CA stops RTC order against Mindanao power line project

Published March 15, 2019, 1:47 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Rey Panaligan

The Court of Appeals (CA) has stopped the Davao City regional trial court (RTC) from enforcing its order that archived the land expropriation cases filed by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) for the construction of a transmission line project to stabilize power supply in Mindanao.

Court of Appeals
(Credits: KJ Rosales | Manila Bulletin file photo)

In a resolution issued last March 12 and written by Associate Justice Evalyn M. Arellano Morales, the CA based in Cagayan de Oro City issued a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) in favor of NGCP to stop the RTC’s order.

The parties to the cases were given 15 days from notice to file their respective memoranda on the plea for a preliminary injunction that would extend the TRO until the case is resolved on its merits.

The NGCP is a private corporation that was granted a franchise under Republic Act No. 9511 “to operate, manage and maintain, and in connection therewith, engage in the business of conveying or transmitting electricity through a high-voltage back-bone system of interconnected transmission lines, substations, and related facilities.”

It is also “tasked to construct, install, finance, manage, improve, expand, operate, maintain, rehabilitate, repair, and refurbish the present nationwide transmission system of the Philippines.”

Under RA 9511, the NGCP “was granted the power of eminent domain, subject to the requirements of the Constitution and existing laws.”

In 2016, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) approved the implementation of the Matanao-Toril-Bunawan 230KV Transmission Line Project to enhance the capability of the Mindanao power grid.

Two parcels of land owned by spouses Maria Asuncion Abad Serrano and Benjamin Serrano and Jose Maria Abad and Maria Ernestina Domesa in Barangay Binugao, Toril, Davao City would be affected by the NGCP’s transmission line project.

The NGCP filed expropriation cases before the Davao City RTC over the portions of the Serrano and Abad properties that would be used in the transmission project.

It then sought the issuance of a writ of possession upon payment of P3.1 million equivalent to the then current approved zonal valuation and the cost of improvement on the portions that would be affected by the project.

The two families filed a motion for preliminary hearing and sought the deferment of the issuance of a writ of possession. They claimed NGCP violated the rules of court and the provision of Republic Act No. 10752, the law that facilitates the acquisition of right-of-way, site, or location for national government infrastructure projects.

On Oct. 26, 2018, the Davao City RTC issued a resolution that ordered the archiving of the cases involving the Serrano and Abad families “along with the other 36 expropriation cases of petitioner (NGCP) pending before the same court.”

The trial court directed its sheriff “to cease and desist from implementing the writ of possession so far issued.”

It ruled that NGCP’s cases for expropriation failed to attach the necessary documents to show that the firm has made an offer to the property owners and that they were given 30 days to decide

At the same time, the RTC said there was no document to show that the NGCP’s lawyers were duly deputized to initiate expropriation proceedings.

When NGCP’s motion for reconsideration was denied, it elevated the issue to the CA.

NGCP told the CA that the RTC abused its discretion as it emphasized the urgent need for an injunctive writ to prevent irreparable injury to Mindanao residents as a result of the delay in the implementation of the transmission project.

It also said that it has complied with all the requisites for the issuance of a writ of possession.

In resolving to grant the plea for TRO, the CA said RA 10752 is not applicable in the NGCP’s expropriation case.

“It is clear that the law (RA 10752) does not include projects being undertaken by a private corporation authorized to exercise the power of eminent domain, such as petitioner in this case,” the CA said.

It said NGCP, under its franchise given by RA 9511, “may acquire such private property as is actually necessary for the realization of the purposes for which this franchise is granted: provided that the applicable law on eminent domain shall be observed, particularly, the prerequisites of taking possession and the determination and payment of just compensation.”

It pointed out that NGCP complied with the Rules of Court in expropriation proceedings and deposited P3.1 million as compensation.

“Based on the foregoing, this Court finds that petitioner (NGCP) has sufficiently shown and justified the urgent necessity for the issuance of the TRO prayed for, pending resolution of the main petition, in order to preserve the rights of the parties and to prevent grave and irreparable injury, that is, injury that is actual, substantial, and demonstrable,” it ruled.

Associate Justices Oscar V. Badelles and Florencio M. Mamauag Jr. concurred in the resolution.