• OSG, PCGG wants Paoay property back

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    STATE lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) made their final pitch to sway the Sandiganbayan in their favor to rule that the so-called Paoay property was forcibly taken by deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos and should be returned to the government.

    In a 44-page memorandum, public lawyers representing the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) are down to their last pleading, where they reiterated before the Sandiganbayan the illegality surrounding the acquisition of Marcos over the Paoay property.

    The 57-hectare parcel of land in Paoay town, Ilocos Norte province sits adjacent to the Paoay Lake, which was declared as a national park in 1969 by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 5631.

    In October 1977, Marcos ordered the construction of the Paoay Lake Sports Complex through Letter of Instruction 601.

    Two months after, Marcos sent a letter of intent before the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA)—now Tourism Enterprise and Infrastructure Zone Authority—to express his claim over the land despite having “neither title nor tax declaration” over the property.

    The OSG stressed that Marcos’ issuance of Presidential Decree 1554 in June 1978 was a way to cure the defect over his interest on the land.

    In the decree, he amended RA 5631 by “excluding from the operations of said Act all lands beyond the Paoay Lake proper at its highest water level, and declaring the same open to disposition [or]acquisition.”

    In December 1978, Marcos then “sent a prepared lease contract” to Bernardo Vergara, former general manager of PTA, who signed the agreement covering January 1, 1979 to December 31, 2003 at a nominal rate of P1 per year.

    The PTA then collected travel taxes to construct the Malacañang of the North, Maharlika Hall, Suba Sports Complex and an 18-hole golf course in the area after the lease agreement.

    State lawyers underscored that at the end of the lease period, PTA shall transfer the ownership to the Marcos as the lessor.

    “All improvements made by the lessee, its successors or assigns, shall vest in and become the property of the lessor,” the 1978 agreement read.

    For its part, the PCGG took hold of the property after the fall of the dictator and leased it to Polar Peak Group and later on to Grand Ilocandia Resort and Development Inc.

    In retaliation, the Marcoses filed in 2007 an unlawful detainer case against PCGG “in a bid to, once again, ‘seize’ the Paoay property and all its improvements constructed through government efforts and funds,” OSG said.

    Public litigants are now rising before the Sandiganbayan to strike down the 1978 agreement as it illegally encroached upon an “inalienable land.”

    State lawyers said that the “financial interest [of Marcos]is obvious” and unconstitutional as the 1973 Charter made it a point that the president shall not have any pecuniary motives in any state transactions.

    “[President Marcos] unlawfully appropriated the Paoay Lake National park, an inalienable land of the public domain, and used the same as an investment, a capital, in an ingenious but illegal lease agreement whereby he will be handsomely profited at its expiration,” the OSG said.

    In the same pleading, the PCGG and the OSG deflected claims of the Marcoses that the Paoay property belonged to the former first family.

    The heirs said that since the PTA recognized in a letter that the Marcoses owned the Paoay property, it should be returned to their possession.

    However, the OSG made it clear that any “supposed acknowledgement” of PTA over the “mistaken ownership” of the Marcoses “cannot bind the Republic.”

    “Estoppel does not lie against the Republic, more so if the transactions are erroneous let alone irregular. The Republic is not bound by the erroneous acts of its agents,” the OSG said, quoting Supreme Court jurisprudence.

    They said that it could not rightfully be owned by the former president as he had no “registrable title whatsoever” to claim possession or ownership over the contested land.

    “The lease contract vesting ownership of a government tourism project to President Marcos at its end is equally odious which should be struck down for all its constitutional, statutory and public policy transgressions,” state lawyers stressed.

    With the memorandum, the civil case, which was filed in 2010, is a step closer to decision. JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON

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