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G.R. No. 133250 July 9, 2002
FRANCISCO I. CHAVEZ, petitioner,
PUBLIC ESTATES AUTHORITY and AMARI COASTAL BAY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, respondents.
This is an original Petition for Mandamus with prayer for a writ of preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order. The petition seeks to compel the Public Estates Authority ("PEA" for brevity) to disclose all facts on PEA's then on-going renegotiations with Amari Coastal Bay and Development Corporation ("AMARI" for brevity) to reclaim portions of Manila Bay. The petition further seeks to enjoin PEA from signing a new agreement with AMARI involving such reclamation.
On November 20, 1973, the government, through the Commissioner of Public Highways, signed a contract with the Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines ("CDCP" for brevity) to reclaim certain foreshore and offshore areas of Manila Bay. The contract also included the construction of Phases I and II of the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road. CDCP obligated itself to carry out all the works in consideration of fifty percent of the total reclaimed land.
On February 4, 1977, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1084 creating PEA. PD No. 1084 tasked PEA "to reclaim land, including foreshore and submerged areas," and "to develop, improve, acquire, lease and sell any and all kinds of lands."1 On the same date, then President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1085 transferring to PEA the "lands reclaimed in the foreshore and offshore of the Manila Bay" under the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and Reclamation Project (MCCRRP).
On December 29, 1981, then President Marcos issued a memorandum directing PEA to amend its contract with CDCP, so that "[A]ll future works in MCCRRP shall be funded and owned by PEA.” Accordingly, PEA and CDCP executed a Memorandum of Agreement dated December 29, 1981.
On January 19, 1988, then President Corazon C. Aquino issued Special Patent No. 351, granting and transferring to PEA "the parcels of land so reclaimed under the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and Reclamation Project (MCCRRP) containing a total area of one million nine hundred fifteen thousand eight hundred ninety four (1,915,894) square meters." Subsequently, on April 9, 1988, the Register of Deeds of the Municipality of Parañaque issued Transfer Certificates of Title Nos. 7309, 7311, and 7312, in the name of PEA, covering the three reclaimed islands known as the "Freedom Islands" located at the southern portion of the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road, Parañaque City. The Freedom Islands have a total land area of One Million Five Hundred Seventy Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Forty One (1,578,441) square meters or 157.841 hectares.
On April 25, 1995, PEA entered into a Joint Venture Agreement ("JVA" for brevity) with AMARI, a private corporation, to develop the Freedom Islands. The JVA also required the reclamation of an additional 250 hectares of submerged areas surrounding these islands to complete the configuration in the Master Development Plan of the Southern Reclamation Project-MCCRRP. PEA and AMARI entered into the JVA through negotiation without public bidding. On April 28, 1995, the Board of Directors of PEA, in its Resolution No. 1245, confirmed the JVA. On June 8, 1995, then President Fidel V. Ramos, through then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, approved the JVA.
On November 29, 1996, then Senate President Ernesto Maceda delivered a privilege speech in the Senate and denounced the JVA as the "grandmother of all scams." As a result, the Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises, and the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, conducted a joint investigation. The Senate Committees reported the results of their investigation in Senate Committee Report No. 560 dated September 16, 1997. Among the conclusions of their report are: (1) the reclaimed lands PEA seeks to transfer to AMARI under the JVA are lands of the public domain which the government has not classified as alienable lands and therefore PEA cannot alienate these lands; (2) the certificates of title covering the Freedom Islands are thus void, and (3) the JVA itself is illegal.
On December 5, 1997, then President Fidel V. Ramos issued Presidential Administrative Order No. 365 creating a Legal Task Force to conduct a study on the legality of the JVA in view of Senate Committee Report No. 560. The members of the Legal Task Force were the Secretary of Justice, the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, and the Government Corporate Counsel. The Legal Task Force upheld the legality of the JVA, contrary to the conclusions reached by the Senate Committees.
On April 4 and 5, 1998, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Today published reports that there were on-going renegotiations between PEA and AMARI under an order issued by then President Fidel V. Ramos. According to these reports, PEA Director Nestor Kalaw, PEA Chairman Arsenio Yulo and retired Navy Officer Sergio Cruz composed the negotiating panel of PEA.
On April 13, 1998, Antonio M. Zulueta filed before the Court a Petition for Prohibition with Application for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction docketed as G.R. No. 132994 seeking to nullify the JVA. The Court dismissed the petition "for unwarranted disregard of judicial hierarchy, without prejudice to the refiling of the case before the proper court."
On April 27, 1998, petitioner Frank I. Chavez ("Petitioner" for brevity) as a taxpayer, filed the instant Petition for Mandamus with Prayer for the Issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order. Petitioner contends the government stands to lose billions of pesos in the sale by PEA of the reclaimed lands to AMARI. Petitioner prays that PEA publicly disclose the terms of any renegotiation of the JVA, invoking Section 28, Article II, and Section 7, Article III, of the 1987 Constitution on the right of the people to information on matters of public concern. Petitioner assails the sale to AMARI of lands of the public domain as a blatant violation of Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution prohibiting the sale of alienable lands of the public domain to private corporations. Finally, petitioner asserts that he seeks to enjoin the loss of billions of pesos in properties of the State that are of public dominion.
On December 28, 1998, petitioner filed an Omnibus Motion: (a) to require PEA to submit the terms of the renegotiated PEA-AMARI contract; (b) for issuance of a temporary restraining order; and (c) to set the case for hearing on oral argument. Petitioner filed a Reiterative Motion for Issuance of a TRO dated May 26, 1999, which the Court denied in a Resolution dated June 22, 1999.
On March 30, 1999, PEA and AMARI signed the Amended Joint Venture Agreement ("Amended JVA," for brevity). On May 28, 1999, the Office of the President under the administration of then President Joseph E. Estrada approved the Amended JVA.
The issues raised by petitioner, PEA and AMARI are as follows:
(a) Whether principal relief prayed for in the petition are moot and academic because of subsequent events;
(b) Whether the petition merits dismissal for failing to observe the principle governing the hierarchy of court;
(c) Whether the petition merits dismissal for non-exhaustion of administrative remedies;
(d) Whether petitioner has locus standi to bring this suit;
(e) Whether the constitutional right to information includes official information on on-going negotiations before a final agreement;
(f) Whether the stipulations in the amended joint venture agreement for the transfer to Amari of certain lands, reclaimed and still to be reclaimed, violate the 1987 Constitution; and
(g) Whether the court is the proper forum for raising the issue of whether the amended joint venture agreement is grossly disadvantageous to the government.
On the first issue, the Court has ruled that the signing of the Amended JVA by PEA and AMARI and its approval by the President cannot operate to moot the petition and divest the Court of its jurisdiction. PEA and AMARI have still to implement the Amended JVA. The prayer to enjoin the signing of the Amended JVA on constitutional grounds necessarily includes preventing its implementation if in the meantime PEA and AMARI have signed one in violation of the Constitution. Petitioner's principal basis in assailing the renegotiation of the JVA is its violation of Section 3, Article XII of the Constitution, which prohibits the government from alienating lands of the public domain to private corporations. If the Amended JVA indeed violates the Constitution, it is the duty of the Court to enjoin its implementation, and if already implemented, to annul the effects of such unconstitutional contract.
On the second issue, the Court cannot entertain cases involving factual issues. The instant case, however, raises constitutional issues of transcendental importance to the public.22 The Court can resolve this case without determining any factual issue related to the case. Also, the instant case is a petition for mandamus which falls under the original jurisdiction of the Court under Section 5, Article VIII of the Constitution. We resolve to exercise primary jurisdiction over the instant case.
On the third issue, PEA claims petitioner's direct resort to the Court violates the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies. It also violates the rule that mandamus may issue only if there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Hence, The principal issue in the instant case is the capacity of AMARI to acquire lands held by PEA in view of the constitutional ban prohibiting the alienation of lands of the public domain to private corporations. We rule that the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies does not apply in the instant case.
On the fourth issue, the rule that since the instant petition, brought by a citizen, involves the enforcement of constitutional rights - to information and to the equitable diffusion of natural resources - matters of transcendental public importance, the petitioner has the requisite locus standi.
On the fifth issue, Section 7, Article III of the Constitution explains the people's right to information on matters of public concern. The court has held that the constitutional right to information includes official information on on-going negotiations before a final contract. The information, however, must constitute definite propositions by the government and should not cover recognized exceptions like privileged information, military and diplomatic secrets and similar matters affecting national security and public order.40 Congress has also prescribed other limitations on the right to information in several legislations.
On the sixth issue, the Regalian doctrine is deeply implanted in our legal system. The court has summarized in their conclusions as follows:
1. The 157.84 hectares of reclaimed lands comprising the Freedom Islands, now covered by certificates of title in the name of PEA, are alienable lands of the public domain. PEA may lease these lands to private corporations but may not sell or transfer ownership of these lands to private corporations. PEA may only sell these lands to Philippine citizens, subject to the ownership limitations in the 1987 Constitution and existing laws.
2. The 592.15 hectares of submerged areas of Manila Bay remain inalienable natural resources of the public domain until classified as alienable or disposable lands open to disposition and declared no longer needed for public service. The government can make such classification and declaration only after PEA has reclaimed these submerged areas. Only then can these lands qualify as agricultural lands of the public domain, which are the only natural resources the government can alienate. In their present state, the 592.15 hectares of submerged areas are inalienable and outside the commerce of man.
3. Since the Amended JVA seeks to transfer to AMARI, a private corporation, ownership of 77.34 hectares110 of the Freedom Islands, such transfer is void for being contrary to Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution which prohibits private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of the public domain.
4. Since the Amended JVA also seeks to transfer to AMARI ownership of 290.156 hectares111 of still submerged areas of Manila Bay, such transfer is void for being contrary to Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution which prohibits the alienation of natural resources other than agricultural lands of the public domain.
PEA may reclaim these submerged areas. Thereafter, the government can classify the reclaimed lands as alienable or disposable, and further declare them no longer needed for public service. Still, the transfer of such reclaimed alienable lands of the public domain to AMARI will be void in view of Section 3, Article XII of the 1987Constitution which prohibits private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of the public domain.
On the last issue, Considering that the Amended JVA is null and void ab initio, there is no necessity to rule on this last issue. Besides, the Court is not a trier of facts, and this last issue involves a determination of factual matters.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Public Estates Authority and Amari Coastal Bay Development Corporation are PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from implementing the Amended Joint Venture Agreement which is hereby declared NULL and VOID ab initio.