QC gov’t a land-grabber? | Inquirer Opinion
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QC gov’t a land-grabber?

/ 09:41 PM December 26, 2013

(Concluded from Dec. 25)

Last July, like the Nazi Gestapo and the Japanese Kempeitai, Quezon City policemen, aided by members of the city’s Department of Public Order and Safety and private security guards, swooped down on the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) Environmental Center.

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Without a court order or any other official document and using brute force, the team occupied the whole compound and padlocked the gates so that no one could get in or out.

The tenant-gardeners were told to close shop and dismantle their gardens. They were offered stalls at the Quezon Memorial Circle, for which they had to pay rent. But the stalls were mere cubicles; there would be no room for their nurseries whereas in the MSBF Environmental Center they had space of 200 to 2,000 square meters each.

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MSBF and the gardeners went to court.

While the case was being heard, City Hall informed the gardeners that they would be allowed to continue operating if they signed a promissory letter that they would move out within six months. But even if their gardens were in the

MSBF compound, they would have to pay rent to City Hall. Meanwhile, the case was frozen in court. Guess who pressured the judge to freeze it?

Early this month, City Hall’s storm troopers, still without a court order and still using brute force, swooped down on the MSBF Environmental Center again and padlocked it. Customers were barred—a cruel thing in a season when many people buy plants and flowers for Christmas.

MSBF officers and employees were not allowed to enter their offices. Members of the media were blocked. Some enterprising TV reporters were able to interview MSBF officials and gardeners, but their stories never came out. Guess who pressured the networks not to broadcast them?

The tenant-gardeners were told to hold clearance sales until Dec. 31, after which they were to dismantle their structures and move to the Quezon Memorial Circle.

These strong-arm tactics are clearly illegal, but the MSBF and its tenants cannot get relief from the courts. The judge is said to be sitting on their case and they cannot file a new case in another court. That will be forum-shopping.

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This is clearly a case of injustice and abuse of power. The MSBF and its tenants will be ejected if President Aquino or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas or the Supreme Court does not come to their rescue and prevent a miscarriage of justice.

What is City Hall’s claim on the property? It says the property was sold at public auction for unpaid realty taxes, and that it was the buyer. But the property is owned by the National Housing Authority—this was acknowledged by Mayor Herbert Bautista—and under Republic Act No. 7279, the NHA is exempt from real estate and income taxes. The MSBF only has usufruct rights to it, which will expire in 2027. The owner being tax-exempt, the property cannot be sold on account of nonpayment of realty taxes. The sale therefore is null and void.

The MSBF is not liable for realty taxes on the property either. Under the Law on Usufruct found in the Civil Code, taxes which, during the usufruct, may be imposed on the capital shall be at the expense of the owner, in this case the NHA, which is tax-exempt. This is not disputed by City Hall.

Does a change of ownership terminate the usufruct? No. Usufruct, being a real right, attaches to the property whoever gets to be its owner. Hence, even if the acquisition of the property by the city government is not bogus, it did not extinguish the MSBF’s usufruct rights to it. Besides, under the Law on Usufruct, change of ownership of the property is not a cause for the extinction of the usufruct. With more reason in this case because the sale at public auction of the property in usufruct is illegal and therefore null and void. Hence, the city government has no business occupying it.

But, as the saying goes, you can’t fight City Hall, and the QC government is certainly trying to prove that this is so. But are we going to let this travesty of justice, this trampling of individual rights, this abuse of power, this land-grabbing, to be committed on plain citizens? This is persecution and oppression. Is the President of the nation, who has promised to stamp out corruption and abuse, going to sit idly by while an injustice is committed? Will Interior Secretary Roxas, to whom the MSBF went for help, sit by and do nothing? What about the courts, will they do nothing to prevent a miscarriage of justice?

All the MSBF is asking is to ward off the clutches of City Hall until the court decides. But City Hall does not want to wait. It wants to seize the property right away.

The MSBF’s usufruct will expire in a few years, after which it will leave the property and the NHA and City Hall can have it without a problem. Why not just wait?

As for the developer, why not start construction in the cleared space behind Trinoma and clear the squatters on Agham Road? Also, there is a big space across Quezon Avenue that is occupied by squatters. They are not paying realty taxes and have no building permits although they have stores and shops and other businesses. Why don’t the developer and City Hall start with them? City Hall is collecting a housing tax from property owners, allegedly to be used to build houses for squatters. Well, build those houses for them and City Hall and the developer will have a big area for its business center.

By the time the developer finishes constructing its buildings there, the MSBF’s usufruct will have expired and they can have the property without anybody suing them.

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