CA to govt: Pay P16B to PIATCO

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THE government has to pay the private contractor of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 some P16 billion to be able to claim ownership of the controversial gateway.

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This is the final ruling issued by the Court of Appeals (CA), a copy of which was obtained by The Manila Times over the weekend.

The ruling favored the Philippine International Air Terminals Company Inc. (PIATCO) petition, and junked the government’s motion for reconsideration seeking to appeal the October 20, 2014 decision of the appellate court.

The amount, recently awarded to PIATCO, is now in an escrow account as just compensation.

In a two-page resolution dated February 6, 2015 and penned by Associate Justice Franchito Diamante, the CA ruled that there are no new arguments presented that would warrant the reversal of an earlier ruling.

“(It) elicits the finding that there are no new grounds or bases sufficient to compel modification or reversal of the said challenged decision,” the CA declared.

“Accordingly, the Motions for Reconsideration are denied for lack of merit.”

The appellate court stood path with its ruling that the lower court committed grave abuse of discretion after it allowed the government to deposit $371.43 million or P16 billion in escrow and imposed conditions for its release to PIATCO.

Associate Justices Danton Bueser and Melchor Sadang concurred in the final ruling.

The CA ruling reversed the orders issued by Pasay RTC Branch 117 Presiding Judge Eugenio de la Cruz dated October 11, 2011. The omnibus order stated that the just compensation amount be placed in escrow and imposed several conditions before the same could be released to the petitioner.

“Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, the instant petition is hereby granted. Parenthetically, the Omnibus Order dated 11 October 2011 and Order dated 5 December 2011 of the Pasay City RTC, Branch 117 in Civil Case No. 04-0876-CFM for Expropriation are hereby Nullified and Set Aside for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction,” the CA said in its October 2014 ruling.

“Accordingly, its ruling that the Republic may exercise full rights of ownership over the Terminal 3 facilities upon payment of just compensation in an escrow account, is likewise, void,” it said.

The appeals court pointed out that the issue of just compensation is pending before the Supreme Court. Hence, the Pasay RTC is incorrect to declare that the government can now exercise full ownership of the airport facilities by mere deposit of just compensation to an escrow account.

“In the case at bench, the amount of just compensation is still subject of appeal before the Supreme Court. Thus, it was wrong for the Pasay RTC to rule that the Republic may already exercise full ownership over the Terminal 3 facilities by mere deposit of just compensation to an escrow account. Such is not sanctioned by law not supported by jurisprudence,” the CA pointed out.

“By allowing the deposit of just compensation in an escrow account and imposing conditions for its release, the Pasay RTC gravely abused its discretion,” it said.

The Pasay RTC stated the following conditions: PIATCO must submit a warranty that the structures and facilities of NAIA III are free from all liens and encumbrances; Piatco must submit an undertaking that it is assuming sole responsibility for any claims from third persons arising from or relating to the design or construction of any structure or facility of NAIA III structures, if any; and PIATCO must submit a duly executed deed transferring the title of the NAIA III structures and facilities to the government, without prejudice to the amount which will finally be awarded to it by the CA.

But the appellate court countered that the conditions are onerous, which would make it legally impossible for PIATCO to get just compensation.

The appeals court said, “We agree with PIATCO that deposit of just compensation in an escrow account does not constitute ‘payment’ that would extinguish an obligation as contemplated in the Civil Code and other relevant laws.”

“Taking into consideration the nature of expropriation proceedings where the property owner was simply forced to part with its property, with more reason that payment to him should be immediate and without delay,” it added.

In the latest ruling, the CA also affirmed its earlier findings that the claim for compensation of Takenaka and Asahikosan Corporations in the amount of $85.7 million pursuant to the orders of a London tribunal is not binding.

“We take judicial notice of the fact that the respondents-in-intervention’s claim of US$85.7 pursuant to the London orders is not yet binding on Philippine Courts as the same is currently pending before the Supreme Court,” it ruled.

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