation law (Republic Act 8479).

Chevron said the petition also fails to state a cause of action for declaratory relief, and the order to open the books of accounts is without any factual or legal basis.

The Manila court ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the case, notwithstanding the results of an investigation conducted by the joint Department of Energy-Department of Justice (DOE-DOJ) Task Force, which found no evidence of any violation of RA 8479. However, Chevron said the court’s findings are “patently erroneous.”

The oil firm said the SJS wants the court to render an opinion – something that is not part of the court’s judicial powers. Chevron said the SJS is neither asking for a declaration of its rights and duties nor asking the court to stop any threatened violation of its rights.

Chevron also said the court’s basis for granting SJS’ petition to have the “Big 3” oil firms’ books examined “is nothing more than media interest.”

Chevron quoted the court order as stating that “in recent times, the Department of Energy has expressed through mass media that they will open and examine the books of account of the Big ‘3’. For reasons unknown to many, the books have remained unopened and unexamined, and the puzzle remains unsolved.”

The court added that “since there is a strong public interest involved and considering that there is a need to uncover the mystery surrounding the frequent increase in petroleum products, there is a need to open and examine the books of the respondents.”

Chevron said strong public interest is not a valid ground to issue orders that are not in accordance with RA 8479, which sets down a specific procedure for complaints on overpricing of petroleum products and does not accord the courts the power to modify or amend it.



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