Saturday, September 18, 2004

A curious case

A curious case

Updated 09:57pm (Mla time) Sept 17, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the September 18, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A CASE involving millions of public funds allegedly misappropriated, a Compromise Agreement claimed to have been entered into in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Local Government Code and other laws, valuable real estate now occupied by the Provincial Capitol Building of Cavite and other public structures, and an Amended Decision sustaining the Compromise Agreement is expected to be filed momentarily before the Court of Appeals to restrain the enforcement of the said decision and eventually annul it.

The petitioner is Juanito Victor C. Remulla in his capacity as vice governor of Cavite and as an ordinary citizen and taxpayer. Among the respondents are RTC Judge Aurelio G. Icasiano Jr. of Trece Martires City, Erineo S. Maliksi as governor of Cavite, Renato Ignacio as legal officer of the province, the owners of the property subject of the controversy, and others.

The case goes back to 1981 when the province of Cavite instituted expropriation proceedings against lands consisting of 250,000 square meters with a market value of P0.86 per sq m, for a total market value of P215,000. The province entered the whole property on Jan. 4, 1982, with the permission of the court. In their answer to the complaint, the owners claimed that the current market value of their property was P45 per sq m or P11,272,500 for the entire area.

In 1992 a committee on appraisal appointed by the court reported that the value of the land was P500 per sq m. In 1997 a new appraisal committee increased the valuation to P2,800 per sq m, which the province sought to reduce in 2003. Then in December of that year, Governor Maliksi and Ignacio as legal officer of the province, entered with the respondents in the expropriation case into a Compromise Agreement that is now the bone of contention in the petition to be filed by Remulla.

Under this agreement, the province of Cavite and Trece Martires City will retain only 116,287 sq m of the 261,250 sq m of the expropriated land, the rest to go back to the respondent owners. The province and the city will pay the defendants P50 million, and the expropriation complaint will be withdrawn. Without authority from the Provincial Board of Cavite, Icasiano joined the respondents in the expropriation case in asking for the approval of the Compromise Agreement by the court, which was granted by Judge Aurelio Icasiano Jr. in a decision issued on March 18, 2004. This was modified in the Amended Decision of March 25, 2004 which will be challenged on the several grounds to be raised in the petition.

The most questionable provision of the Compromise Agreement is the payment of P50 million to the defendants in the expropriation case by Trece Martires for the reduced area of land to be retained by the former expropriators. It is the rule in expropriation cases that the just compensation for the condemned land should be its value at the time of its taking, which in this case was 1982. Its value then was only P0.86 per sq m, or only the total sum of P215,000 for the original bigger area. Even at the defendants' price of P45 per sq m, the entire area (which was reduced by the Compromise Agreement) would have been only P11,272,500. Yet for the smaller area to go to Cavite and Trece Martires, they will now have to pay the owners a whopping P50 million.

In Republic v. Castellvi, 58 SCRA 336, the government entered the property as lessee in 1947 and renewed the lease annually until 1959, when it decided to expropriate the land. In determining just compensation, the owner said it should be based on the value of the property in 1959, with all the improvements introduced by the government, but the plaintiff said it should be 1947, when the property did not cost much. The Supreme Court held that the land should be appraised as of 1959, for that was when the government entered the property not as a mere lessee but as a permanent taker.

As Cavite and Trece Martires took the property in 1982, it should not be appraised as of 1997 as was done under the Compromise Agreement. The governor should have continued with the expropriation, especially since the land was already in the possession of the province and the city. The Compromise Agreement waived that advantage and might be considered greatly prejudicial to the government as to constitute a corrupt act under the graft law. The omission to first get the approval of the provincial board before entering into such agreement, and without the necessary appropriation made for the prescribed payment, makes the transaction doubly suspect.

Vice Governor Remulla has other objections he intends to raise when he brings this serious matter to the Court of Appeals. Whether he succeeds or not, he will be doing a useful service to the people by informing them of this vital issue that affects them as concerned and curious citizens.


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