Hhere is another case of the government being involved in land-grabbing, this time the Quezon City government, which is notorious for this abuse. The case is similar to that of the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF). The QC government tried to seize MSBF’s 7-hectare lot on Quezon Avenue and Agham Road, allegedly for real estate tax delinquency, but was rebuffed by the courts.
In this case, a house and lot in Corinthian Gardens worth at least P10 million was sold at a public auction for a tax delinquency of only P173,505.25. A buyer, one Alexander Catolos who, according to a witness, is “friendly” with then QC Treasurer Vic Endriga and “a frequent and successful bidder at public auction sales conducted by the Office of the City Treasurer of Quezon City,” bought it for only P800,000.
After the owners of the property, which is registered in the name of Casa Mikael International Inc., filed a petition for the annulment of the auction sale and for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and a writ of preliminary injunction, Catolos allegedly offered to pay another P2 million if the owners would withdraw the petition and vacate the premises. The owners refused.
In its defense, the public respondents, the QC Treasurer and Register of Deeds, relied only on the “presumption of regularity” in their actions. Yet the evidence points to many irregularities, to wit:
“1. the absence of proof of publication of the final notice of delinquency;
“2. the absence of proof of mailing of the same;
“3. the highly irregular and suspicious claims of mailing and posting of notices on Sundays when government offices are closed for official business; and
“4. a disturbingly close relationship between Respondent Endriga and Respondent Catolos.”
The notices were sent to the wrong address and the owners never received any of these notices. The respondents presented no proof that the owners had received the notices. The owners’ first inkling that the house and lot had been sold at a public auction was a letter from a law firm, dated July 26, 2007, but received in August 2007, informing them of the execution of the Final Bill of Sale executed by QC Treasurer Endriga “in respect of a public auction sale on Sept. 15, 2005.” The letter also demanded that the owners vacate the premises and surrender the duplicate title to the property so a new title can be issued to Catolos. Imagine the shock of the owners.
“At no time did the [owners] receive by registered mail from the [Office of the QC Treasurer] any of the notices or statements enumerated in the Final Bill of Sale, specifically, the alleged (i) Statement of Delinquency; (ii) Final Notice of Delinquency; (iii) Warrant of Levy; and (iv) Notice of sale of Delinquent Real Property,” Casa Mikael said in its petition.
Furthermore, no notice of assessment was received by the owners. Neither did the Office of the QC Treasurer claim that it sent such a notice. In a decision, the Supreme Court cited the importance of an assessment: “An assessment contains not only a computation of tax liabilities but also a demand for payment within a prescribed period. It also signals the time when penalties and interests begin to accrue against the taxpayer. To enable the taxpayer to determine the remedies thereon, due process requires that it must be served on and received by the taxpayer.”
In a decision upheld by the high court in the case filed by the MSBF against the QC government, the regional trial court said:
“Inasmuch as no prior notice of assessment was served, there is no basis to collect any tax liability, no obligation arose on the part of the Plaintiff to pay the amount of real property taxes sought to be collected. Consequently, Plaintiff never became delinquent in the payment of said taxes to defendant Quezon City, and the latter never acquired any right to sell the subject properties in a public auction.”
For the same reason, Casa Mikael did not become delinquent in the payment of real estate taxes to the QC government and the latter never acquired any right to sell the property in a public auction.
Nevertheless, Catolos was able to obtain a writ of possession and, with the aid of the QC Sheriff, some city policemen, and about 40 watch-your-car boys around QC Hall, the residents of the property, Ruby Coyiuto and her young child, were forcibly thrown out of the house with their small possessions.
In its decision of Sept. 9, 2011, Branch 100 of the QC RTC issued a writ of preliminary injunction in favor of Casa Mikael. It said: “To continue to allow Casa Mikael to be deprived of the possession of the subject property while its Petition for Relief from Judgment is being heard and tried is a violation of its right (to due process).”
Catolos filed a motion for reconsideration and for the disqualification and voluntary inhibition of Judge Marie Christine A. Jacob from the case.
In her decision on that case, Judge Jacob said: “This Court is totally appalled by Catolos’ utterly baseless and malicious and debasing allegations to rationalize his filing of Motion for Voluntary Inhibition. His penchant to distort facts, draw groundless conclusions and impute impropriety where none exists to pursue his personal ends is revealing of the reason why this legal row came about in the first place…
“…Fully aware that Catolos’ tactic in filing an unfounded motion for disqualification of the undersigned is a means of forum shopping for a more friendly judge, the undersigned is also mindful of the fact that if she holds on to this case, it may be misconstrued as an overriding desire to keep the same.”
Jacob thus inhibited herself from the case.
The case is now with another judge. We will watch how he/she conducts and rules on this case.