Public streets outside the commerce of man

1

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
A group of small canteens was built on a public street in our city, which previously was declared for public use. As stallholders grew in number, the public street became difficult for motorists and residents to traverse. The stallholders claim that the municipal government had issued them licenses to install their structures on select public street,s which they may lease. Was the issuance of their license proper?
Sincerely yours,
Gillian

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Dear Gillian,
Property for public use, in the provinces, cities and municipalities, consist of the provincial roads, city streets, municipal streets, the squares, fountains, public waters, promenades and public works for public service paid for by said provinces, cities or municipalities (Article 424, New Civil Code).

In the case of Francisco U. Dacanay v. Mayor Macario Asistio Jr., et al. (G.R. No. 93654, May 6, 1992), the Supreme Court, speaking through former Associate Justice Carolina Griño-Aquino, clarified that public streets are classified as public property, which cannot be the subject of a lease contract. Hence:

“There is no doubt that the disputed areas from which the private respondents’ market stalls are sought to be evicted are public streets, as found by the trial court in Civil Case No. C-12921. A public street is property for public use, hence outside the commerce of man (Arts. 420, 424, Civil Code). Being outside the commerce of man, it may not be the subject of lease or other contract (Villanueva et al. vs. Castañeda and Macalino, 15 SCRA 142, citing the Municipality of Cavite vs. Rojas, 30 SCRA 602; Espiritu vs. Municipal Council of Pozorrubio, 102 Phil. 869; and Muyot vs. De la Fuente, 48 O.G. 4860).

“As the stallholders pay fees to the City Government for the right to occupy portions of the public street, the City Government, contrary to law, has been leasing portions of the streets to them. Such leases or licenses are null and void for being contrary to law. The right of the public to use the city streets may not be bargained away through contract. The interests of a few should not prevail over the good of the greater number in the community whose health, peace, safety, good order and general welfare, the respondent city officials are under legal obligation to protect.”

From the foregoing, it is clear that the issuance of the licenses is improper. A municipality may not lease a portion of a public street, being beyond the commerce of man.

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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