SC order Mactan airport to return lot expropriated 56 years ago

CEBU CITY — The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) to return a 6,343-square-meter lot it expropriated in Barangay Pusok, Lapu-Lapu City 56 years ago to the heirs of the landowner.

The SC said the government failed to pay them just compensation more than 30 years after the property was expropriated.

The case stemmed from the petition for review on certiorari filed by the MCIAA against Limbonhai and Sons Corp. before the High Court.

The petitioner questioned the ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA), which affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City Branch 53 in dismissing the complaint for cancellation of title filed by the government.

Court records showed that the late Isidro Godinez was the original owner of Lot 2498. In the 1960s, Lot 2498 was among of the 27 lots, covering about 36 hectares, that were subjected to an expropriation case filed before the then Court of First Instance (CFI) of Cebu. On July 8, 1964, the CFI ordered the government to take possession of the expropriated property upon deposit of Php 32,869, which represented partial payment of the expropriated lots.

The CFI issued an order fixing the reasonable value of the lots, including Lot 2498, at Php 1.50 per square meter.

In 1967, Godinez caused the judicial reconstitution of the original certificate of title covering Lot 2498.

After the original title certificate was issued to Godinez, he sold the property to Tirso Limbonhai under his former name Sy Tiong.

A new original certificate title was issued to Limbonhai on May 17, 1967.

After a decade, Limbonhai transferred the property to Limbonhai and Sons.

The transfer certificate of title T-1317 was canceled and TCT 82789 was issued under the corporation’s name.

In 1996, MCIAA, however, filed a complaint for cancellation of title, arguing that it was the owner of Lot 2498 because the property was one of the several parcels of land expropriated by the government for airport purposes. MCIAA insisted that the firm’s claim over Lot 2498 had no basis because the lot had already been expropriated by the government.

It said the firm merely holds the certificate of title in trust and is under legal obligation to surrender it for cancellation so a new certificate of title can be issued in the name of the MCIAA.

But Limbonhai and Sons insisted that there was no valid expropriation of Lot 2498.

Unused even after over 29 years from the order of expropriation became final, no payment of just compensation was ever made, and the lot was never used for the purpose for which it was intended.

In 2004, the trial court ruled in favor of Limbonhai and Sons and dismissed the complaint for cancellation of title for lack of merit.

The lower court found that although expropriation proceedings were initiated by the government, the process did come into fruition and the property was never used for the intended purpose.

MCIAA appealed the trial court’s decision before the CA, which also affirmed the lower court’s decision. In the decision, the High Court ruled that the MCIAA failed to present evidence of full payment of the just compensation for the property.

“Clearly, without full payment of just compensation, there can be no transfer of title from the landowner to the expropriator,” the SC ruled.