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QC gov’t as land-grabber

07:09 PM December 24, 2013

(Second of three parts)

Merry Christmas to everybody but not to officials of the Quezon City government who are behind the land-grabbing of the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation Environmental Center.

Now to continue the column of Dec. 23 on the land-grabbing:

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First, a background.  In 1977, the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) was granted usufructuary rights for 50 years over seven hectares of land on Quezon Avenue and Agham Road, which is owned by the National Housing Authority (NHA), by Proclamation No. 1670. It was tasked with producing tree seedlings for the government’s reforestation program and to provide seeds, plants and gardening materials to home gardeners.

Through the years, MSBF reforested with Benguet pines 2,000 hectares of mountainside in Baras, Rizal (the place looked like a little Baguio), the Marikina Watershed and the La Mesa Dam watershed.

It also provided various services to gardeners and homeowners such as making available to them vegetable seeds, seedlings of trees and ornamental plants; pruning trees and cutting trees downed by storms then making the leaves and twigs into compost which they gave to gardeners; and converting the trunks and branches into charcoal for orchid growers. It also planted seedlings of trees and ornamentals in parks and private gardens, and gave expert advice to gardeners.

It became home to leading garden centers, pet shops and a butterfly house. It also balled and relocated trees and treated plant diseases, and gave seminars on tree farming, greenhouse construction and maintenance, reforestation, environmental preservation, waste disposal, composting and plant clinics.

Tenant gardeners also sold cut flowers, orchids, ornamental plants and other garden materials to homeowners. They were also given nurseries measuring from 200 square meters to 2,000 sq m.

Several years ago, a land developer planted the idea of a business center in Quezon City. This was discussed in the previous column. The MSBF Environmental Center happened to be inside the planned business center. But MSBF’s 50-year usufructuary rights over the area from 1977 was upheld by the Supreme Court on April 13, 2005 (G.R. 148830).

So in an attempt to take over the MSBF compound, the QC Council passed an ordinance in 2000 rezoning the area where MSBF is located into a commercial zone in preparation for the business center. (The QC government also tried to take over the Ninoy Aquino Wildlife Center, and the Veterans and Children’s hospital compounds but was rebuffed.)

As a commercial zone, the MSBF and its tenants are no longer permitted to use the compound as an environmental center. The city refused to renew business permits of MSBF and its tenants although it accepted their payments for the permits.

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MSBF went to court with a petition for the issuance of an injunction against the QC government. In its defense, the QC government cited its police power.

Last June, Judge Afable E. Cajigal of the QC Regional Trial Court not only granted a permanent injunction but also ordered the QC government to issue a locational clearance and a business permit to MSBF.

In his decision, Judge Cajigal said: “The MSBF Environmental Center is the only green spot in practically a sea of environmental pollutants… providing commuters, the surrounding areas and the public in general a breathing space where fresh air is still available in a highly polluted surrounding.”

As for the police power claimed by the QC government, the judge said: “The exercise of police power by the local government is valid unless it contravenes [the Constitution] or an act of [Congress] or is unreasonable, oppressive, partial, discriminating or in derogation of a common right…”

“The questioned amended zoning ordinance … must be struck down for not being reasonably necessary to accomplish the City’s purpose. More importantly, it is oppressive of private rights…

“To force the petitioner to change the use of the subject property under the proclamation to only those consistent with [the zoning ordinance] clearly constitutes arbitrary intrusion into private property rights and a violation of the due process clause…”

“What the city government seeks to achieve with the reclassification of the 7-hectare area under the petitioner’s usufruct is to clear it for development into a metropolitan commercial zone… Such goal is sought to be achieved by legislating the petitioner out of the usufruct area, which it has a right to use up to 2027, by simply changing the use to which it can be devoted.”

He said that the ordinance amends Proclamation No. 1670 which gives usufructuary rights to MSBF. “But such amendment by the zoning ordinance (a local law) of Proclamation 1670 (a national law)  cannot be sustained for being ultra vires–beyond the competence of the local legislative body to enact–hence, illegal.”

He added that the questioned zoning ordinance sought to be applied to MSBF “is unconstitutional … and an invalid exercise of police power.”

Failing in this ordinance ploy, the QC government tried another tack: It billed MSBF P57 million for back real estate taxes for the compound. However, the property is owned by the NHA which is exempted from the payment of realty and income taxes by the Urban Development and Housing Act or Republic Act No. 7279.

When neither the NHA nor the MSBF paid the amount, City Hall sold the property at a public auction where it was the lone bidder. Then claiming the property as its own, it sent policemen and members of the Department of Public Order and Safety to seize the property.

(To be concluded)

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