A COURT ordered Amparo Balili and lawyer Romeo Balili to return P37.8 million to the Cebu Provincial Government, the amount the Capitol paid for what turned out to be submerged and mangrove areas.
Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Raphael Yrastorza Sr. said “it would be an injustice to allow” the Balilis to be “unjustly enriching themselves at the expense” of the Province of Cebu.
He said that the Balilis “had no legal right” to sell 94,526 square meters, a portion of the property it sold to the Capitol nearly seven years ago. About 80,124 sq.m. turned out to be submerged, while 14,402 sq.m. were covered by mangroves.
The RTC Branch 14 judge’s decision was dated Feb. 16, 2015. The Provincial Legal Office received its copy last Feb. 26, said Orvi Ortega, who heads the office.
But “there is no more money” in the bank, Atty. Balili told reporters. The estate’s executor said he will file a motion asking the court to reconsider its decision, but declined to comment further.
Balili also declined to answer when asked about an order from Judge Ester Veloso of the RTC Branch 6 in 2011, for him to recover the money that had been withdrawn by Amparo, Engr. Luis Balili’s widow.
Atty. Balili said he hopes that Judge Yrastorza will hear his motion for reconsideration on March 20.
Speaking for Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, lawyer Christina Frasco said that the decision confirms that the former Cebu governor should not be held liable for relying on the titles of the properties when the Province acquired these.
The decision “is consistent with prevailing law and jurisprudence, and with our position since the very beginning that former governor now Congresswoman Gwen Garcia, in behalf of the Provincial Government of Cebu, is a buyer in good faith,” Atty. Frasco said in a text message.
In a phone interview, Congresswoman Garcia said she had filed the case “to protect the interest of the Province.”
Asked to comment on the decision in favor of the Capitol, Gov. Hilario Davide III said: “Sa ato pa tinuod gyud tong underwater to’ng napalit. That only gives credence to the fact that what was purchased from the (Balili) heirs was submerged.”
The Davide camp had used the Balili land purchase as one of its main issues against Garcia, who was seeking reelection in the May 2010 elections. Garcia won her third term then.
In 2008, the Province bought a 24.7-hectare property in Tinaan, City of Naga, from the estate of Luis Balili. It paid P99.69 million, at P400 per square meter, the decision pointed out.
About a year and 10 months later, the Province filed the case for specific performance and reduction/refund of the purchase price.
That was after a relocation survey in August 2009 showed that 80,124 sq.m. were submerged, while 14,402 sq.m. were mangrove areas.
The Province asked for a reimbursement of P37.81 million, representing the payment for these areas.
“Had they been informed about the submerged and mangrove areas, plaintiffs would have bargained and paid only for the dry land areas and the total purchase price would have been reduced correspondingly,” the decision pointed out.
The principle of caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”) “is not meant to excuse the seller from his warranties,” the judge wrote.
Under the Torrens system, it is enough for a property buyer to rely on the title of a registered land, the decision also said, quoting a Supreme Court ruling in the 1998 case of the Gavinos versus the Court of Appeals.
One principle that the judge applied in the Balili case is that of unjust enrichment.
“In the case at bar, defendants who received the benefits are not entitled to it and there is no legal right to receive it, considering that the areas supposedly sold to plaintiffs are inalienable and indisposable parts of public domain,” the judge wrote.
“It is only simple justice” that the Balilis should return the P37.81 million to the Province of Cebu,” the decision said.
Judge Yrastorza also dismissed, for lack of basis, a counter-claim filed by the Balilis. He made “no pronouncement as to damages and attorney fees or costs.”