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Editorial

Towering figure

/ 12:54 AM September 12, 2011

Wilfredo Torres is a towering figure in the real property business many times over. If his claims are to be believed, he owns lands that straddle prime areas around Quezon City, Taguig, Muntinlupa and elsewhere in Metro Manila, as well as huge swaths of lands in Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Quezon provinces. Heck, if you don’t look out, the land where you’ve pitched your roof and poured half your lifetime’s saving for your little corner under the sun may yet be Torres’—and he has all the land certificates to show for that, complete with approbation by the courts. Doubtless, this is one fellow who claims to stand on solid ground by allegedly grabbing other people’s grounds and pulling the rug from under their feet!

Consider the case of the hapless residents and business owners on a 24-hectare sprawl on Visayas Avenue in Quezon City. They are fighting off eviction because Torres has managed to convince Quezon Regional Trial Court Branch 224 that the property is legally owned by his late mother. If the Court of Appeals upholds the lower court’s ruling, then it’s eviction time for the homeowners of several middle-class subdivisions, a school, Claret seminary, a wedding reception venue and a chapel!

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The court dispute itself is more than 20 years old, but its origins go back 30 years before that, when Torres’ mother, Dominga Roxas Sumulong, filed a petition for administrative reconstitution of Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 56809, with a certified photocopy of a purported owner’s duplicate of the title as basis. Although the Land Registration Commission, the predecessor of today’s Land Registration Authority (LRA), allowed the reconstitution, and the Register of Deeds of Quezon City proceeded to issue TCT No. (56809) 113005 in the name of Sumulong, married to Teodorico Torres, it was found out later on by the LRA that the owner’s duplicate copy used for the reconstitution was a forgery and thus the title reconstituted from it was “irregularly issued,” and the titles issued from it, “likewise spurious.”

But by that time, Sumulong had sold several lots to spouses Manuel and Rosalina Aliño, who subdivided the lots and sold them. But the Aliños failed to pay the balance and so, in 1990, Torres filed a complaint with the court for the cancellation of TCTs and their reconveyance. In 1996, the court ruled in Torres’ favor. To get the TCTs finally canceled, Torres filed in 2000 a petition for the reconstitution of the original copies of several TCTs and the issuance of the owner’s duplicate copies of these titles, claiming that original copies filed with the register of deeds were destroyed in the Quezon City Hall fire of 1998. The court again ruled in his favor, with the LRA criticizing it for presuming the “genuineness and authenticity” of the titles.

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The dispute has a long history, and the fact that Torres has been at it for quite some time should indicate he’s really seeking for justice or he’s a smooth operator who’ll bid his time and wait for the kill. Perhaps more of the latter, since according to Vice President Jejomar Binay, quoting findings of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), which he heads, and the National Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates (NDAPSSS), the “Wilfredo S. Torres Group” is on the list of reported squatting syndicates. Binay has directed the HUDCC and the NDAPSSS to assist those threatened by eviction in Quezon City and urged the justice department to form a task force to go after Torres and similar groups.

But Binay is faced with a powerful paradox that has largely been engendered by a porous legal system for land titling—a system often in the thrall of interlopers and manipulators. Although claiming to be descended from the Sumulongs, none from the powerful Rizal political clan has ever heard or known of Torres’ mother. But Torres has a running feud with a military general over 30 hectares of land in Rizal province’s Baras town. The two of them at one time fenced off the land as their own, with the end-view of mining it for the legendary Marcos gold that they believed was buried there. In Guinyangan, Quezon, Torres is the subject of a complaint for allegedly putting up signs over a huge tract of land to warn “trespassers,” while collecting payment from a barangay official who had been given a “Spanish title” by Torres’ group to prove it owns the land occupied by the barangay.

As could be gleaned from the syndicate’s notorious resumé, it has been allowed free rein over its activities and, in fact, it has legitimized itself by the witting or unwitting complicity of national and local officials.

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TAGS: “Wilfredo S. Torres Group”, Bulacan, Cavite, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), Metro Manila, Muntinlupa, National Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates (NDAPSSS), Quezon, Quezon City, real property business, Rizal, Taguig, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Wilfredo Torres
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