Why QC government is grabbing MSBF gardens
I have received many queries about the land-grabbing by the Quezon City government of the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) Environment Center on Quezon Avenue. The most asked question was: Can City Hall really do that when the legal facts are against it? What are our courts doing?
Answer: The Quezon City Regional Trial Court has twice decided against City Hall, one issuing a permanent injunction against any takeover. However, City Hall appealed the case to the Supreme Court. And because of the Supreme Court’s notorious slowness, the case sleeps there.
Knowing that it has a weak case, City Hall is using naked brute force and abuse of power to complete the takeover before the Supreme Court issues a decision so that by the time the decision is issued, it has become moot and academic. By the way, the Supreme Court itself has confirmed the usufructuary rights of the MSBF over the seven-hectare property on Quezon Avenue and Agham Road, which is owned by the National Housing Authority (NHA).
How did all these start? Several years ago, some Quezon City officials dreamed of putting up a Central Business District in the North Triangle. The MSBF Environment Center is within this area.
To realize its dream—which is against environmental protection—the city council, in 2000, enacted a zoning ordinance which classified that part of Quezon City, including the seven-hectare MSBF gardens, into a “commercial metropolitan,” which is described as a subdivision of an area characterized by heavy commercial development and multilevel commercial buildings and light industries.
To get MSBF out of the usufruct area, the Quezon City treasurer, without any prior assessment, sent notices of delinquency in the payment of real property taxes to MSBF. When MSBF declined to pay, City Hall auctioned off the property on Dec. 16, 2005, where it was the highest bidder.
However the Quezon City RTC nullified the sale on the ground that there was no prior
assessment of the realty taxes against MSBF. Subsequently, again without making a prior assessment, City Hall declared MSBF delinquent in the payment of real estate taxes. On July 7, 2011, the Quezon City treasurer auctioned off the property for the second time, and again it was the highest bidder.
It should be pointed out, however, that the NHA, the owner of the property, is exempt from real estate taxes under the Urban Development and Housing Act (Republic Act No. 7279). On the other hand, MSBF, the usufructuary of the property, is exempt from realty taxes under Article 597 of the Civil Code of the Philippines.
It must also be pointed out that, despite a provision of the Quezon City Revenue Code of 1993 upheld by the Supreme Court, the sale at public auction should be registered or annotated on the title of the land auctioned off for the one-year redemption period to start running. The Quezon City treasurer never registered the auction sale with the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City. The NHA’s transfer certificate of title covering the seven-hectare property contains no annotation of such sale.
Despite such nonregistration, the Quezon City treasurer sent MSBF, on May 9, 2012, a Notice of Sold Real Property and a Final Notice to Exercise the Right of Redemption over the property, deceivingly warning that under the Local Government Code—which the Supreme Court has earlier declared inapplicable to Quezon City—failure to redeem the property would vest upon it, City Hall, ownership.
On July 10, 2012, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista then sent MSBF a letter demanding that it immediately vacate the property. Before the opening of office hours on the same day, personnel of the Quezon City’s Department of Public Order and Safety (DPOS), aided by 100 policemen from the Quezon City police district, swooped down on the MSBF premises and forcibly took over it, padlocking the vehicular and pedestrian gates, as well as the business establishments therein, thus preventing the flow of vehicles and people into and out of the premises. Huge tarpaulins proclaiming “This Property is Forfeited in Favor of the Quezon City Government” were posted all around the perimeter.
Owing to the legal actions instituted by
MSBF in the Office of the Ombudsman and the civil courts, coupled with rising public sentiment and adverse publicity, City Hall relaxed its stranglehold on the property after a few months. This gave MSBF and its tenants an opportunity to recover some of their lost business, although they remained constantly under the threat of forcible closure.
Recently, it was discovered that the seven-hectare parcel under MSBF’s usufruct was segregated and separately titled on April 11, 2012. The new title contains the annotation that as early as 2009, the NHA and Ayala Land, Inc. have executed a Joint Venture Agreement for the construction and development of the area into a mixed-use complex.
Before daybreak of Dec. 9, 2013, 17 months after the first unlawful seizure of the MSBF premises, DPOS personnel and private security guards armed with shotguns, again swooped down on the MSBF gardens. As in the first attempt, huge tarpaulins were posted around the perimeter proclaiming that the property had been forfeited in favor of the Quezon City government.
Other tarpaulins declared: “Tenants have been relocated to the Quezon City Memorial Circle,” and “Notice to all tenants: You are hereby given until Dec. 31, 2013 (Tuesday) to transfer/remove all plants and items in your store/shop, while all structures are to be dismantled after the end of the year on a [case by case] basis.”
All these while the legal cases are pending in the Office of the Ombudsman and the civil courts, and without any court order or writ or prior notice to MSBF. (To be continued)
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