• SSS goes to the Supreme Court

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    Emeterio Sd. Perez

    AS I wrote in the previous Due Diligencer, I am resuming my piece on the Zobel-owned Hacienda Bigaa’s ejectment suit. Like the Zobels who owned the hacienda, the fisherman persisted in the 14-year-old court war and won all the way from the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Calatagan and the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Batangas to the Court of Appeals.

    Finally, the Supreme Court also ruled against the hacienda in 2010, allowing the fisherman’s heirs to continue occupying a fishing ground that the high court said was not part of Hacienda Bigaa.

    I am also reporting in today’s column the petition of the Social Security System (SSS) before the Supreme Court. However, this piece is not meant to prejudge the case that has already reached the high tribunal.

    In the case docketed under G.R. No. 174160, the high court affirmed the ruling of the lower courts against Hacienda Bigaa’s petition to eject Epifanio Chavez from 2,000 hectares that the Zobels had annexed to their property.

    Ayala y Cia and/or Alfonso, Jacobo and Enrique Zobel were identified in court filings as the owners of Hacienda Bigaa.

    In May 2001, Hacienda Bigaa appealed to the high court, which eventually ruled against it, after it lost at the Court of Appeals, which affirmed “in toto” the rulings of the Calatagan’s MTC and Batangas’s RTC.

    In short, the Zobels lost the case of forcible entry they filed through Hacienda Bigaa against Epifanio Chavez, who did not live long enough to attain justice on his side. He was replaced as defendant by Santiago Chavez in the appeal filed by Hacienda Bigaa before the high court.

    Expanded area

    In ruling against Hacienda Bigaa on April 20, 2010, the Supreme Court quoted from its own decisions in similar cases. “Significantly,” the justices said in a decision written by Justice Arturo Brion, “we declared…that the Republic, as the rightful owner of the expanded portions of the public domain has the right to place its lessees and permittees…in possession of the fishpond lots…” Four other justices agreed with Justice Brion.

    “Expanded portions” refers to the 2,000 hectares of public domain that Zobels added to 9,652,583 hectares covered by TCT No. 722. Hacienda Bigaa is now Hacienda Calatagan.

    According to court filings, the additional 2,000 hectares consisted, “among others, of beach, foreshore and bay areas, and navigable waters (excess areas), making it appear that these excess areas are part of Hacienda Calatagan’s TCT No. 722.”

    The Supreme Court also noted that “the Ayalas and/or Zobels later ordered the subdivision of the hacienda, including these excess areas, and sold the subdivided lots to third parties.”

    SSS’s petition

    While Hacienda Bigaa lost its case of forcible entry against Chavez all the way to the high court, the SSS is still mired in what could be a long legal battle by going to the Supreme Court.

    As keeper of the contributions of 34 million member-workers and dispenser of the monthly pensions of retirees, SSS cited as respondents Pasay City RTC Judge Gina Bibat-Palamos for her ruling against it, and the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) for “expropriating” its property.

    Bibat-Palamos, SSS said, not only granted NGCP a “Writ of Possession” but even described its court filing as “a mere scrap of paper.”

    There is a similarity in the legal battle waged by the SSS and Hacienda Bigaa, as both were losers in the lower courts.

    The big difference lies in their respective petitions. The SSS questioned NGCP’s “expropriation” and valuation of its property. It also asked the high court if, being a private corporation, NGCP has the right to expropriate government property.

    Hacienda Bigaa sued Chavez for forcible entry into its expanded property and lost. In deciding against it, high court ruled that the 2,000-hectare expansion of the hacienda was part of public domain.

    Expropriation

    In SSS’s suit, the pension fund noted that the NGCP originally “expropriated” 42,218 square meters (sqm) or 4.218 hectares but later expanded the “expropriated” area to 60,872 sqm or 6.872 hectares. It also valued SSS’s property at a low of P24,000 per sqm and deposited P1.461 billion with the Office of the Clerk of Court.

    However, the SSS said that based on zonal value, its 6.872-hectare property was worth P185,000 per sqm, or a total value of P11,261,320,000.

    The SSS told Supreme Court that despite NGCP’s low valuation, “Judge Palamos issued a writ of possession (to NGCP) without first resolving NGCP’s authority to expropriate a government property.” It also emphasized in its petition that the “absence of NGCP’s specific authority to acquire public property nullifies Judge Palamos’ issuance of a writ of possession.”

    Finally, the SSS asked the high court to nullify the order of Bibat-Palamos awarding SSS’s property to NGCP. The decision of the high court will center on whether or not “expropriation” is an exclusive domain of government. Isn’t the Supreme Court’s definition of the term worth waiting for? Just asking.

    esdperez@gmail.com

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