Republic v. DPWH (G.R. No. 181218; January 28, 2013)


FACTS: Spouses Bautista are the registered owners of a 1,893-square meter parcel of land located in Brgy. Bulacnin North, Lipa City. Respondents are their children. Herein petitioner Republic of the Philippines (Republic), through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), acquired a 36-square meter portion of the lot for use in the STAR (Southern Tagalog Arterial Road) Tollway project. Later on, DPWH offered to purchase an additional 1,155 square meters of the lot at P100.00 per square meter to be used for the Balete-Lipa City Interchange Ramp B, but the spouses Bautista refused to sell. Republic filed a Complaint with the RTC of Lipa City for the expropriation of the said 1,155-square meter portion (the subject portion).

In an Order of Expropriation, the trial court condemned the subject portion for expropriation and constituted a panel of commissioners, consisting of the Lipa City Assessor and the Registrar of Deeds of Lipa City, for the purpose of ascertaining just compensation. On Republics Opposition, the trial court appointed a third commissioner in the person of Nimfa Martinez-Mecate (Mecate), who is the DPWH special agent for Road Right-of-Way for Region IV-A.

The Lipa City Assessor and the Registrar of Deeds thus concluded that the just compensation should be within the range of P1,960.00 and P2,500.00 per square meter.

On the other hand, Mecates Commissioners Report recommended that the reasonable value for agricultural, orchard, and sugar land is P400.00 per square meter, and P600.00 per square meter for residential and commercial land.

The trial court rendered its Decision, fixing just compensation for the subject portion, including all its improvements, at P1,960.00 per square meter. Petitioner interposed an appeal with the CA. The CA affirmed the appealed decision.

The Republic argued that the CAs reliance on the Joint Commissioners Report is erroneous because the said report failed to consider all factors prescribed by law specifically Republic Act No. 8974 in determining just compensation. ISSUE: Did the RTC err in fixing the amount of P1,960.00 per square meter as just compensation for the subject property?

What escapes petitioner, is that the courts are not bound to consider these standards; the exact wording of the said provision is that in order to facilitate the determination of just compensation, the courts may consider them. The use of the word may in the provision is construed as permissive and operating to confer discretion. In the absence of a finding of abuse, the exercise of such discretion may not be interfered with. For this case, the Court finds no such abuse of discretion.

Mecates Commissioners Report evidently failed to consider factors other than the value of the subject portion as reflected in the tax declarations, the BIR zonal valuation, and its classification as an agricultural land. To make matters worse, Mecate based her Report on the 1998 Appraisal Committee Report of the Lipa City Appraisal Committee, which is clearly obsolete and does not reflect 2004 property values. The Complaint for expropriation was filed in 2004; thus, just compensation should be based on 2004 valuations. Where the institution of the action precedes entry into the property, the just compensation is to be ascertained as of the time of the filing of the complaint. DENIED.

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