THE Supreme Court (SC) has ordered a government agency to return to a family in Cebu City a 1,017-square meter parcel of lot it expropriated in the ‘60s for P3,018.
In the en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Eduardo Nachura, all the Lozada family has to do is return the government’s P3,018 to get back the lot near the Cebu Asiatown IT Park.
Promulgated last Feb. 25, the ruling will affect future cases involving expropriation.
The ruling holds that all property the government expropriates should be returned to the original owner when the government no longer uses it for the purpose it was obtained.
“The taking of private property, consequent to the Government’s exercise of its power of eminent domain, is always subject to the condition that the property be devoted to the specific public purpose for which it was taken,” the ruling read.
The Lozada family corresponds to Bernardo Lozada Sr. and the heirs of Rosario Mercado, namely Vicente, Mario and Bernardo Lozada Jr., Marcia Godinez, Virginia Flores, Dolores Gacasan and Socorro Cafaro.
Based on the records of the case, they own what is designated as Lot 88, a 1,017-square-meter parcel, a part of which is where the old Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center (BBRC) is located.
The government expropriated the property in the ‘60s, when it expanded the old Lahug airport at P3 per square meter.
They appealed the ruling but withdrew it when the Civil Aeronautics Administration, which preceded the Air Transportation Office, offered a compromise settlement which provided that the expropriated lots would be resold at the price they were bought if the ATO abandons the Lahug airport.
The ATO abandoned the Lahug airport on Nov. 29, 1989, when then president Corazon Aquino issued a memorandum directing all general aviation operations to the Mactan International Airport and the establishment of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority a year after.
The Lozadas, in June 04, 1996, initiated a suit seeking the recovery of the property and the reconveyance of ownership.
The ATO opposed, saying the lot is part of MCIAA assets.
The Lozadas won at the Regional Trial Court level, with the trial court promulgating its ruling in Oct. 22, 1999. The ATO elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals.
But the appellate court dismissed the appeal last February 28, 2006. The ATO filed a motion for reconsideration but this too was denied.
The ATO then filed a petition for certiorari before the High Court, arguing that “the respondents utterly failed to prove that there was a repurchase agreement or compromise settlement between them and the Government.”
They said the 1960s ruling that expropriated the property was “absolute and unconditional.” Moreover, the claim of verbal assurances from government officials on the return of the property when no longer needed “violates the Statutes of Fraud.”
But the High Court, speaking through Nachura’s ruling, said the petition “should be denied.”
“The (‘60s decision) should be read in its entirety, wherein it is apparent that the acquisition by the Republic of the expropriated lots was subject to the condition that the Lahug Airport would continue its operation,” the High Court said.
“The condition not having materialized because the airport had been abandoned, the former owner should then be allowed to reacquire the expropriated property,” it said.
Revisiting previous cases where the government took private land, the High Court now believes the expropriator “should commit to use the property pursuant to the purpose stated in the petition for expropriation filed, failing which, it should file another petition for the new purpose.”
If not, the High Court explained, then it should be “incumbent upon the expropriator to return the said property to its private owner, if the latter desires to reacquire the same.”