New lawyers of STC say order of judge against school is ‘void’

Posted on April 10, 2012

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It was the judge himself who voided the temporary restraining order he issued against the school, officials of St. Theresa’s College said yesterday.

Lawyers of the private Catholic school said school officials did not “defy” the Temporary Restraining Order of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Wilfredo Navarro when STC continued to bar two graduating students from attending the high school commencement exercise on March 30.

The lawyers said the order was “void” and that the judge himself admitted that he had no jurisdiction over the case.

“A void order is no order at all. Being void, STC cannot even be accused of defiance of said TRO,” said new lawyers of the school, Bernadito Florido and Joan Largo who joined Romeo Balili, the school’s retained counsel.

Largo and Florido entered their appearance as STC lawyers, reinforcing Balili, whom the judge earlier castigated in an order of voluntary inhibition where Navarro bowed out as the handling judge and had the case returned to the clerk of court for raffling to a Family Court.

Balili is facing an inquiry from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in relation to the case.

The school issued their manifestation in court, seeking to void the TRO against them.

A new judge from the Family Court was also assigned to the case.

RTC Judge Manuel Patalinghug of Branch 22 will take over after Judge Navarro inhibited himself saying he had lost the “cold neutrality” of an impartial judge because he was so upset by the school’s defiance of his TRO.

In his order, Navarro earlier pushed for the referral of the case to a family court, which has jurisdiction over minors.

Five senior students were punished by the school for posting bikini photos of themselves in their Facebook accounts, which the STC principal said was “obscene” and other violations such as drinking alcohol in public in violation of the Student Handbook.

They were given a “C” in “personality” in their final grades and banned from school activities, including the high school commencement rites.

Parents of two of the girls sued STC in court for child abuse and damages. The judge issued a TRO two days before the graduation, directing the school to let the students join the commencement rites and to treat them “with kindness and civility.”

The five students with their parents were turned away at the main gate two hours before the graduation rites.

In their court manifestation, STC lawyers said Judge Navarro himself admitted that a family court has jurisdiction over the case, which involved underage students.

A lawyer of one of the complaining students earlier asked Judge Navarro to cite the school officials in contempt of court.

“STC, after full compliance with all the requirements of due process, exhibited a large measure of compassion and permitted these minors to graduate (although they were not allowed to join during the rites),” the lawyers said.

The Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) said it still has to secure witnesses for their investigation.

The girls are still on vacation but hopefully we’ll get them to testify once they return,” CHR Investigaton Officer Ocarina Lilybeth Llona said.

Criminal charges of grave oral defamation, child abuse, and unjust vexation were filed against STC school officials Sister Celeste Ma. Purisima ,Mrs. Mussolini Yap, Marnie Racaza, Kristine Rose Ligot and Edita Josephine Yu in relation to the case. /Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter with Correspondent Careen Malahay

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