• ‘Pangasinan’s old school land ownership legal’

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    BAYAMBANG, Pangasinan: Acquisition of the Bayambang I Central School in this town by a new owner is legal, considering the writ of execution issued by a San Carlos City Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge.

    Lawyers Nolan Evangelista and Rafael Martinez said the decision of San Carlos City RTC Branch 56 Judge Hermogenes Fernandez on August 9 in awarding the land to Willy Chua was just and proper and there was no grave abuse of discretion in resolving the case.

    Evangelista, former mayor of Lingayen town, is the legal counsel of Chua while Martinez, former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP-Pangasinan Chapter), is the legal counsel of former Bayambang Mayor Ricardo Camacho and members of the Sangguniang Bayan (SB).

    The statement made by the two lawyers was in reaction to a published news report in The Manila Times last September 5 regarding the fencing of the Bayambang school, oldest in Pangasinan.

    Evangelista said before the court issued the writ of execution, Chua filed a petition on May 27, 2016 before the RTC asking the court to order municipal officials of Bayambang to turn over possession of the land to him, in accordance with a Deed of Exchange.

    The controversy over ownership of the land where the school sits erupted when the Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) complained to Camacho about dilapidated classrooms in the old campus, as well as dengue cases and flooding during the rainy season.

    The PTA requested immediate repair of the classrooms or relocation of the campus.

    Camacho directed the municipal engineer to look into the issue and a recommendation was later submitted for the relocation of students and teachers once the repair of the classrooms begins.

    The municipal engineer said funds have to be appropriated for the repair not only of the classrooms but also school buildings but the municipality has no available funds for such purposes.

    In order to raise funds, the municipal government invited bidders for the eventual disposal of the school site–a municipal property–the proceeds of which will be utilized to fund the school’s relocation and the construction of new school buildings.

    Unfortunately, there were no bidders, prompting the Sangguniang Bayan to pass a resolution authorizing the mayor to accept proposals for the project under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program of the government.

    Chua submitted a proposal to the office of the mayor and, after consultation with the SB members, his proposal was adopted.

    The municipality agreed to Chua’s proposal to use a property located in Barangay Magsaysay, about 300 meters away from the original school site, to construct new school facilities such as 60 schoolrooms, faculty room, school gym, canteen, principal’s office, district supervisor’s office, toilets, playground and concrete fencing and to build desks, tables and chairs.

    Camacho was also authorized by the Sangguniang Bayan to enter into a Deed of Exchange, to swap the three-hectare land of the old school campus with Chua’s property.

    After completion of the new Bayambang I Central School site, the Sangguniang Bayan passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to transfer the students and the faculty members to the new school site at Magsaysay in 2013.

    Thereafter, the school faculty and a new SB passed separate resolutions, urging the municipality to relocate the Bayambang I Central School.

    The Sangguniang Bayan then authorized the mayor to implement the requested relocation.

    Accordingly, Camacho issued Executive Order 25, ordering the transfer to the new site.

    But during implementation of the mayor’s order, some faculty members and PTA officers headed by Filipinas Alcantara questioned the legality of the order and defy it by refusing to transfer.

    On October 7, 2013, the municipality of Bayambang represented by the former mayor filed civil case for injunction with prayer for issuance of a temporary restraining order against the school officials headed by Dr. Alma Ruby Torio, the former schools division superintendent and former school principal Danilo Lopez for their refusal to comply with the mayor’s order.

    The DepEd represented by the office of the Solicitor General filed its opposition, asserting that the municipality of Bayambang had no valid and legitimate cause of action since the municipality failed to implead as indispensable party, the Education secretary, who has the authority to decide in cases involving transfer of school sites.

    On October 30, 2013, Fernandez issued a preliminary injunction, ordering the school officials to refrain from defying the order and to obey it.

    On April 28, 2014, the office of the Solicitor General filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the Court of Appeals (CA) seeking review of the decision of the RTC.

    The CA then affirmed the ruling of the trial court and the subsequent motion for reconsideration filed by the Education department was denied.

    The case was elevated to the Supreme Court but after the submission of pleadings by both parties, the SC ruled that the school officials failed to show that the appellate court committed any reversible error in holding that Judge Fernandez did not gravely abuse his discretion in issuing the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction.

    In effect, the SC ruled to uphold Executive Order 25 issued by the former mayor of Bayambang.

    It stated that SB members and Camacho are empowered to enact resolutions and ordinances to promote the well-being of their constituents under the general welfare clause of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991.

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