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Land dispute sent back to CA

Vol. XXII, No. 107 [ BusinessWorld Online ]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

THE SUPREME Court has ordered the Court of Appeals to determine the real owners of a 34-hectare prime lot at the Piedad Estate in Old Balara, Quezon City.

In a 37-page decision penned by Associate Justice Dante O. Tinga, the full court recalled an earlier decision of its division favoring the heirs of Homer L. Barque over the Manotok family. Seven justices concurred, six dissented and one took no part.

The area is argely undeveloped, but is considered a prime lot since it straddles Capitol Golf Club and Ayala Heights subdivision. The property reportedly costs P5 billion.

"There is not yet any sufficient evidence for us to warrant the annulment of the Manotok title. All that record indicates thus far is evidence not yet refuted by clear and convincing proof that the Manotoks’ claim to the title is flawed," the high court said.

It said the appellate court was in a better position to rule on the facts to be presented by the parties.

The issue started from a fire that gutted some parts the Quezon City Hall on June 11, 1988. Also burned down was the Office of the Register of Deeds. As a result, numerous certificates of title were destroyed.

One of the controversies that arose from the incident was the legal battle between the Barque and Manotok families. First to file for the reconstitution of title was the Barque family, claiming to have the title and tax receipts and declarations to prove its ownership. But the Mano-toks opposed the motion, claiming to have legal documents proving their right to the property.

The Land Registration Authority (LRA) concluded in 1998 that the Manotok title had been fraudulently restored. It said restoring the Barque family’s would only be possible after the title of the other is canceled through a trial court hearing. The families brought the issue to the appellate court, which favored the Barques. The high court’s first division later affirmed the ruling. The full court later voted to hear the case since the stability of the Torrens system of registration was in question. It also said the Court of Appeals does not have the power to cancel titles.

In a text message, the Barque family said: "[The ruling] is a blow to the courts’ integrity." Teresita Barque-Hernandez said this was the first time in the Supreme Court’s history that an entry of judgment had been reversed. She said they would seek a reconsideration of the ruling — Ira P. Pedrasa


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