By: Emme Rose Santiagudo
THE Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 37 in Iloilo City said the state’s power of eminent domain can be delegated to and enforced by private entities.
This was the gist of the 13-page decision penned by RTC Branch Judge Marie Yvette Go granting the application for a writ of possession by the Razon-led MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) in its bid to take over the assets of Iloilo City’s long-time power distributor, Panay Electric Co. (PECO).
Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use upon payment of just compensation to the property owners.
MORE Power wants to take over power distribution services in Iloilo City after securing its congressional franchise via Republic Act 11212.
Judge Go granted the application on Aug 14, 2019. Right after her ruling, she inhibited herself from hearing the expropriation case filed by MORE Power against PECO.
The expropriation case was then raffled on Monday to Iloilo RTC Branch 35 presided by Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular.
The RTC Branch 37 ruling said MORE Power’s expropriation case satisfied two main requirements, thus the decision to grant the writ of possession.
“This Court finds the Complaint for Expropriation sufficient in form and substance. In expropriation cases, the sufficiency in form and substance of the complaint to be determined by mere examination of the allegations of the complaint. It finds, too, that the deposit made by the plaintiff (MORE Power) is equivalent to the assessed value of the properties subject of the expropriation. Having applied with these two-fold requirements, the issuance of a writ of possession is now in order and proper in accordance with Section 2 Rule of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure,” read part of the order.
MORE Power filed the expropriation case on March 11, 2019 pursuant to the exercise of the power of eminent domain under RA 11212.
The law granted MORE Power the authority to establish, operate, and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest, a distribution system for the conveyance of electric power to end users in the city of Iloilo.
Under, Sec. 10 of RA 11212, MORE Power is authorized “to exercise the power of eminent domain in so far as it may be reasonable and necessary for the efficient establishment, improvement, upgrading, rehabilitation, maintenance and operation of services subject to limitations and procedures prescribed by law.”
In her resolution, Judge Go stated that the power of eminent domain under certain conditions is a limitation on the right of ownership, therefore “it may be exercised even over private properties of cities and municipalities and even over and registered with a Torrens title”.
“The power of eminent domain being a government does not need to be specifically conferred on the government by the Constitution for it is expressly mandated that ‘private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation’. Who may exercise the power primarily lodged in the national legislature, the exercise of the power of eminent domain may be validly delegated to other government entities and even to private corporations like the so-called quasi-public corporations giving public needs or operating public utilities,” the Order said.
The immediate possession is also anchored on Rule 67, Section 2 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure which manifests that the plaintiff shall have the right to take or enter upon the possession of the real property involve if he deposits within the authorized government depositary amount equivalent to the assessed value of the property.
In the case of MORE Power, the new player already deposited with the Land Bank of the Philippines, Iloilo Branch on May 21, 2019, an amount of P481,842,450.00 equivalent to the assessed value of the properties subject of the expropriation case.
There are two stages involved in the expropriation of property, according to the Judge Go’s ruling.
The first stage is primarily concerned with the determination of the authority of the plaintiff or MORE Power to exercise the power of eminent domain and the propriety of its exercise in the context of the facts involved in the suit.
“It ends with an order if not of dismissal of the action, ‘of condemnation declaring that the plaintiff has a lawful right to take the property sought to be condemned, for the public use and purpose, described in the complaint upon the payment of just compensation to be determined as of the date of the filing of the Complaint’,” the order stated.
The second stage focuses on the court determining the “just compensation of the property sought to be taken” which is done by the court with the assistance of not more than three (3) commissioners.
Upon the completion of the two stages, the expropriation will finally be done.
In its official statement, PECO downplayed the ruling of the Iloilo RTC Branch 37, saying that it is “unprecedented and patently invalid”.
“If the new report is accurate, PECO is aghast, to say the least, at such brazenness. Such Order is a blatant violation of the Constitution. The expropriation provisions of RA 11212 have already been declared unconstitutional by the RTC in Mandaluyong. While the said judgment was appealed by MORE to the Supreme Court with a prayer for injunctive relief, the High Tribunal has not issued any temporary restraining order against the implementation of the injunction,” they said.
PECO furthered that it will exercise all the legal and administrative remedies against MORE Power and Judge Go.
“PECO assures the people of Iloilo that it will not tolerate such illegal and underhanded maneuverings. PECO will enforce and implement the final injunction of RTC of Mandaluyong restraining the takeover and possession of PECO’S assets without prejudice to other legal and administrative remedies that it shall exercise to the fullest extent of the law against both MORE Power and Judge Go,” read the last part of their official statement.