Cebu News

Supreme Court: Cebu City can't drop bid for Ortega family lot


CEBU, Philippines - The Supreme Court has ruled that the Cebu City government cannot withdraw from the expropriation proceedings to purchase the 2,856 square meter lot owned by the Ortega family in barangay Hipodromo even if Mayor Tomas Osmeña described the P31.4 million price of the property as too expensive for the urban poor residents.

Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, who wrote the decision dated October 2, on behalf of the Supreme Court’s third division ruled that the appellate court was correct when it affirmed the order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) that the expropriation case had long been final and executory.

The High Tribunal also ruled that both the order of expropriation and the court’s order fixing just compensation of the lot can no longer be modified.

“In short, Cebu City government cannot withdraw from the expropriation proceedings,” the Supreme Court ruling reads.

The city government has already decided to compel the close to 100 occupants of the lot owned by spouses Ciriaco and Arminda Ortega in sitio Cahipa, Hipodromo to vacate the place because the city will no longer pursue its intention to expropriate the lot.

Osmeña said the court-issued just compensation of P11,000 per square meter of the lot is too expensive for the urban poor families.

The city wanted to purchase the lot and to allow the occupants to pay the amount on installment basis.

The Ortega couple owns a 5,712-square-meter lot in Hipodromo, but about half of the lot is occupied by squatters that prompted the owner to file an ejectment case in court against the illegal occupants in 1990.

The court rendered decision in favor of the Ortegas.

In May 23, 1994, the Cebu City Council authorized City Mayor Tomas Osmeña to expropriate 2,856 square meters of the lot of the Ortegas that is occupied by the urban poor families and appropriated P3,284,400 for the purchase at P1,150 per square meter.

Four years later, the regional trial court issued an order declaring that Cebu City has the lawful right to take the property for its urban poor project, but also ordered for the creation of commissioners, including the city assessor, to determine the amount of just compensation for the lot.

The court-created commission had fixed the just compensation of the lot at P11,000 per square meter, which the city objected to and refused to pay the price.

It prompted the court to order for the garnishment of the P3.2 million that was appropriated by the city for that purpose, but the city officials quickly filed a petition for certiorari before the appellate court claiming that garnishing the amount is illegal.

The SC said the proper remedy of the Ortegas is to file a mandamus case against the City of Cebu in order to compel its City Council to enact an appropriation ordinance in order to satisfy its judgment.

“It is a settled rule that government funds and properties may not be seized under its writs of execution or garnishment to satisfy judgments, based on obvious consideration of public policy. The functions and public services rendered by the State cannot be allowed to be paralyzed or disrupted by the diversion of public funds from their legitimate and specific objects, as appropriated by law,” the SC ruled.

According to the Supreme Court, while the City of Cebu cannot back out from its intention to purchase the lot, but its funds could not be also garnished to satisfy the payment of the concerned lot.

It said “Since the RTC has no authority to garnish Cebu City’s other bank accounts in order to satisfy its judgment, consequently, it has no authority to order the release of Cebu City’s other deposits with the Philippine Postal Bank.”

Osmeña said yesterday that he will talk with the city lawyers about the latest development of the case.

Before the SC ruling came out, there was a sort of compromise agreement that had been agreed in principle by the city officials and the Ortegas wherein the latter will no longer push through with the execution of the order for payment, but with the collateral obligation by the city to clear the property of all squatters and to relocate them.

The city is already determined to demolish all illegal structures before it will be turned over to the lot owner, who also asked the city to waive all realty taxes in arrears for the reason that they have not benefited out of their lot, but only the squatters.

Acting Mayor Michael Rama has already issued executive order 09-92 last March 5 creating a task force composed of some city officials whose task for the smooth removal of the affected urban poor families. — Rene U. Borromeo/NLQ   (FREEMAN NEWS)


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