CASE BRIEF 2013-084

CASE: National Power Corporation vs. Sps. Rodolfo Zabala and Lilia Baylon (G.R. No. 173520 January 30, 2013)

PONENTE: Del Castillo, J.:

SUBJECT: Eminent Domain;Determination of Just Compensation

FACTS: NAPOCOR urgently needed an easement of right of way over parcels of land owned by Sps. R. Zabala & L. Baylon et. al. for its 230 KV Limay-Hermosa Transmission Lines. NAPOCOR repeatedly negotiated with the Sps. R. Zabala & L. Baylon et. al.for the acquisition of right of way easement over the said parcels of land but failed to reach an agreement. Thus, it filed a complaint for Eminent Domain against them.

The RTC ruled that since the spouses Zabala were deprived of the beneficial use of their property, they are entitled to the actual or basic value of their property. Thus, it pegged the just compensation at ₱150.00 per square meter as determined and fixed by the Commissioners.

NAPOCOR appealed to the CA but it was denied.

In its Petition for Review to the Supreme Court, NAPOCOR imputed error on the part of the RTC in not applying Section 3A of Republic Act (RA) 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.

Section 3A of RA No. 6395 reads:

 “Sec. 3A. In acquiring private property or private property rights through expropriation proceedings where the land or portion thereof will be traversed by the transmission lines, only a right-of-way easement thereon shall be acquired when the principal purpose for which such land is actually devoted will not be impaired, and where the land itself or portion thereof will be needed for the projects or works, such land or portion thereof as necessary shall be acquired.

In determining the just compensation of the property or property sought to be acquired through expropriation proceedings, the same shall:
xxx
(b) With respect to the acquired right-of-way easement over the land or portion thereof, not to exceed ten percent (10%) of the market value declared by the owner or administrator or anyone having legal interest in the property, or such market value as determined by the assessor whichever is lower.x x x x”

Napocor contends that under Section 3A of RA No. 6395, it is not required to pay the full market value of the property when the principal purpose for which it is actually devoted will not be impaired by its transmission lines. It is enough for NAPOCOR to pay easement fee which, under the aforementioned law, should not exceed 10% of the market value of the affected property.

Napocor argues that when it installed its transmission lines, the property of spouses Zabala et. al. were classified as riceland and was in fact devoted to the cultivation of palay. Its transmission lines will not, therefore, affect the primary purpose for which the subject land is devoted as the same only pass through it. The towers to which such lines are connected are not even built on the property of spouses Zabala et al. , who will remain the owner of and continue to enjoy their property. Hence, the RTC and the CA, according to Napocor, both erred in not applying Section 3A of RA No. 6395.

Napocor further argues that even assuming that spouses Zabala et. al. are entitled to the full market value of their property, the award of ₱150.00 per square meter as just compensation lacks basis because the recommendation of the Commissioners is not supported by documentary evidence.

ISSUE:

(A) Whether Sec 3A of RA 6395 should be applied by the courts in determining just compensation.

(B) Whether the award of ₱150.00 per square meter as just compensation lacks basis.

RULING:

(A)     Section 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.” Thus, we have consistently ruled that 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.

(B) The just compensation of ₱150.00 per square meter as fixed by the RTC is not supported by evidence.

Just compensation cannot be arrived at arbitrarily. Just Compensation must be supported by documentary evidence.

In the case before us, it appears that the Commissioners’ Report/Recommendation is not supported by any documentary evidence. There is nothing therein which would show that before arriving at the recommended just compensation of ₱150.00, the Commissioners considered documents relevant and pertinent thereto.

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)      Section 3A of RA No. 6395 cannot restrict the constitutional power of the courts to determine just compensation. 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.” 

B) Just compensation cannot be arrived at arbitrarily. Just Compensation must be supported by documentary evidence.

 ‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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