City asks court to drop firm’s civil petition

THE Cebu City Government yesterday asked Regional Trial Court Judge Alexander Acosta to dismiss the civil petition filed by the SM Prime Holdings Inc. (SMPHI) because it’s “defective and lack legal basis.”

During yesterday’s hearing, city lawyer Lyndon Basan argued that SM Prime’s petition for mandamus and prohibition ought to be dismissed outright since the petitioners violated the rule on forum-shopping.

Basan said it appeared the signatory was not authorized to sign the petition on behalf of the petitioners.

Basan also said the city mayor has not yet issued a closure order and that SM Seaside City Cebu is actually still operating.

“(Petitioners) business permit applications are still being processed since they have not yet submitted the complete required documents,” Basa told the court during yesterday’s hearing.

Acosta, of the RTC branch 9, tackled yesterday SM Prime’s civil petition that seeks to compel the City Government to renew its business permits and that of its tenants.

Last March 7, SM Prime, the parent company of the SM Group’s shopping malls, filed the petition for mandamus and prohibition against Mayor Tomas Osmeña, City Treasurer Tessie Camarillo and City Engineer Josefa Ylanan.

Prime’s subsidiary, Shopping Center and Management Corp. (SCMC), and SM Lifestyle Entertainment Inc., SM Prime’s educational, sports, and recreational arm, also joined in the petition.

The petitioners, through the Accra Law Firm, seek the issuance of a 72-hour temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and status quo ante.

Last March 7, Executive Judge Gilbert Moises granted SM’s application for issuance of a 72-hour TRO, which barred Osmeña, his agents, or his representatives from closing the mall.

The petition came after Osmeña reportedly directed the Business Permit Licensing Office (BPLO) not to accept the applications for renewal of business permits of SM Seaside, its affiliates, and tenants for 2017.

The Office of the Building Official (OBO) in Cebu City also refused to accept SM Seaside’s permits to operate machinery, such as its elevators and escalators.

The building officials also refused to accept or act on applications submitted by SM Seaside’s tenants for building and related ancillary permits.

The City’s zoning board also refused to accept applications by SM Seaside’s tenants for locational clearance.

The petitioners said they complied with the requirements of the building code and occupancy permit, but the city officials still refused to renew their business permits.

Chrysilla Carissa Bautista, counsel for SM Prime, presented their witnesses—Sandy Basas, SM Seaside accounting manager, and Michelle Llamas, the mall’s vice-president for operations.

Basas said they submitted 20 applications for business permits of SM Prime’s affiliated firms with the City Treasurer’s Office satellite office at Robinsons’ Place on Jan.20.

Although the assessment of all the documents they submitted on the first day went smoothly, Basas said they encountered obstacles when the city treasurer’s staff refused to accept payments for taxes reportedly due to a show cause order issued by the City Legal Office.

Basas said she later sought the assistance of their counsel about the non-acceptance of their applications and payments.

Llamas, SM Seaside vice-president for operations, said the establishment stand to suffer irreparable injury if ordered closed by the city mayor.

Any closure or disruption to the mall’s operations could result to loss of millions of income by both the mall and its tenants, which employ about 5,391 personnel and employees.

For his part, lawyer Basa said the testimonies of the witnesses have no probative value since they merely identified the documents attached to the petition.

In his order issued in open court, Judge Acosta rejected the city lawyers’ move to dismiss the petition on grounds of violating the non-forum shopping rule.

Acosta said he was convinced that the signatory of the petition was authorized by petitioners to the case.

The judge also set the continuation of the hearing today, with the presentation of Claire Cabalda, BPLO head, as the plaintiff’s first witness.
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