SC junks claims over portions of BCDA land in Makati City

Published November 8, 2021, 2:03 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the claim of several individuals over 13.9 hectares of land, part of the 35.5-hectare property in Makati City registered in the name of Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).

The BCDA property is a portion of the vast track of land that was declared military reservation in 1950. It is now known as the Fort Bonifacio Military Reservation (FBMR), which used to be the Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) property.

Dismissed by the SC, in a decision written by Associate Justice Henri Paul J. Inting and made public last Nov. 4, was the petition filed by, among others, Severino P. Balmaceda, Carmen M. Batoon, and Jacobina T. Alcantara.

The SC decision affirmed the ruling handed down by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2017. The CA ruling upheld those issued by both the Makati City metropolitan trial court (MeTC) in 2013 and the regional trial court (RTC) in 2014, respectively.

The SC said:

“All told, the CA properly affirmed the ruling of the RTC, which sustained the MeTC decision dismissing the case for lack of merit.

“WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision dated October 11, 2017 and the Resolution dated March 27, 2018 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 140092 are hereby AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED.”

Balmaceda and his group filed a complaint for forcible entry and damages against BCDA. They claimed that they are the owners of 13.9 hectares of land which they have been occupying for more than 30 years on the consent of the registered owner, Agustina Huerva Alfabeto, grandmother of Alcantara.

They said that while they were in peaceful and undisturbed possession of the property, the BCDA in 2012 entered their landholdings and told them to vacate the property and to demolish the structures they had constructed.

Then, they said, BCDA started bulldozing the roads within the property despite their protests.

In its answer to the complaint, BCDA said that Alcantara’s (denominated as Jacobina in the SC decision) claim of ownership was fraudulent because the property had been declared a military reservation since 1950.

It also said it is the lawful owner of the property under Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 004.

BCDA said:

“The tract of land covered by OCT No. 004 is only a portion of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) property, which, as a whole, constitutes roughly 39.99 hectares. On the other hand, the BCDA property from the JUSMAG tract of land comprises of 355,042 square meters and is covered by TCT Nos. 11481,11482, and OCT No. 004.

“The JUSMAG property, in turn, is just part of an even bigger property, the Fort William McKinley, later renamed as Fort Andres Bonifacio Military Reservation (FBMR), so constituted under Proclamation No. 423 on 12 July 1957.”

BCDA pointed out that TCT No. 340178 in the name of Alfabeto was derived from TCT No. 258699, which, in turn, emanated from OCT No. 291 that had been cancelled already.

Thus, it said, it did not forcibly enter the property because it is the owner of the landholdings.

On June 17, 2013, the MeTC dismissed the complaint for lack of merit with a ruling that the TCT relied upon by Balmaceda and his group was traced to OCT 291 issued in 1906.

It pointed out that OCT 291 had been cancelled and the land covered by it had been ceded to the government which then transferred the ownership to BCDA under Republic Act No. 7227, the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992.

Thus, the MeTC stressed that BCDA is entitled to the possession of the property and since possession was one of the attributes of ownership, it did not forcibly enter the property as claimed by Balmaceda and his group.

Undeterred, Balmaceda and his group appealed the ruling before the RTC which denied their appeal. They elevated the case to the CA.

On Oct. 11, 2017, the CA dismissed the appeal. Balmaceda and his group filed a petition with the SC.

“Under the circumstances, the Court finds no cogent reason to disturb the uniform rulings of the MeTC, RTC, and CA dismissing the case for lack of merit,” the SC said.

It cited that in 1990, it had ruled that “OCT No. 291 (the alleged title from which TCT No. 340178 relied upon by petitioners originated) had been conveyed to the United States of America and was eventually ceded to the Republic of the Philippines; and resultantly, OCT No. 291 was cancelled upon the final order of the then Court of Land Registration. Thus, the Court took judicial notice that the land covered by OCT No. 291 covered government property.”

Also, the SC said its 1990 decision “specified that ‘OCT No. 291 is declared duly cancelled’ which only means that no further and subsequent conveyance can be made on the basis of said title.”

Citing its 2006 decision, the SC said that “jurisprudence has repeatedly explained that a military reservation cannot be registered or be a subject of a private disposition or appropriation unless it will be declared alienable and disposable land of public domain.”

Also citing its 2007 decision, the SC pointed out that it had “confirmed the ownership of the BCDA over the land covered by FBMR; had also decreed that under RA 7227, the BCDA has the mandate to take over and administer the FBMR; and that the ownership includes the right to take possession which is a direct consequence and attribute of ownership.”

The SC said:

“In addition, pursuant to Section 28(b), RA 7279 (the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992), the BCDA is permitted to extrajudicially cause the eviction of petitioners and the demolition of the structures they built on the property. Such is the case since eviction and demolition are necessary for the implementation of government infrastructure projects.

“The Court also quotes with approval the observation of the CA that the BCDA still gave prior notice and assistance to petitioners despite not being required to do so, to wit: It is likewise worth noting that the BCDA, though not required under RA 7279, still extended the courtesy to notify petitioners of the impending demolition, but they refused to receive such notification.”

In its decision, the CA said: “The BCDA even went to the extent of offering relocation and financial aid to those who will be affected by the said demolition. There can thus be no shortcoming, procedural or substantive, that may be attributed to the BCDA in effecting the demolition on the subject property as it was merely exercising its rights as the registered owner of the subject property.”