NAGA CITY — It’s finally over.
The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, has in the end decided to grant the City Government of Naga and other government instrumentalities the right to possess the property, as well as the so-called Naga City Civic Center with its appurtenant structures, such as the Museo ni Jesse Robredo, as its own.
This, after almost 20 years of bitter legal tussle between the heirs of Jose and Helen Mariano and the City of Naga over possession of the contested 5-hectare land. The High Tribunal, in an order released recently, also called for the City of Naga to pay the Marianos just compensation and the amount representing exemplary damages.
The amount of just compensation with legal interest of 6% per annum of the property value at the time of the taking is estimated to cost about P15M to P20M plus exemplary damages pegged at P1M.
The decision, voted 15-0 by the Supreme Court Justices was promulgated on October 18, 2022 but was released by the Supreme Court on June 8, 2023, just as Naga was celebrating its 75th or Diamond anniversary as a chartered city in activities that culminated on June 18.
The case started sometime in 2004 during the incumbency of then Mayor Jesse Robredo when the Marianos filed a complaint of unlawful detainer alleging that there was no signed deed of donation to show between landowners Macario Mariano and Jose A. Gimenez and then Naga City Mayor Monico Imperial sometime on August 21, 1954.
The case was first decided in favor of the city as possessor of the land by the Municipal Trial Court, Naga City but which was reversed and set aside by the Regional Trial Court that virtually prompted the Marianos to demand the city government to vacate the premises.
On March 12, 2018, the First Division of the Supreme Court overturned the amended decision rendered by the Court of Appeals and reinstated, albeit with modifications, the RTC’s decision.
It was as if the city government had lost the case, ordered to pay large sum of money up to over P1B representing the use of the property since 1954 and its eventual eviction from the two properties where the city hall and the Naga City civic center are situated, that altogether occupy five hectares.
Unfazed, the city government brought the matter to the Supreme Court and found the First Division to have erred in ordering city hall and all the government offices situated in the contested property to “peacefully surrender and deliver the physical possession of the subject realty to petitioners (Marianos).”
The Supreme Court en banc stated that considering that the physical return of the subject property on which city hall and other government offices are erected is no longer feasible, and that the property was taken by the government for public use, the aggrieved owner (Marianos) may demand for payment of just compensation for the land taken.
With this, the controlling doctrine is that when there is actual taking by the government without expropriation proceedings, the owner of the property is entitled to just compensation which is pegged at the value of the property at the time of taking, the Supreme Court Resolution noted.
The Supreme Court resolution provided for the formula in computing the amount of just compensation reckoning August 16, 1954 as the time of taking.
Hereunder quoted is the dispositive portion of the Supreme Court resolution:
“THE FOREGOING DISQUISITIONS CONSIDERED, respondent City of Naga’s Second Motion for Reconsideration is hereby PARTLY GRANTED. Accordingly, the Decision dated March 12, 2018 and the Resolution dated July 23, 2018 rendered by the First Division of this Court are AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS in that:
“1) The order for respondent and all government instrumentalities, agencies, and offices claiming right of possession through and under it to peacefully surrender and deliver to petitioners the physical possession of the land covered by Transfer of Certificate Title No. 671, including all improvements and structures erected thereon, is hereby DELETED;
“2) The award of monthly rental in favor of petitioners is likewise DELETED;
“3) Respondent City of Naga is ORDERED to pay petitioners just compensation in accordance with this ruling, with legal interest of six percent (6%) per annum on the value of the property at the time of taking, i.e., August 16, 1954, until full payment is made; and 4) Respondent City of Naga is ORDERED to pay petitioners exemplary damages in the amount of P1,000,000.00.
“The case is REMANDED to Branch 26, Regional Trial Court of Naga City for the determination of just compensation. The said court is DIRECTED to resolve the instant case with dispatch.”
In a press conference with local media reporters at city hall last Saturday, an elated Mayor Nelson Legacion thanked Atty. Jose Anselmo Cadiz for triumphantly handling the case pro bono from start to finish.
Cadiz himself revealed that it was his high school classmate, then Mayor Robredo who asked him to handle the case for the city. Atty. Cadiz was a private practitioner with law office in Manila. He was National President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines before his appointment as Solicitor General by the Aquino administration. He ran for Camarines Sur governor and then as congressman in the 3rd district but lost in both instances.
Legacion also thanked former Naga City legal officer Angel Ojastro and incumbent city legal officer Mcgyver Gerard Orbina for ably handling the case in collaboration with Atty. Cadiz. The current mayor himself, Atty. Nelson Legacion, was the city legal officer during the infant stages of the case.
The former editor-in-chief of this paper, now Councilor Joe Perez was in 2006 cited for contempt and thereupon incarcerated for five days at the Naga City District Jail because of a controversial article written about the raging episodes of the legal battle between the Marianos and City Hall.
(Jason B. Neola, CEPPIO)