Court decision should be obeyed

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Saturday, March 8, 2014


PLARIDEL awardee Cheking Seares used to tease colleague Bobby Nalzaro about the latter’s “I am not a lawyer but…” usual opening statement when he writes about a legal issue.

Indeed, Super Bob is not a lawyer but: a) he would have made a good one; b) he has more common sense than many lawyers; and c) he does his research more thoroughly than most of them.

By the way, I am not writing this because he praised me in his column yesterday even as I must admit that, together with Cheking and another lawyer and Sun.Star Cebu columnist, Eddie Barrita, we make a rather formidable mutual admiration club.

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That clarified, let me add that Super Bob is a multi-talented (he sings better than a city mayor I know) and multi-awarded tri-media personality. He belongs to the Kapuso network, where he hosts a radio commentary in the morning and anchors Balitang Bisdak on television in the afternoon, but I consider him a Kapatid.

Anyway, in his column yesterday, Bobby gave us a sample of his extensive research work, tracing the history of the land conflict that now grips the community in sitio San Miguel, Barangay Apas of this city.

The lot was among those that were expropriated by the government for the Lahug airport expansion, according to Bobby. When the airport was closed, the former owners sought to recover their property on the strength of a supposed agreement to return the lots to them once the airport ceases to be.

The former owners won but in the meantime informal settlers have invaded the property, building their homes there. Apparently, the airport expansion did not push through (so what else is new) because some of the residents claim that they have been staying in the expropriated lot for more than 50 years and the Lahug airport was closed only in the ‘70s.

My law office used to handle a case for an heir to one of the landowners but, unlike the San Miguel lot, his property was actually used as a runway. When the Lahug airport ceased operations, we filed an action for reconveyance. Our client could not tell us whether his father was promised that his property would be returned once the government would no longer use it so we did not allege it in our complaint.

Our theory was that since the power of eminent domain is predicated on public use, the State is bound to reconvey the expropriated property to the owner once that particular public use ceases. It is grossly unfair and unjust, we argued, for the State to be allowed to continue to use the property and deal with it as a private landowner would, knowing that in acquiring it from the previous owner, the State used the strong and irresistible arm of the law.

We lost our case in the Court of First Instance but won it on appeal to the Court of Appeals. The Solicitor General, however, appealed the CA’s decision to the Supreme Court who ruled that the CFI was right and the appellate court was wrong. Subsequently, the High Court issued at least two decisions, involving the same set of facts, ruling in favor of the former lot owners. The Suico-Magat case could be one of them.

As I wrote in a previous column, as a lawyer, I am convinced that a final and executory decision of the Court should be obeyed. But as a human being, I am cheering on the occupants and praying that their lawyers would find a way to save their houses from demolition.

The houses, save for a few, still stand as of now. But for how much longer?

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 09, 2014.

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