November 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 155407 - PHILIPPINE NATIONAL OIL COMPANY v. LEONILO A. MAGLASANG, ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 155407 : November 11, 2008]
PHILIPPINE NATIONAL OIL COMPANY, Petitioner v. LEONILO A. MAGLASANG and OSCAR S. MAGLASANG, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the January 23, 2002 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 67341, as reiterated in its Resolution2 of September 20, 2002, affirming with modification the Joint Judgment 3 dated December 16, 1999 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Ormoc City, Branch 35, in Civil Case No. 3267-O and Civil Case No. 3273-O.
On October 25, 1994, the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) filed a complaint for eminent domain against respondent Oscar S. Maglasang, the registered owner of a 63,333-square meter parcel of land identified as Lot No. 11900 and covered by TCT No. T-4097. The case was docketed at the RTC, Ormoc City, Leyte as Civil Case No. 3267-O.
On November 10, 1994, the PNOC filed another expropriation complaint, this time against respondent Leolino A. Maglasang, owner of the 98,206-square meter parcel of land identified as Lot No. 11907, covered by OCT No. P-18869. The case was docketed with the same RTC as Civil Case No. 3273-O.
The subject parcels of land are located at Lim-ao, Municipality of Kananga, Leyte and to be used by the PNOC in the construction and operation of the 125MW Upper Mahiao Geothermal Power Plant Project.
The RTC issued writs of possession over Lot No. 11907 and Lot No. 11900 on December 5, 1994 and December 13, 1994, respectively, after PNOC posted the required provisional deposit.
On March 21, 1997, upon finality of the orders of condemnation in both expropriation cases, the trial court appointed three commissioners to ascertain and make a recommendation on the just compensation for the condemned lots in accordance with Section 5, Rule 67 of the Rules of Court. Those appointed were: Branch Clerk of Court Atty. Bibiano Reforzado, City Assessor Briccio D. Supremo and businessman Augusto T. Pongos.
Upon conduct of hearing and ocular inspections and reception of the parties' position papers and documentary evidence, Atty. Reforzado submitted a Commissioners' Report dated February 18, 1999, attaching therewith the different valuations recommended by the three commissioners. City Assessor Supremo recommended the price of
P 1,000.00 per square meter,4 Clerk of Court Reforzado pegged the value of the lots at P 900.00 per square meter.5 In his report, Mr. Pongos arrived at the lowest valuation of P 400.00 per square meter for the developed area and P 85.00 for the undeveloped area.6
Confronted with the commissioners' varying land valuations, the trial court made its own determination of the just compensation taking into account the range of prices recommended in the Commissioners' Report and documentary evidence presented by the parties. Setting the reckoning period for the computation of the just compensation at the time of the filing of the complaints, the trial court pegged the value of the two lots at
P 300.00 per square meter. However, in the same decision, the trial court further increased said initial valuation to P 700.00 per square meter to compensate for what it termed as inflation factor and adjustment factor. Relying on the case of Cosculluela v. Court of Appeals,7 the trial court ruled:
After examining the data, the Court would like to take the mean position but similar to the ones taken by the Commissioners. For this, therefore, the Commissioners' Report is hereby accepted. From the reckoning date of 1994, the Court wants to apply a three-year period therefrom to ascertain the prevailing price. The court has in mind the dictum in Cosculluela v. Court of Appeals (164 SCRA 393) which runs as follows: 'just compensation means not only the correct determination of the amount to be paid to the owner of the land but also the payment of the land within a reasonable time from its taking. Without prompt payment, compensation cannot be considered just for the property owner is made to suffer the consequence of being immediately deprived of his land.'
The Court thus believes an inflation factor is to be applied in the computation considering the time that elapsed since late 1994 up to the present. Also an adjustment factor commonly adopted by appraisers is included in the computations.
x x x
Wherefore, after considering all the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered fixing the amount of
P700.00 per square meter as just compensation for Lot 11900 under TCT T-4097 in Civil Case No. 3267-0 or the amount of P44,333,100 and for Lot 11907 under OCT No. P-18869 in Civil Case No. 3273-0 or the amount of P68,744,200 to be paid by the plaintiff to the respective defendants plus cost of the proceedings.
From the foregoing decision, both parties filed their respective appeals with the CA.
On January 23, 2002, the CA rendered the herein challenged decision8 which modified the decision of the trial court insofar as it reduced the just compensation for the subject lots from
P 700.00 to P 300.00. In arriving at such a decision, the CA ratiocinated, thus:
We are of the opinion that the trial court reversibly erred in taking into account such 'inflation factor' and 'adjustment factor' for the determination of just compensation in this case. It has misapplied the ruling in Cosculluela by substituting such 'inflation factor' and or 'adjustment factor' for the legally mandated interest in the price to be paid as just compensation in expropriation cases.
xxx Nowhere in the said decision may it be inferred that damages for such delay in the payment of just compensation, other than the legal interest provided by law, may be granted in addition or considered in computing the amount of just compensation such as the 'inflation factor' applied by the trial court. On the contrary, our Supreme Court has even ruled that the de facto devaluation of the peso is not a factor in land valuation for purposes of expropriation. Therefore, there is absolutely no legal basis for the trial court's application of an 'inflation factor' and 'adjustment factor' in the determination of just compensation in these expropriation cases. The consistent rule has always been that the owner of the property should be compensated only for what he actually loses; it is not intended that his compensation shall extend beyond his loss or injury. And what he loses is only the actual value of the property at the time it is taken. This is the only way that compensation to be paid can be truly just, i.e., just 'not only to the individual whose property is taken, but to the public, which is to pay for it.' Hence, the price level for 1994 when the property was taken by plaintiff-appellant should be the proper valuation for defendant-appellants' properties and not their subsequent increased value after the passage of time.
x x x
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the present appeals are hereby PARTLY GRANTED. The Joint Judgment appealed from in Civil Case Nos. 3267-O and 3273-O is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS in that the just compensation for the expropriated properties is hereby ordered to be paid to defendant-appellants in the amount of
P300.00 per square meter, or the total amounts of P18,999,900.00 to defendant-appellant Oscar S. Maglasang for Lot No. 11900 and P29,461,800.00 to defendant-appellant Leolino A. Maglasang for Lot No. 11907, with interest at the legal rate of 6% per annum from October 25, 1994 and November 10, 1994, respectively, until full payment is made.
No pronouncement as to costs.
Still unsatisfied, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the foregoing decision but its motion was denied by the CA in the resolution of September 20, 2002.
Unable to accept the CA's decision for allegedly being contrary to law and established jurisprudence, PNOC is now before the Court with the following grounds in support of its petition:
A. CONTRARY TO THE RULING OF THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, THE INITIAL VALUATION OF THE TRIAL COURT OF
P300.00 PER SQUARE METER IS NOT WELL SUPPORTED BY THE EVIDENCE ON RECORD AS REPRESENTING THE FAIR MARKET VALUE OF THE EXPROPRIATED PARCELS OF LAND.
B. LIKEWISE CONTRARY TO THE RULING OF THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, THE SUBJECT PROPERTIES WERE AGRICULTURAL, NOT INDUSTRIAL, PARCELS OF LAND AT THE TIME THEY WERE TAKEN FOR PUBLIC USE.
As we see it, other than the question as to the precise time the fixing of just compensation should be reckoned, the rest of petitioner's arguments dwell solely on questions of fact.
In expropriation proceedings, the value of the land and its character at the time it was taken by the government are the criteria for determining just compensation.9 This is so because, there are instances when the expropriating agency takes over the property prior to the expropriation suit, in which situation just compensation shall be determined as of the time of taking.10 The reason for the rule, as pointed out in Republic v. Lara,11 is that –
(W)here property is taken ahead of the filing of the condemnation proceedings, the value thereof may be enchanced by the public purpose for which it is taken; the entry by the plaintiff upon the property may have depreciated its value thereby; or, there may have been a natural increase in the value of the property from the time the complaint is filed, due to general economic conditions. The owner of private property should be compensated only for what he actually loses; it is not intended that his compensation shall extend beyond his loss or injury. And what he loses is only the actual value of his property at the time it is taken. This is the only way that compensation to be paid can be truly just; i.e., 'just not only to the individual whose property is taken,' 'but to the public, which is to pay for it.
Here, petitioner insists that contrary to the findings of the two courts below, the determination of just compensation should be reckoned prior to the time of the filing of the complaint for expropriation. According to petitioner in Civil Case No. 3267-O, petitioner took possession of the land on January 1, 1992 when PNOC leased the same from its administrator as evidenced by a Lease Agreement12 for the period of January 1, 1992 to December 31, 1992. Thus, taking, for purposes of computing just compensation, should have been reckoned from January 1, 1992.
We are not persuaded.
In the context of the State's inherent power of eminent domain, there is "taking" where the owner is actually deprived or dispossessed of his property; where there is a practical destruction or a material impairment of the value of his property; or when he is deprived of the ordinary use thereof.13
In Republic v. Castellvi, 14 this Court held that there is a "taking" when the expropriator enters private property not only for a momentary period but for a more permanent duration, for the purpose of devoting the property to a public use in such a manner as to oust the owner and deprive him of all beneficial enjoyment thereof. Thus, in that case, we rejected the State's contention that a lease on a year to year basis can give rise to a permanent right to occupy, since by express legal provision a lease made for a determinate time, as was the lease of Castellvi's land, ceases upon the day fixed, without need of a demand. Neither can it be said that the right of eminent domain may be exercised by simply leasing the premises to be expropriated. Where, as here, the owner was compensated and not deprived of the ordinary and beneficial use of his property by its being diverted to public use, there is no taking within the constitutional sense.
In fixing the just compensation reckoned from 1994, the trial court took the Commissioners' Report into consideration:
II. Time of the Taking.
In both cases the time of the taking may be reckoned in 1994. For Lot 11900, on October 24, 1994, the date of the filing of the complaint although the plaintiff took possession of the property in 1991 due to a lease contract executed between plaintiff and defendant yet the intention to expropriate was manifested only upon the filing of the complaint (NPC v. CA and Macapanton Magondata, 254 SCRA 577).
For Lot 11907, the time of the taking shall be reckoned on November 10, 1994 where the institution of the case precedes entry of the property, the just compensation is to be ascertained as of the filing of the complaint.15
Accordingly, we quote with approval the trial court's ruling on this point:
Contrary to plaintiff's position, the lease in 1992 should not be construed as taking in the constitutional sense. What constitutes 'taking' is when the property is 'directly appropriated' and not to 'consequential injuries resulting from the exercise of lawful power' (Tañada and Carreon, Political Law of the Philippines, Vol. Two, 1962 First Edition, Manila Central Book Supply, Inc. 1 p.90, p. 92)
Following the doctrine in Castellvi, the trial court committed no error when it reckoned the time of taking of the subject properties from the date of filing of petitioner's complaints for eminent domain.
Petitioner would next argue that the subject lots were erroneously classified as industrial land when in fact they were agricultural land at the time they were taken for expropriation.
At the outset, we reiterate that the Court recognizes the power of a local government to reclassify and convert lands through local ordinance.16
On this score, we quote the findings of the commissioners as contained in their report on the ocular inspection conducted on October 29, 1997, and summarized by the CA, to wit:
xxx (1) Lot 11907 was only recently flattened, there are no more trees, no more plants except cogon grass and other wild plants; Lot 11900 has also been flattened in the middle of which are two reinjection pumps, and also found therein are some fruit bearing coconut trees; (2) adjacent lots are partly forested areas; (3) the trees in both lots had been felled, including fruit bearing coconut trees, but the number of those felled are unknown, there being no records available; what remains are cogon grass and other wild plants and the traces of rivulets created by torrential rains. The terrain is rolling and mountainous although these areas have long been developed and used by the PNOC before the filing of the cases, which though not traversed directly by the provincial or national roads, are already accessible by all-weather roads and are adjacent to different PNOC buildings.
The Commissioners' Report discussed in detail the circumstances which led to the reclassification of subject lots from agricultural to industrial land upon declaration of the city of Ormoc and the town of Kananga that the areas around the geothermal plants are industrial zones. The schedule of values prepared by the municipal assessor which classified the subject lots as industrial property was also appended to the said report submitted to the trial court.
Taking its cue from the Commissioners' Report, the trial court took into consideration among others the lots' classification as industrial land in fixing the just compensation. Throughout the entire proceedings in the trial court, no objection was proffered by petitioner on this matter.
As it were, the Court cannot but agree with the CA when it ruled that petitioner's belated objection on appeal of the classification of the subject lots could no longer be entertained. For the same reason the Court refuses to consider petitioner's Manifestation17 stating that a property adjacent to the subject lots was purchased at
P 80.00 per square meter and urging the Court to peg the value of the subject properties at the same amount. Suffice it to state that issues raised for the first time on appeal and not raised timely in the proceedings in the lower court are barred by estoppel. Matters, theories or arguments not brought out in the original proceedings cannot be considered on review or appeal where they are raised for the first time. To consider the alleged facts and arguments raised belatedly would amount to trampling on the basic principles of fair play, justice and due process.18
Finally, on the basis of all its arguments, petitioner asks this Court to set aside the lower courts' factual finding as to the just compensation for the subject expropriated lots.
It must be stressed that only questions of law may be raised in petitions to review decisions of the CA filed before this Court. The factual findings of the CA affirming those of the trial court are final and conclusive. They cannot be reviewed by this Court, save only in the following circumstances, which we find absent in the instant case: (1) when the factual conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculations, surmises and conjectures; (2) when the inference 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 fact are conflicting; (6) when the CA went beyond the issues of the case in making its findings, which are further contrary to the admissions of both the appellant and the appellee; (7) when the CA's findings are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) when the conclusions do not cite the specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioner's main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondents; and (10) when the CA's findings of fact, supposedly premised on the absence of evidence, are contradicted by the evidence on record.19
Clearly, petitioner has failed to establish that the present case falls under any of the exceptions enumerated above. A perusal of the facts and evidence presented does not convince this Court to deviate from the findings of fact of the two courts below. The lower courts properly appreciated the evidence submitted by both parties as regards the nature of the expropriated lots. These courts have determined that the lots were industrial at the time of the taking by petitioner for expropriation.
To recapitulate, in denying the instant petition, the Court relies on a well-established doctrine. Thus, in the present case, the findings of fact of the CA, affirming those of the trial court, cannot be disturbed, modified or reversed by this Court in a Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the assailed decision and resolution of the CA are AFFIRMED.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Martin S. Villarama, with Associate Justices Conchita A. Carpio Morales (now Supreme Court Associate Justice) and Sergio L. Pestaño (ret.), concurring; rollo, pp. 29-37.
2 Id., p. 39.
3 Id., pp. 138-144.
4 Rollo, p. 128.
5 Id., pp. 130-137.
6 Id., p. 129.
8 Rollo, pp. 34-35.
9 Camarines Norte Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No 109338, November 20, 2000, 345 SCRA 85, 95.
11 96 Phil. 170, 177 (1954).
12 Rollo, pp. 154-156.
15 Rollo, p.133.
16 Juan B. Amante, et al. v. Luis Yulo, Jesus Miguel Yulo, C-J Yulo & Sons, Inc., Sta. Rosa Realty Development Corporation, et al., G.R. No. 118838, March 16, 2005, 453 SCRA 432, 459, citing Section 20, Republic Act No. 7160 (Local Government Code) and Memorandum Circular 54, series of 1993, Office of the President.
17 Rollo, pp. 176-179.
18 Sps. Luis V. Cruz and Aida Cruz v. Sps. Alejandro Fernando, Sr., and Rita Fernando, G.R. No. 145470, December 9, 2005, 477 SCRA 173, 182-183.
19 Republic of the Philippines and Cavite College of Fisheries v. Maxima Lensico, Rufina Lensico, Rogelio Lensico and Victor Lensico, G.R. No. 158919, August 9, 2005, 466 SCRA 361, 369.