Case Digest: NPC vs. Spouses Zabala

G.R. No. 173520 : January 30, 2013



On October 27, 1994, plaintiff-appellant National Power Corporation (Napocor) filed a complaint for Eminent Domain against defendants-appellees Sps. R. Zabala & L. Baylon, before the RTC, Balanga City, Bataan alleging that Spouses Zabala and Baylon own parcels of land located in Balanga City, Bataan and that it urgently needed an easement of right of way over the affected areas for its 230 KV Limay-Hermosa Transmission Lines. The Commissioners submitted their Report/ Recommendation fixing the just compensation at P150.00 per square meter. Napocor prayed that the report be recommitted to the commissioners for the modification of the report and the substantiation of the same with reliable and competent documentary evidence based on the value of the property at the time of its taking. The Commissioners submitted their Final Report fixing the just compensation at P500.00 per square meter.

On June 28, 2004, the RTC rendered its Partial Decision and ordered Napocor to pay Php150.00 per square meter for the 6,820 square meters determined as of the date of the taking of the property.

Napocor appealed to the CA arguing that the Commissioners reports are not supported by documentary evidence. Napocor argued that the RTC did not apply Section 3A of R.A. No. 6395 which limits its liability to easement fee of not more than 10% of the market value of the property traversed by its transmission lines. CA affirmed the RTCs Partial Decision.

ISSUE: Whether or not the RTC erred in fixing the amount of Php150.00 per square meter as the fair market value of the property subject of the easement right of way of Napocor?

HELD: The petition is partially meritorious.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: just compensation

Sec. 3A of RA No. 6395 cannot restrict the constitutional power of the courts to determine just compensation. The payment of just compensation for private property taken for public use is guaranteed no less by our Constitution and is included in the Bill of Rights. As such, no legislative enactments or executive issuances can prevent the courts from determining whether the right of the property owners to just compensation has been violated. It is a judicial function that cannot be usurped by any other branch or official of the government. Statutes and executive issuances fixing or providing for the method of computing just compensation are not binding on courts and, at best, are treated as mere guidelines in ascertaining the amount thereof.

The Supreme Court has held in a long line of cases that since the high- tension electric current passing through the transmission lines will perpetually deprive the property owners of the normal use of their land, it is only just and proper to require Napocor to recompense them for the full market value of their property.

REMEDIAL LAW: commissioners report

The just compensation of P150.00 per square meter as fixed by the RTC is not supported by evidence. Just compensation cannot be arrived at arbitrarily. Several factors must be considered, such as, but not limited to, acquisition cost, current market value of like properties, tax value of the condemned property, its size, shape, and location. But before these factors can be considered and given weight, the same must be supported by documentary evidence.

Under Section 8, Rule 67 of the Rules of Court, the trial court may accept or reject, whether in whole or in part, the commissioners report which is merely advisory and recommendatory in character. It may also recommit the report or set aside the same and appoint new commissioners. In this case, however, in spite of the insufficient and flawed reports of the Commissioners and Napocors objections thereto, the RTC eventually adopted the same. It shrugged off Napocors protestations and limited itself to the reports submitted by the Commissioners.

Lastly, it should be borne in mind that just compensation should be computed based on the fair value of the subject property at the time of its taking or the filing of the complaint, whichever came first. Since in this case the filing of the eminent domain case came ahead of the taking, just compensation should be based on the fair market value of spouses Zabalas property at the time of the filing of Napocors Complaint on October 27, 1994 or thereabouts.

Petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. Case is REMANDED to the RTC for the proper determination of just compensation.