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SC upholds developer Megaworld’s position in Wack-Wack condo project row

By Benjamin B. Pulta
05/16/2012 [ tribune.net.ph ]

The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) in favor of a local real estate developer firm over the necessary permits to put up a residential condominium complex in Mandaluyong City.

In its decision, the high court’s First Division through Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro denied the petition filed by the Addition Hills Mandaluyong Civic and Social Organization Inc. (AHMCSO) against Megaworld Properties and Holdings Inc. and Wilfredo Imperial, in his capacity as director of the National Capital Region Unit of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB).

Other members of the tribunal’s First Division are Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo and Martin Villarama Jr.

The decision pointed out that the organization opposing the developer’s project failed to exhaust all other administrative remedies before elevating the case to the tribunal.

“A litigant cannot go around the authority of the concerned administrative agency and directly seek redress from the courts. Thus, when the law provides for a remedy against a certain action of an administrative board, body, or officer, relief to the courts can be made only after exhausting all remedies provided therein. It is settled that the non-observance of the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies results in lack of cause of action, which is one of the grounds in the Rules of Court justifying the dismissal of the complaint,” the SC said.

The court added that the CA committed no reversible error in setting aside the trial court decision and dismissing the complaint.

Megaworld was the registered owner of a parcel of land located along Lee Street, Barangay Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City with an area of 6,148 square meters. In 1994, the firm conceptualized the construction of a residential condominium complex on the parcel of land called the Wack-Wack Heights Condominium consisting of a cluster of six four-story buildings and one 17-story tower.

The developer then secured the necessary clearances, licenses and permits for the condominium project, including a Certificate of Locational Viability (CLV), and a Development Permit, both by the HLURB; an Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC), by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); a Building Permit, by the Office of the Building Official of Mandaluyong City, and a Barangay Clearance, from the office of the Barangay Chairman of Addition Hills.

Construction of the condominium project began, but on June 30, 1995, AHMCSO filed a complaint before the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City Branch 158 to annul the Building Permit, CLV, ECC and Development Permit granted to Megaworld; to prohibit the issuance to Megaworld of Certificate of Registration and License to Sell Condominium Units, and to permanently enjoin local and national building officials from issuing licenses and permits to the firm.

Megaworld filed a Motion to Dismiss the case for lack of cause of action and that jurisdiction over the case was with the HLURB and not with the regular courts.The trial court rendered a Decision dated Sept. 10, 1998 in favor of AHMCSO and directed Megaworld to rectify its Wack Wack Heights Project for it to conform to the requirements of an R-2 zone of Mandaluyong City and of the Metro Manila Zoning Ordinance 81-01.

The firm appealed to the CA which reversed and set aside the aforementioned trial court ruling, prompting the AHMCSO to take the case to the high court.

Ruling in favor of the developer, the SC explained that “(w)hat is apparent...is that petitioner (AHMSCO) unjustifiably failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available with the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) before seeking recourse with the trial court.”

“Under the rules of the HLURB... a complaint to annul any permit issued by the HLURB may be filed before the Housing and Land Use Arbiter (HLA). Therefore, petitioner’s action to annul the Certificate of Locational Viability (CLV) and the Development Permit issued by the HLURB on Oct. 25, 1994 and Nov. 11, 1994, respectively, in favor of private respondent for its Wack-Wack Heights Condominium Project should have been properly filed before the HLURB instead of the trial court,” the SC explained.
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