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As I See It

The truth behind land-grabbing of seedling bank

/ 02:01 AM August 20, 2012

So the people will know the truth behind the grabbing by the Quezon City government of the 7-hectare Manila Seedling Bank at the corner of Edsa and Quezon Avenue, here is the result of a careful investigation of the case:

In its obsession to give to Ayala Land Inc. the whole of the North Triangle in Quezon City for development into a Central Business District, the Quezon City government through legal (but illegal) manipulation and by force grabbed the 7-hectare area which, by virtue of Proclamation 1670, the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) is occupying under usufruct. The MSBF grows in the area seedlings of forest trees, fruit trees, garden plants and flowers, as well as vegetable seeds. These MSBF distributes to those who need them, including government entities, at very low prices. MSBF was, in the first place, created to provide seedlings for the government’s reforestation program. It also provides help and advice to home gardeners.

While the National Housing Authority (NHA) is the registered owner of the property, MSBF’s usufruct over the area was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, recognizing such right to last up to 2027. But City Hall, hell-bent on defeating such right, illegally sought to collect from MSBF real estate taxes on the property when such taxes, under Article 597 of the Civil Code, are the liability of the NHA which owns the property.

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Without issuing the required prior notice of assessment, the city treasurer issued to MSBF a Notice of Delinquency in the payment of real estate taxes over the 7-hectare area, followed by a Final Notice of Delinquency and a Notice of Levy. Subsequently, the area was sold at public auction to the city government.

However, under our laws, without prior notice of assessment, there could be no obligation to pay the realty taxes and no delinquency could be incurred. Hence, the sale of the property was totally unwarranted and illegal. Moreover, under Article 597 of the Civil Code, realty taxes under usufruct are the liability not of the usufructuary but that of the owner. Hence

MSBF, being the usufructuary of the property, is not liable for realty taxes. Accordingly, there is here not only illegal taxation but also illegal exaction, punishable under Article 213 of the Revised Penal Code. In short, the acquisition by the QC government of the 7-hectare property under MSBF’s usufruct is null and void.

The Supreme Court has held that usufruct is a real right; as such, it attaches to the property and is not lost or defeated by a change of ownership. In fact, under the Civil Code, change of ownership of the property under usufruct does not terminate or extinguish the usufruct. Yet on July 10, 2012, QC Mayor Herbert Bautista sent MSBF a letter saying that the QC government has become the owner of the 7-hectare property and demanding that MSBF vacate the premises, failing which it intends to “avail of all legal remedies allowed pursuant to law to vest upon the Quezon City government possession and ownership.”

Engaging, however, in double speak, instead of resorting to legal remedies allowed by law, the mayor sent along with the letter contingents of the Department of Public Order and Safety (DOPS). Aided and abetted by about 100 policemen, including mobile cars under orders of Police Chief Supt. Mario de la Vega of the QC Police District, DOPS forcibly occupied and padlocked the gates and the tenants’ establishments in the MSBF area.

This is plain and simple land-grabbing. The Constitution prohibits the deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The land-grabbing by the QC government of MSBF’s 7-hectare area has caused the latter immeasurable loss.

The NHA has not done anything to stop the public auction of the 7-hectare portion of its North Triangle property despite the fact that, as a government-owned property, it is not taxable, and notwithstanding the illegal process that Quezon City Hall has resorted to. As a consequence, the NHA has lost to the QC government the property which former city treasurer, now City Administrator Victor Endriga valued at P100,000 per square meter or P7 billion. This is clearly a violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for which the NHA general manager should be prosecuted.

The 7-hectare property was allegedly sold at public auction for P40,980,968.24 as realty taxes on the property from 2001 to the first quarter of 2011. The QC treasurer failed to take action to collect the realty taxes due on the property from 1992 (the year the Local Government Code or LGC took effect) until 2000. This inaction by the city treasurer for more than five years from the date the taxes became due resulted in the prescription of action to collect such taxes pursuant to Section 270 of the LGC.

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The acts complained of above by the MSBF also constitute a clear violation of Section 4 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713) for which prosecution is warranted.

What is ironic is that just across the street from the MSBF property is a bigger piece of government land that is decaying because it is full of squatters. Why do the QC government and Ayala Land not develop this first, instead of grabbing land from law-abiding citizens who are helping and serving QC citizens? By the time the QC government and Ayala Land are finished developing this area, MSBF’s usufruct on the property would be over and they can then legally take over it.

How can you have a respectable and attractive business center when just across the street is a colony of squatters? Mayor Bautista announced the relocation of 200,000 squatters from danger areas. Why not include the squatters on Quezon Avenue?

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TAGS: land-grabbing, manila seedling bank, Quezon City
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