Friday, March 5, 2010

High Court orders return of Cebu airport property

Victory could prove bittersweet for a Cebu land owner after the Supreme Court finally allowed him to buy back a parcel of land expropriated from him for the supposed expansion of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport in 1961.

However, since the SC ruling came after almost five decades, Bernardo Lozada Sr. and his children would need to shell out a huge amount of money to regain ownership of the so-called Lot 88, which covers some 1,017 square meters.

In a unanimous decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, the High Court ordered the Air Transportation Office (ATO) to return Lot 88 to the Lozadas.

The court denied the petition filed by the ATO and the MCIA Authority to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, which upheld the ruling of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court.

The Cebu City RTC, in its assailed decision dated Dec. 29, 1961, ordered the recovery of possession and reconveyance of ownership of Lot 88 to the Lozadas after the purpose of the expropriation did not materialize.

However, the SC made substantial changes in the lower court decision, which includes an order for the respondents to return to the government the just compensation they received for the expropriation, plus legal interests, to be computed from 1961 up to present.

The Lozadas were also ordered to pay the government the necessary expenses incurred in maintaining Lot 88.

The SC also remanded the case to the Cebu City RTC for the purpose of receiving evidence on the amounts that the Lozadas will have to pay the government based on the High Court’s decision.

At the time the ATO and MCIAA bought the land from the Lozadas, the property was valued at P3 per square meter. The respondents received the amount of P3,018 by way of payment.

In its decision, the SC agreed with the contention of the Lozadas that the government lost its right to the property taken since it did not pursue the public purpose of the expropriation, which is the expansion of the airport.

“If not, it is then incumbent upon the expropriator to return the said property to its private owner, if the latter desires to reacquire the same… Accordingly, the private property owner would be denied due process of law, and the judgment would violate the property owner’s right to justice, fairness and equity,” the court said.

The court further reminded the ATO and MCIA Authority that the taking of private property, consequent to the government’s exercise of its power of eminent domain, is always subject to the condition that the property be devoted to the specific public use for which it was taken.

If the particular purpose or intent is not pursued, and is peremptorily abandoned, the former owners may seek reversion of the property, subject to the return of the amount of just compensation received, the court added.

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