By Benjamin B. Pulta
12/21/2008 [ tribune.net.ph ]
The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Philippine National Railways (PNR) to institute the appropriate expropriation action over a piece of agricultural real estate in Laguna province that used to be planted with sugarcane and mango trees which the PNR forcibly took over to put up railroads.
In a decision, the high court’s Third Division partially granted the petition of Forfom Development Corp., which sued PNR over the latter’s having wrested several parcels of land in Barangay San Vicente, San Pedro town, Laguna, originally registered in the name of Dr. Felix Limcaoco.
In a Cabinet meeting held on Nov. 1, 1972, then President Ferdinand Marcos approved the Presidential Commuter Service Project, more commonly known as the San Pedro-Carmona (Cavite) Commuter Line Project.
A day after, Malacañang issued out Resolution 751 authorizing PNR’s general manager to undertake the project, which was implemented with the installation of railroad facilities and appurtenances.
During the construction of the commuter line, several properties owned by private individuals/corporations were traversed as “right-of-way.”
Among the properties through which the commuter line passed was a 100,128 square-meter portion owned by Forfom.
On Aug. 24, 1990, Forfom filed before the Biñan town, Laguna Regional Trial Court (RTC) a complaint for “recovery of possession of real property and/or damages.”
In its suit, the firm alleged that the PNR, with the aid of military men, and without its consent and against its will, occupied 100,128 square meters of its property located in San Pedro, Laguna and installed thereon railroad and railway facilities and appurtenances.
It further alleged that the PNR rented out portions of the property to squatters along the railroad tracks.
Forform said despite repeated verbal and written demands it had sent it for the return of the property or for the payment of its price, the PNR failed to comply.
The firm asked the court to order the PNR to vacate the property and to cause the eviction of all shanties and squatters that the railway company had taken in as lessees and for the court to restore its ownership of the land.
Forfom also asked for the PNR to be ordered to pay P1,000 per month per hectare from the time of its occupation of the property until the same is vacated as rentals, plus interest at 24 percent per annum; P1,600,000 as unrealized income from occupation of the property up to the present, plus 12 percent interest per annum until fully paid; P150,000 for actual damages on account of the destruction of crops and improvements on the property when the occupation of the property commenced plus 12 percent interest per annum until fully paid; at least P100,000 as exemplary damages; P100,000 plus 15 percent of the amount and properties to be recovered as attorney’s fees; and costs of the suit.
In its defense, the PNR alleged that per authority granted by law (Presidential Decree 741), it had acquired parcels of land used in the construction of the railway track in Carmona, Cavite.
It , however, denied it had leased the property to tenants. It also denied having acquired the property without the consent of Limcaoco, as it had done so through negotiations with its respective owners.
The PNR moreover asserted that no crop was damaged when it took over the property.
It stressed it was not liable for unrealized income, exemplary damages and attorney’s fees as being sought by Forfom.
The PNR explained that Marcos had approved the project – a 5.1 kilometer railroad extension line from San Pedro, Laguna to Barangay San Jose, Carmona, Cavite to serve the squatters’ resettlement area in the said localities.
It said it had negotiated with the respective owners of the affected properties and that they were paid just compensation. ]
Limcaoco, the PNR said, was not paid because he failed to present the corresponding titles to his properties.
The government railway firm further pointed out that the right to just compensation for the subject property was the declared fair market value at the time of its having taken over it, which was at P0.60 per square meter.
The PNR said in a meeting its officials held with the representatives of Limcaoco, they came to an agreement on a price for the estate, which was P1.25 per square meter, the amount the adjoining owners was paid.
With these assertions, the PNR asked the court to dismiss Forfom’s complaint and for it to compel the owner of the estates to accept the amount of P1.25 per square meter as price for the properties.
Ruling to partially grant the suit, the SC said: “In the case at bar, the just compensation should be reckoned from the time of taking which is January 1973.”
“Admittedly, the PNR’s occupation of Forfom’s property for almost 18 years entitles the latter to payment of interest at the legal rate of 6 percent on the value of the land at the time of taking until full payment is made by the PNR.”
“For almost 18 years, the PNR has enjoyed possession of the land in question without the benefit of expropriation proceedings. It is apparent from its actuations that it has no intention of filing any expropriation case in order to formally place the subject land in its name.
“All these years, it has given Forfom the runaround, failing to pay the just compensation it rightly deserves. PNR’s uncaring and indifferent posture must be corrected with the awarding of exemplary damages, attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation,“ the high court ruled.
The SC thereafter required the PNR to undergo expropriation proceedings so that just compensation due to its owner may be determined in accordance with the Rules of Court, “with interest at the legal rate of 6 percent per annum from the time of taking until full payment is made.“
The high tribunal also said Forfom’s claim of the PNR having damaged crops in its undertaking of the railway project should be backed by evidence, which should be presented before the expropriation court.