THE Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the government in its bid to recover the prime “Mile Long” properties in Makati City from the wealthy Rufino and Prieto families.
President Rodrigo Duterte has accused the Rufino and Prieto families, which control the Philippine Daily Inquirer, of obtaining a lease over the properties that he claimed was disadvantageous to the government, as well as non-payment of rentals and tax evasion.
In a decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr., the court’s fifth division dismissed one of the two cases filed before lower courts by the Rufino-Prieto firm Sunvar Realty Development Corp. to stop its eviction from Mile Long.
The ruling said Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 59 in Makati City, under Judge Winlove Dumayas, had no jurisdiction over the case when it issued a temporary restraining order on the August 13, 2016 ruling of a Metropolitan Trial Court that ordered Sunvar Realty to vacate the property and pay back rentals amounting to P478,200,600 as of May 15, 2015.
The appeals court also ordered that another case involving Sunvar Realty be tossed back to Makati RTC Branch 141 under Judge Maryann Corpus-Mañalac, which has the authority to hear and decide the main case.
“Common to the two petitions is the issue of forum shopping. Petitioners (government) opined that private respondent Sunvar is guilty of forum shopping when it filed a petition for Injunction with one court (Dumayas court) and an Appeal (on the merits) with another court (Mañalac court),” the appeals court said.
Reyes directed Mañalac “to continue with the proceedings of the appeal and to resolve the same with reasonable dispatch.”
The petitioners, the government and state-owned National Power Corp. (Napocor), are the owners of several parcels of land between Pasong Tamo Street and Vito Cruz Extension in Makati City, with a total area of 125,607 square meters and covered by four transfer certificates of title.
On December 26, 1997, the government and Napocor leased the properties to the Technology Resource Center Foundation Inc. for a period of 25 years beginning January 1, 1978 and ending on December 31, 2002, renewable for another 25 years upon mutual agreement of the parties.
On different dates, the Technology Resource Center granted Sunvar Realty the option to sublease all portions of the property.
During the period of its sublease, Sunvar Realty introduced improvements consisting of commercial buildings—Premier Cinema, Mile Long Arcade, Makati Creekside Building, Gallery Building and Sunvar Plaza.
On June 3, 2002, Napocor notified the Technology Resource Center, which changed its name to the Philippine Development Alternatives Foundation, that it would no longer renew the contract of lease because of low rental rates, noting that the value of the lands stood at P125,000 per square meter in 1997.
On February 22, 2008, the Office of the Solicitor General advised Sunvar Realty to vacate the properties within 30 days or face the court.
When Sunvar Realty refused to vacate, government and Napocor filed a complaint for unlawful detainer. The cases with RTC judges Dumayas and Mañalac were consolidated, but they both resolved the cases on merits prior to consolidation.
Dumayas and Mañalac had sided with Sunvar, prompting the OSG to seek redress before the appellate court.
Justice Reyes reversed the ruling of the lower courts.
“The RTC cannot render proper judgment to the injunction case that would amount to res judicata (a matter already judged) to the judgment rendered on the appeal, as the RTC in the first place has no jurisdiction to entertain the injunction case.”