April 2005 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 148830 - National Housing Authority v. Court of Appeals, et al.
[G.R. NO. 148830. April 13, 2005]
NATIONAL HOUSING AUTHORITY, Petitioners, v. COURT OF APPEALS, BULACAN GARDEN CORPORATION and MANILA SEEDLING BANK FOUNDATION, INC., Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition for Review 1 seeking to set aside the Decision2 dated 30 March 2001 of the Court of Appeals ("appellate court") in CA-G.R. CV No. 48382, as well as its Resolution dated 25 June 2001 denying the motion for reconsideration. The appellate court reversed the Decision3 of Branch 87 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City ("trial court") dated 8 March 1994 in Civil Case No. Q-53464. The trial court dismissed the complaint for injunction filed by Bulacan Garden Corporation ("BGC") against the National Housing Authority ("NHA"). BGC wanted to enjoin the NHA from demolishing BGC's facilities on a lot leased from Manila Seedling Bank Foundation, Inc. ("MSBF"). MSBF allegedly has usufructuary rights over the lot leased to BGC.
On 24 October 1968, Proclamation No. 481 issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos set aside a 120-hectare portion of land in Quezon City owned by the NHA4 as reserved property for the site of the National Government Center ("NGC"). On 19 September 1977, President Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1670, which removed a seven-hectare portion from the coverage of the NGC. Proclamation No. 1670 gave MSBF usufructuary rights over this segregated portion, as follows:
Pursuant to the powers vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the Philippines, I, FERDINAND E. MARCOS, President of the Republic of the Philippines, do hereby exclude from the operation of Proclamation No. 481, dated October 24, 1968, which established the National Government Center Site, certain parcels of land embraced therein and reserving the same for the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation, Inc., for use in its operation and projects, subject to private rights if any there be, and to future survey, under the administration of the Foundation.
This parcel of land, which shall embrace 7 hectares, shall be determined by the future survey based on the technical descriptions found in Proclamation No. 481, and most particularly on the original survey of the area, dated July 1910 to June 1911, and on the subdivision survey dated April 19-25, 1968. (Emphasis added)
MSBF occupied the area granted by Proclamation No. 1670. Over the years, MSBF's occupancy exceeded the seven-hectare area subject to its usufructuary rights. By 1987, MSBF occupied approximately 16 hectares. By then the land occupied by MSBF was bounded by Epifanio de los Santos Avenue ("EDSA") to the west, Agham Road to the east, Quezon Avenue to the south and a creek to the north.
On 18 August 1987, MSBF leased a portion of the area it occupied to BGC and other stallholders. BGC leased the portion facing EDSA, which occupies 4,590 square meters of the 16-hectare area.
On 11 November 1987, President Corazon Aquino issued Memorandum Order No. 127 ("MO 127") which revoked the reserved status of "the 50 hectares, more or less, remaining out of the 120 hectares of the NHA property reserved as site of the National Government Center." MO 127 also authorized the NHA to commercialize the area and to sell it to the public.
On 15 August 1988, acting on the power granted under MO 127, the NHA gave BGC ten days to vacate its occupied area. Any structure left behind after the expiration of the ten-day period will be demolished by NHA.
BGC then filed a complaint for injunction on 21 April 1988 before the trial court. On 26 May 1988, BGC amended its complaint to include MSBF as its co-plaintiff.
The Trial Court's Ruling
The trial court agreed with BGC and MSBF that Proclamation No. 1670 gave MSBF the right to conduct the survey, which would establish the seven-hectare area covered by MSBF's usufructuary rights. However, the trial court held that MSBF failed to act seasonably on this right to conduct the survey. The trial court ruled that the previous surveys conducted by MSBF covered 16 hectares, and were thus inappropriate to determine the seven-hectare area. The trial court concluded that to allow MSBF to determine the seven-hectare area now would be grossly unfair to the grantor of the usufruct.
On 8 March 1994, the trial court dismissed BGC's complaint for injunction. Thus:
Premises considered, the complaint praying to enjoin the National Housing Authority from carrying out the demolition of the plaintiff's structure, improvements and facilities in the premises in question is hereby DISMISSED, but the suggestion for the Court to rule that Memorandum Order 127 has repealed Proclamation No. 1670 is DENIED. No costs.
The NHA demolished BGC's facilities soon thereafter.
The Appellate Court's Ruling
Not content with the trial court's ruling, BGC appealed the trial court's Decision to the appellate court. Initially, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that Proclamation No. 1670 granted MSBF the right to determine the location of the seven-hectare area covered by its usufructuary rights. However, the appellate court ruled that MSBF did in fact assert this right by conducting two surveys and erecting its main structures in the area of its choice.
On 30 March 2001, the appellate court reversed the trial court's ruling. Thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision dated March 8, 1994 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 87, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The National Housing Authority is enjoined from demolishing the structures, facilities and improvements of the plaintiff-appellant Bulacan Garden Corporation at its leased premises located in Quezon City which premises were covered by Proclamation No. 1670, during the existence of the contract of lease it (Bulacan Garden) had entered with the plaintiff-appellant Manila Seedling Bank Foundation, Inc.
The NHA filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the appellate court on 25 June 2001.
Hence, this petition.
The following issues are considered by this Court for resolution:
WHETHER THE PETITION IS NOW MOOT BECAUSE OF THE DEMOLITION OF THE STRUCTURES OF BGC; andcralawlibrary
WHETHER THE PREMISES LEASED BY BGC FROM MSBF IS WITHIN THE SEVEN-HECTARE AREA THAT PROCLAMATION NO. 1670 GRANTED TO MSBF BY WAY OF USUFRUCT.
The Ruling of the Court
We remand this petition to the trial court for a joint survey to determine finally the metes and bounds of the seven-hectare area subject to MSBF's usufructuary rights.
Whether the Petition is Moot because of the
Demolition of BGC's Facilities
BGC claims that the issue is now moot due to NHA's demolition of BGC's facilities after the trial court dismissed BGC's complaint for injunction. BGC argues that there is nothing more to enjoin and that there are no longer any rights left for adjudication.
BGC may have lost interest in this case due to the demolition of its premises, but its co-plaintiff, MSBF, has not. The issue for resolution has a direct effect on MSBF's usufructuary rights. There is yet the central question of the exact location of the seven-hectare area granted by Proclamation No. 1670 to MSBF. This issue is squarely raised in this petition. There is a need to settle this issue to forestall future disputes and to put this 20-year litigation to rest.
On the Location of the Seven-Hectare Area Granted by
Proclamation No. 1670 to MSBF as Usufructuary
Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure limits the jurisdiction of this Court to the review of errors of law.7 Absent any of the established grounds for exception,8 this Court will not disturb findings of fact of lower courts. Though the matter raised in this petition is factual, it deserves resolution because the findings of the trial court and the appellate court conflict on several points.
The entire area bounded by Agham Road to the east, EDSA to the west, Quezon Avenue to the south and by a creek to the north measures approximately 16 hectares. Proclamation No. 1670 gave MSBF a usufruct over only a seven-hectare area. The BGC's leased portion is located along EDSA.
A usufruct may be constituted for a specified term and under such conditions as the parties may deem convenient subject to the legal provisions on usufruct.9 A usufructuary may lease the object held in usufruct.10 Thus, the NHA may not evict BGC if the 4,590 square meter portion MSBF leased to BGC is within the seven-hectare area held in usufruct by MSBF. The owner of the property must respect the lease entered into by the usufructuary so long as the usufruct exists.11 However, the NHA has the right to evict BGC if BGC occupied a portion outside of the seven-hectare area covered by MSBF's usufructuary rights.
MSBF's survey shows that BGC's stall is within the seven-hectare area. On the other hand, NHA's survey shows otherwise. The entire controversy revolves on the question of whose land survey should prevail.
MSBF's survey plots the location of the seven-hectare portion by starting its measurement from Quezon Avenue going northward along EDSA up until the creek, which serves as the northern boundary of the land in question. Mr. Ben Malto ("Malto"), surveyor for MSBF, based his survey method on the fact that MSBF's main facilities are located within this area.
On the other hand, NHA's survey determines the seven-hectare portion by starting its measurement from Quezon Avenue going towards Agham Road. Mr. Rogelio Inobaya ("Inobaya"), surveyor for NHA, based his survey method on the fact that he saw MSBF's gate fronting Agham Road.
BGC presented the testimony of Mr. Lucito M. Bertol ("Bertol"), General Manager of MSBF. Bertol presented a map,12 which detailed the area presently occupied by MSBF. The map had a yellow-shaded portion, which was supposed to indicate the seven-hectare area. It was clear from both the map and Bertol's testimony that MSBF knew that it had occupied an area in excess of the seven-hectare area granted by Proclamation No. 1670.13 Upon cross-examination, Bertol admitted that he personally did not know the exact boundaries of the seven-hectare area.14 Bertol also admitted that MSBF prepared the map without consulting NHA, the owner of the property.15
BGC also presented the testimony of Malto, a registered forester and the Assistant Vice-President of Planning, Research and Marketing of MSBF. Malto testified that he conducted the land survey, which was used to construct the map presented by Bertol.16 Bertol clarified that he authorized two surveys, one in 1984 when he first joined MSBF, and the other in 1986.17 In both instances, Mr. Malto testified that he was asked to survey a total of 16 hectares, not just seven hectares. Malto testified that he conducted the second survey in 1986 on the instruction of MSBF's general manager. According to Malto, it was only in the second survey that he was told to determine the seven-hectare portion. Malto further clarified that he based the technical descriptions of both surveys on a previously existing survey of the property.18
The NHA presented the testimony of Inobaya, a geodetic engineer employed by the NHA. Inobaya testified that as part of the NHA's Survey Division, his duties included conducting surveys of properties administered by the NHA.19 Inobaya conducted his survey in May 1988 to determine whether BGC was occupying an area outside the seven-hectare area MSBF held in usufruct.20 Inobaya surveyed the area occupied by MSBF following the same technical descriptions used by Malto. Inobaya also came to the same conclusion that the area occupied by MSBF, as indicated by the boundaries in the technical descriptions, covered a total of 16 hectares. He further testified that the seven-hectare portion in the map presented by BGC,21 which was constructed by Malto, does not tally with the boundaries BGC and MSBF indicated in their complaint.
Article 565 of the Civil Code states:
ART. 565. The rights and obligations of the usufructuary shall be those provided in the title constituting the usufruct; in default of such title, or in case it is deficient, the provisions contained in the two following Chapters shall be observed.
In the present case, Proclamation No. 1670 is the title constituting the usufruct. Proclamation No. 1670 categorically states that the seven-hectare area shall be determined "by future survey under the administration of the Foundation subject to private rights if there be any." The appellate court and the trial court agree that MSBF has the latitude to determine the location of its seven-hectare usufruct portion within the 16-hectare area. The appellate court and the trial court disagree, however, whether MSBF seasonably exercised this right.
It is clear that MSBF conducted at least two surveys. Although both surveys covered a total of 16 hectares, the second survey specifically indicated a seven-hectare area shaded in yellow. MSBF made the first survey in 1984 and the second in 1986, way before the present controversy started. MSBF conducted the two surveys before the lease to BGC. The trial court ruled that MSBF did not act seasonably in exercising its right to conduct the survey. Confronted with evidence that MSBF did in fact conduct two surveys, the trial court dismissed the two surveys as self-serving. This is clearly an error on the part of the trial court. Proclamation No. 1670 authorized MSBF to determine the location of the seven-hectare area. This authority, coupled with the fact that Proclamation No. 1670 did not state the location of the seven-hectare area, leaves no room for doubt that Proclamation No. 1670 left it to MSBF to choose the location of the seven-hectare area under its usufruct.
More evidence supports MSBF's stand on the location of the seven-hectare area. The main structures of MSBF are found in the area indicated by MSBF's survey. These structures are the main office, the three green houses, the warehouse and the composting area. On the other hand, the NHA's delineation of the seven-hectare area would cover only the four hardening bays and the display area. It is easy to distinguish between these two groups of structures. The first group covers buildings and facilities that MSBF needs for its operations. MSBF built these structures before the present controversy started. The second group covers facilities less essential to MSBF's existence. This distinction is decisive as to which survey should prevail. It is clear that the MSBF intended to use the yellow-shaded area primarily because it erected its main structures there.
Inobaya testified that his main consideration in using Agham Road as the starting point for his survey was the presence of a gate there. The location of the gate is not a sufficient basis to determine the starting point. MSBF's right as a usufructuary as granted by Proclamation No. 1670 should rest on something more substantial than where MSBF chose to place a gate.
To prefer the NHA's survey to MSBF's survey will strip MSBF of most of its main facilities. Only the main building of MSBF will remain with MSBF since the main building is near the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue. The rest of MSBF's main facilities will be outside the seven-hectare area.
On the other hand, this Court cannot countenance MSBF's act of exceeding the seven-hectare portion granted to it by Proclamation No. 1670. A usufruct is not simply about rights and privileges. A usufructuary has the duty to protect the owner's interests. One such duty is found in Article 601 of the Civil Code which states:
ART. 601. The usufructuary shall be obliged to notify the owner of any act of a third person, of which he may have knowledge, that may be prejudicial to the rights of ownership, and he shall be liable should he not do so, for damages, as if they had been caused through his own fault.
A usufruct gives a right to enjoy the property of another with the obligation of preserving its form and substance, unless the title constituting it or the law otherwise provides.22 This controversy would not have arisen had MSBF respected the limit of the beneficial use given to it. MSBF's encroachment of its benefactor's property gave birth to the confusion that attended this case. To put this matter entirely to rest, it is not enough to remind the NHA to respect MSBF's choice of the location of its seven-hectare area. MSBF, for its part, must vacate the area that is not part of its usufruct. MSBF's rights begin and end within the seven-hectare portion of its usufruct. This Court agrees with the trial court that MSBF has abused the privilege given it under Proclamation No. 1670. The direct corollary of enforcing MSBF's rights within the seven-hectare area is the negation of any of MSBF's acts beyond it.
The seven-hectare portion of MSBF is no longer easily determinable considering the varied structures erected within and surrounding the area. Both parties advance different reasons why their own surveys should be preferred. At this point, the determination of the seven-hectare portion cannot be made to rely on a choice between the NHA's and MSBF's survey. There is a need for a new survey, one conducted jointly by the NHA and MSBF, to remove all doubts on the exact location of the seven-hectare area and thus avoid future controversies. This new survey should consider existing structures of MSBF. It should as much as possible include all of the facilities of MSBF within the seven-hectare portion without sacrificing contiguity.
A final point. Article 605 of the Civil Code states:
ART. 605. Usufruct cannot be constituted in favor of a town, corporation, or association for more than fifty years. If it has been constituted, and before the expiration of such period the town is abandoned, or the corporation or association is dissolved, the usufruct shall be extinguished by reason thereof. (Emphasis added)
The law clearly limits any usufruct constituted in favor of a corporation or association to 50 years. A usufruct is meant only as a lifetime grant. Unlike a natural person, a corporation or association's lifetime may be extended indefinitely. The usufruct would then be perpetual. This is especially invidious in cases where the usufruct given to a corporation or association covers public land. Proclamation No. 1670 was issued 19 September 1977, or 28 years ago. Hence, under Article 605, the usufruct in favor of MSBF has 22 years left.
MO 127 released approximately 50 hectares of the NHA property as reserved site for the National Government Center. However, MO 127 does not affect MSBF's seven-hectare area since under Proclamation No. 1670, MSBF's seven-hectare area was already "exclude[d] from the operation of Proclamation No. 481, dated October 24, 1968, which established the National Government Center Site."
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 30 March 2001 and its Resolution dated 25 June 2001 in CA-G.R. CV No. 48382 are SET ASIDE. This case is REMANDED to Branch 87 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, which shall order a joint survey by the National Housing Authority and Manila Seedling Bank Foundation, Inc. to determine the metes and bounds of the seven-hectare portion of Manila Seedling Bank Foundation, Inc. under Proclamation No. 1670. The seven-hectare portion shall be contiguous and shall include as much as possible all existing major improvements of Manila Seedling Bank Foundation, Inc. The parties shall submit the joint survey to the Regional Trial Court for its approval within sixty days from the date ordering the joint survey.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1 Under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure.
2 Penned by Justice Bennie Adefuin-Dela Cruz, with Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Josefina Guevara-Salonga, concurring.
3 Penned by Judge Elsie Ligot Telan.
4 Under TCT No. 309814. Records, p. 286.
5 Rollo, p. 43.
6 Ibid., p. 31.
7 Section 1 of Rule 45 states:
SECTION 1. Filing of petition with Supreme Court. - A party desiring to appeal by certiorari from a judgment or final order or resolution of the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Regional Trial Court or other courts whenever authorized by law, may file with the Supreme Court a verified Petition for Review on Certiorari . The petition shall raise only questions of law which must be distinctly set forth.
8 As laid out in BPI Credit Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. 96755, 4 December 1991, 204 SCRA 601:
(1) When the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculation, surmises and conjectures;
(2) When the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible;
(3) When there is a grave abuse of discretion;
(4) When the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts;
(5) When the findings of facts [of the trial court and the appellate court] are conflicting;
(6) When the [appellate court] in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee;
(7) When the findings of the [appellate court] are contrary to those of the trial court;
(8) When the findings of facts are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based;
(9) When the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioners' main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondents; andcralawlibrary
(10) When the finding of fact of the [appellate court] is premised on the supposed absence of evidence and is contradicted by the evidence on record.
9 Baluran v. Navarro, G.R. No. L-44428, 30 September 1977, 79 SCRA 309.
10 Civil Code, Art. 572.
12 Exhibit "A," Records p. 117.
13 TSN, 12 January 1989, pp. 4-10.
14 Ibid., p. 11.
15 Ibid., pp. 11-12.
16 TSN, 19 January 1989, pp. 2-3.
17 Ibid., p. 3.
18 Ibid., pp. 4-5.
19 TSN, 5 April 1989, p. 2.
20 Ibid., p. 7.
21 Exhibit "A," supra note 12.
22 Civil Code, Art. 562.