Tenants and gardeners at the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) Environmental Center on Sunday expressed their fears over a Nazi Gestapo-like eviction at the start of 2014.
This was after Quezon City officials took over the seven-hectare area, which the MSBF has been occupying since 1977 by virtue of the Law on Usufruct.
Early this month, city hall troopers, the Department of Public Order and Safety, and private security guards barred customers sans any court order and told tenant-gardeners to close shop and dismantle their gardens.
Nards Legalde, MSBF president, said the same incident happened in July when the team forcibly occupied the whole compound and padlocked its gates.
“We were offered stalls at the Quezon Memorial Circle [and]were told to close shop and dismantle our gardens. MSBF officers and employees were not allowed to enter their offices. Even the media were blocked,” he said.
Citing a news item from a tabloid, Legarde pointed out that Mayor Herbert Bautista has publicly admitted that Manila Seedling Bank property does not belong to the city government.
“Here at Quezon City Memorial Circle we can assert our ownership. This is ours. Not like the Manila Seedling Bank property, which is still owned by the National Housing Authority [NHA],” Bautista was quoted saying.
“With this clear admission from the mayor that the premises of MSBF belong to NHA, Bautista has no business staying in the property,” Legalde explained.
He added that while the case was being heard, the city hall said operations may continue if the gardeners signed a promissory note indicating that they will move out within six months.
“The tenant-gardeners were told to hold clearance sales until December 31, after which they were to dismantle their structures and move to the Quezon Memorial Circle. This is clearly a case of injustice and abuse of power,” Legalde argued.
The MSBF chief also belied claims that they owe the government unpaid realty taxes.
“The property is owned by the NHA which was acknowledged by the mayor himself. And under Republic Act 7279, the NHA is exempt from real estate and income taxes. The MSBF only has usufruct rights to it, which will expire in 2027. With the owner being tax-exempt, the property cannot be sold on account of nonpayment of realty taxes. The sale therefore is null and void,” he farther explained.
He added that under the Law on Usufruct, the MSBF is not liable for realty taxes on the property, and taxes imposed on the capital shall be at the expense of the NHA.
“MSBF usufruct over the seven-hectare area was not terminated by any bogus claim of change of ownership. Accordingly MSBF’s usufructuary rights are not extinguished by a change of ownership of such property,” Legalde argued.