Private claimants to a 77-hectare property in Quezon City, on which the posh Ayala Technohub sits, have accused the University of the Philippines (UP) of seizing the land “illegally” by invoking an “unconstitutional” Supreme Court (SC) division ruling issued more than a decade ago.
The prime property, now the subject of a legal tug-of-war, is worth a whopping P77 billion.
Heirs of claimants Jorge H. Chin and Renato R. Mallari filed at the SC last month a petition for substantial justice in a bid to retrieve their land from UP, which leased the property to the Ayala Techno Park.
Respondents in the cases docketed as GR Nos. 133547 and 133843, copies of which were obtained by The Manila Times, assailed as “unconstitutional” the November 11, 2003 decision of the High Court’s First Division that rescinded their titles over the land.
Chin and Mallari said they were the victims of a grave injustice and extrinsic fraud because they have owned the property since the 1970s.
Through their lawyers and representatives, the claimants said that while they have already lost their land by virtue of the 2003 decision that was penned by retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, they are appealing to the SC under Ma. Lourdes Sereno to reopen the case under the doctrine of “substantial justice.”
They cited jurisprudence well settled in past SC decisions that emphasized that procedural justice and legal technicalities should not get in the way of the courts affording “substantial justice” to litigants.
The petitioners said Puno’s ponencia, concurred in by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide and Associate Justice Alicia Martinez, was unconstitutional and thus must be overturned by the tribunal, whether as a division or sitting en banc.
The claimants said the questioned ruling was issued in “gross disregard” of the Constitution’s admonition that the “SC is not a trier of facts” and that it is “bound by the factual findings of lower courts such as the Court of Appeals (CA).”
Chin and Mallari said their ownership of the 77 hectares had already been affirmed by the unanimous decision issued on February 10, 2000 by the SC’s First Division that was made final and executory, and the ruling by the Court of Appeals that they “have a better right” over the property against UP.
Thus, they added, they got the shock of their lives when the Puno ponencia overturned the February 10, 2000 decision and set aside the division’s own December 7, 2001 resolution that ordered the CA to determine UP’s and Chin and Mallari’s overlapping claims on the 77 hectares.
The CA favored Chin and Mallari over UP based on a verification report from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources submitted to Branch 99 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), which said the two were the true and absolute owners based on pertinent documents, the claimants said.
In their petition, Chin and Mallari asked the SC to take note of the scathing dissenting opinion of Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago on the Puno ponencia.
Santiago noted that the factual findings of the CA are well supported by records so that its conclusions and recommendations must be upheld, as they are binding on the SC, particularly its finding that the evidence preponderates in favor of Chin and Mallari. Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna concurred with Santiago’s dissent.
The former justice said Chin and Mallari have a better right over the 77 hectares as shown by the reports and findings of various government officials and agencies. The two showed that the titles to the 77-hectare property — TCT Nos. 52928 and 52929 — are under their names.
To further prove ownership, they said the source of UP’s title, Original Certificate of Title No. 735, was registered much later and the university’s claim of ownership is not supported by clear, competent and substantial evidence.
Chin and Mallari added that the Puno ponencia did not even contain any justification as to why it was disregarding the factual findings of the CA.
“As the dissent of Justice Ynares-Santiago will show, there was indeed no basis for upholding UP’s claim, more particularly because, as the CA found, its supposed land title was issued on May 3, 1914 which was a Sunday,” they said.
Records also showed that the titles of the petitioners were issued in 1938 while those of UP’s were issued in 1949.
In the latest petition, the claimants said that the property’s worth “carries a huge financial impact on businesses in the country, and could affect the welfare of communities across the nation.”
They argued that the resolution of the motion for intervention that UP filed in the previous cases “should have been elevated to the Court En Banc, since it has become clear that the doctrine or principle laid down earlier by the First Division in its unanimous Decision and Resolution faced reversal or modification by the new majority of the Division.”
UP, on the other hand, argued that the disputes had been settled and that the university stands by its rightful claim over the property.
In an interview with The Manila Times, lawyer Ricardo Lapesura Jr., who handled the case, stressed that the petition for substantial justice may not be given merit.
“Per our records, UP received an Entry of Judgment in the subject case last March 21, 2005. So the case is already closed and terminated,” he explained.
SC spokesman Theodore Te, who was UP’s vice president for legal affairs when the case was being heard by the High Court, refused to comment on the latest petition filed by the heirs of the claimants.
“I don’t think it’s proper for me to speak on that case because I no longer work as UP legal counsel. I do know that that claim has long been dismissed and settled by the final decision of the SC and also by the terms of the UP charter,” Te said in a separate interview.
It was learned that the High Court, on September 8, 2004, upheld UP’s ownership of the property in a separate petition filed by another private respondent, Domingo Canero. This ruling further affected the claims of Chin and Mallari.
The SC decision, also penned by Puno, told “courts and unscrupulous lawyers to stop entertaining spurious cases seeking further to assail respondent UP’s title.”
Reached for comment, the former Chief Justice told The Manila Times that he stands by their decision in the past.
“The decision speaks for itself,” he said in a text message.