Thursday, March 01, 2012

Sumulong vs. Guerrero [No. L-48685,September 30, 1987]

Facts: On December 5, 1997 the National Housing Authority (NHA) filed a complaint for expropriation of parcels of land for the expansion of Bagong Nayon Hosing Project to provide housing facilities to low-salaried government employees, covering approximately twenty five (25) hectares in Antipolo, Rizal. This included the lots of petitioners Lorenzo Sumulong (6,667 sq.m.) and Emilia Vidanes-Balaoing (3,333 sq.m.). The land sought to be expropriated were valued by the NHA at one peso (P1.00) per square meter adopting the market value fixed by the provincial assessor in accordance with presidential decrees prescribing the valuation of property in expropriation proceedings. 

Together with the complaint was a motion for immediate possession of the properties. The NHA deposited the amount of P158,980.00 with the Phil. Nat’l Bank, representing the “total market value” of the subject 25 ha. of land, pursuant to P.D. No. 1224 which defines “the policy on the expropriation of private property for socialized housing upon payment of just compensation.” 

On January 17, 1978, respondent Judge Buenaventura S. Guerrero issued a writ of possession pertaining to the subject parcels of land. Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration on the ground that they had been deprived of the possession of their property without due process of law. This was however, denied. Hence, this petition challenging the orders of respondent Judge and assailing the constitutionality of P.D. No. 1224, as amended. 

Petitioners contend that the taking of their property subsumed under the topics of public use, just compensation, and due process. 

Issues:
(1) Whether “socialized housing” as defined in P.D. 1224, as amended, for the purpose of condemnation proceedings is not “public use” since it will benefit only “a handful of people, bereft of public character,” hence it is not a valid exercise of the State’s power of eminent domain. 

(2) Whether NHA has the discretion to determine the size of the property/properties to be expropriated. 

(3) Whether P.D. 1224, as amended, allows unjust and unfair valuations arbitrarily fixed by government assessors. 

(4) Whether petitioners were denied due process because their parcels of land were immediately possessed by the NHA by virtue of the writ of possession ordered by the respondent judge. 

Held:
(1) P.D. 1224 defines “socialized housing” as, “the construction of dwelling units for the middle and lower class members of our society, including the construction of the supporting infrastructure and other facilities.” The “public use” requirement for a valid exercise of the power of eminent domain is a flexible and evolving concept influenced by changing conditions. The taking to be valid must be for public use. As long as the purpose of the taking is public, then the power of eminent domain comes into play. It is accurate to state then that at present, whatever may be beneficially employed for the general welfare satisfies the requirement of public use. Ergo, “socialized housing” falls within the confines of “public use.” 

(2) The State acting through the NHA is vested with broad discretion to designate the particular property/properties to be taken for socialized housing purposes and how much thereof may be expropriated. Absent a clear showing of fraud, bad faith, or gross abuse of discretion, which petitioners failed to demonstrate, the Court will give due weight to and leave undisturbed the NHA’s choice and the size of the site for the project. The right to use, enjoyment and disposal of private property is tempered by and has to yield to the demands of the common good. 

(3) Yes. The provisions on just compensation found in Presidential Decrees No. 1224, 1259, and 1313 are the same provisions found in P.D. No.’s 76, 464, 794, and 1533 which were declared unconstitutional for being encroachments on judicial prerogative. Just compensation means the value of the property at the time of the taking. It means a fair and full equivalent for the loss sustained. Tax values can serve as guides but cannot be absolute substitute for just compensation. 

(4) Yes. The petitioners were denied of due process. P.D. 1224, as amended, violates procedural due process as it allows immediate taking of possession, control and disposition of property without giving the owner his day in court. Respondent Judge ordered the issuance of a writ of possession without notice and without hearing.

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